Are you one of those people who, when you are receiving an injection in your arm, has to watch - or do you look away? Turn on the TV and what do you see - someone getting the jab. Do you look? We are all different.
How far we have come in our medical expertise. Today we benefit from past generations who have studied, practised and delivered increasingly effective medical treatments. Let me tell you about the man who invented the first modern syringe in 1650, which allowed medicines' infusion. Although the first hypodermic needle was not made until 1844, this man's work paved the way for the instrument that gives us a sharp reminder of how blessed we are.
The seventeenth-century Frenchman Blaise Pascal solved a range of mathematical and geometrical problems, produced a law of hydraulics, achieved breakthroughs in how air pressure and vacuums work and laid the foundations for probability and statistics as well as planning the first bus network in Paris. He invented the mechanical calculator, the hydraulic lift, the wristwatch – and the syringe.
Pascal lived in changing times. For centuries, the Christian church had, in effect, said 'just believe'; now, however, they were getting the response 'why?' That was an important question to Pascal. He had a brilliant brain. Science was his life. He had been a prodigy who was experimenting in mathematics and science at the age of 10. But in 1654, four years after inventing the syringe, on Monday November 23, he had an overwhelming spiritual experience and encountered the reality of God. In what he later described as his 'Night of Fire', his life became established on the reality of God's presence rather than simply reason and ritual.
Pascal shifted his focus to defending Christianity and exploring its relationship with reason. He began to write a book that would give a reasoned argument for the Christian faith and wrote many notes, but before he could put them in order, he died. This work-in-progress, published as the Pensées ('Thoughts'), became a Christian classic. The scientists have been brilliant in this pandemic. Whether producing computer models of what would happen to infection rates or inventing excellent vaccines, they have served us well, and we are grateful. But this pandemic has reminded us of our human vulnerabilities, limitations and needs. We are not God, and even with the most brilliant minds at work, as Pascal discovered, we know deep down that there is something more. That something more is not simply that there is a limit to our ability to solve all problems. Just as Pascal lived in challenging times, for many people, this last year has exposed the true needs of the human heart. Needs that science cannot provide. Pascal acknowledged this when he wrote, 'the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.' If a brilliant man like Pascal needed his own encounter with God to discover true satisfaction and peace, then perhaps we do too.