Intersection of faith, salvation and action

Reflections on life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
“Why me?” is the oft-repeated query when dark, painful times descend upon us hapless human beings. “What have I done to deserve this?” is another familiar way of asking the same question. One can say that there are three stages of belief in God, of which the third is often the most difficult for perhaps most people.
Blaise Pascal’s wager tackles the first stage of belief in God. In summary of a lengthy philosophical dissertation, the wager states:
1. If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.
2. If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to live in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.
3. If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus a finite loss.
4. If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus a finite gain.
Criticisms of the wager strike me as being pedantic and cerebral instead of simple and down-to-earth. Critics object that the wager presupposes many things such as an immortal soul and a Judaeo/Christian-based notion of God that affirms the faith of believers rather than converts non-believers, since it posits one God to believe in, thereby excluding another god or gods that people may believe in. But Pascal was not militating for Christian belief, but rather for the raw belief in God that one living in the totally isolated world of an undiscovered jungle might have.
Therefore, even though Pascal speaks of God in the singular, it seems that he does not want his wager to exclude polytheists, those who believe in multiple gods. In fact, the Church includes polytheists and everyone else in its statement on the will of God that all people be saved, “Facienti quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam.”
Translated roughly in the plural, “God does not deny grace to those who do what they are capable of doing.” That means, “those who follow the light of reason.”
Thus, aborigines in the deepest jungles, who have had no contact with any people, the Bible or any knowledge beyond the stone age, will be saved – given the grace of God – if they believe and do what is in their understanding to believe and do, even if that understanding is deficient as to the true nature of God. The other way of saying it is that God does not condemn us because of invincible ignorance; that is, ignorance for which we are not responsible and cannot do anything about. The stipulation is that those aborigines are willing to accept whatever God wants.
“Whatever God wants” makes everything implicit in the generic belief in God that knows no details about God or religion. An aborigine or anyone who knows nothing about all the knowledge, science, writings and other media and marvels of the modern world may have a somewhat fuzzy idea of a Supreme Being or may find deities in the sun, moon, oceans, mountains or universe. Nonetheless, if such a person submits herself/himself to the will of the Creator, everything falls into place.
Thus, baptism, a condition sine qua non of salvation, is included in the will of the Creator embraced by the generic believer. Such baptism is known as baptism of desire. Ditto for the implicit acceptance of Jesus Christ, without whom there is no salvation. Implicit in accepting what God wants is, “If I but knew Jesus, I would embrace him and all his teachings.” The same goes for acceptance of God’s Church.
So, unconditional belief in God and the acceptance of God’s will cover all our spiritual needs, no matter how little we have heard or read about them. Still, it is not enough to believe in God, Jesus and their Holy Spirit. James 2:19 warns us, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.”
It is the third part of faith that is so difficult, because it challenges us and our petty agendas, faults, sins, doubts, pains, grief, deprivations, disappointments and failures. Enter Thomas, Didymus, the one of little faith, who had to see and touch the nail prints in the hands and Jesus and the lance scar in his side. He was not unlike Peter, who denied Jesus thrice, and all the other apostles who fled before the ferocity of the Roman soldiers on Good Friday. (John managed to sneak back later.)
Together with the other apostles – and everyone else except the three steadfast Marys – Thomas was numb when confronted with the reality that Jesus had risen from the dead. It had to be a ghost, not flesh and blood! Actually, they were in a tailspin, cowering for fear of the Jews until the rending event of Pentecost.
Resurrection through Jesus – that final prerequisite of faith and salvation – will carry us through all doubt, fear, anxiety, pain, grief, depression and failure.
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)