Q&A: Hedging a Bet - 2 Kings 17:41

Hedging a Bet - 2 Kings 17:41

Question

2 Kings 17:41 is confusing. The nations "feared God," but then even though they "feared," they still served other gods. If they feared God would they not just serve him?

Answer

2 Kings 17:41 Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.

According to 2 Kings 17:14-41, the people were synchronistic. The Assyrians, like many others in the ancient Near East, believed that the customs and beliefs of the local people needed to be given some respect, otherwise the deities of these people may react negatively towards the inhabitants of the land. One could say they were hedging their bets! Hedging a bet may be understood as playing the field. It is basically betting against your original pick in order to guarantee a profit or minimize your losses.

This type of thinking continues even today. In the 17th century, the mathematician Blaise Pascal formulated his argument for belief in God in Penses (Thoughts). Simply stated the argument goes:

If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing, whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything. But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing, whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything.

Pascal's Wager is an argument for belief in God based not upon faith in God, but rather based upon an appeal to self-interest. Pascal's Wager is basically hedging a bet, or avoiding commitment and leaving a means of retreat open. However, such a lack of commitment demonstrates a lack of faith. It is not biblical. As the writer of Hebrews says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

True Christians understand they cannot hedge their bets in relation to God. Not only will it not work (because it is sin), there is no need to. 1 Corinthians 8:6, states, "Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." The Christian's God is a sure Person (Isa. 45:5; cf. Deut. 4:35; 32:39; Deut. 6:4; 2 Sam. 7:22; 1 Kings 8:60; 1 Chron. 17:20; Isa. 37:20; 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5, 14, 18, 21; 46:9; Zech. 14:9; Mark 12:29). Since he even controls the roll of the dice (Prov. 16:33), there is no need to play the field.

I understand Pascal's Wager as unbiblical from other perspectives as well: (1) In part, Pascal allows one to acknowledge that there may not be a God, but Paul teaches that the knowledge of God is evident to everyone so that everyone is without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20). This knowledge is enough to render everyone without excuse before God. So, without grace, we are all under God's wrath (Rom. 3:23) for suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness. (2) It completely dismisses the depravity of human nature. The natural man will not and cannot be persuaded (Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14) to saving faith in Jesus Christ by a simple cost-benefit analysis. "Ye must be born-again." This is a divine work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). Faith and repentance are necessary gifts (Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). (3) There is no cost of discipleship in Pascal's Wager (Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33; cf. Matt. 10:39). (4) The argument may be used to assent to any number of gods (Islam, Mormonism, etc.)

1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).