Not that Fear and Trembling

ftFrom Christopher Ben Simpson’s The Way is the Truth: Kierkegaard’s Theologia Viatorum, a summary of Kiekegaard’s thought. I’ve removed the Danish equivalents for certain words but kept his references (cf. the key at the end).

Religious Faith: The Double-Movement
Religious faith, for Kierkegaard, has the structure of a double-movement. This, as we have seen, is reflected in Kierkegaard’s mode of communication (PoV 6-9). The general schedule is one of a redoubling in which a given position ‘is first of all its opposite (JFY 98). There is first the negative then the positive, first renouncing and then receiving, first emptying and then filling, first death and then life.

The first moment, the first movement of the double-movement of faith, is a negative one – an initial ‘wounding’ that has, nevertheless, a constructive end (TDIO 9; EUD 130; UDVS 279). Throughout his authorship, Kierkegaard names this first negative moment, the ‘first element’ of faith, as ‘despair’ (CUP 225-6; SUD 78, 116). Despair, strangely, is a way forward – ‘a man’ true salvation’ – ‘a hidden trapdoor – to ascent’ (EO 522; CD 114). This first, negative movement is also described as ‘infinite resignation’ (FT 36-8, 46), such that one has ‘resigned everything infinitely’ (FT 40). This infinite resignation is the ‘movement of infinity’ whereby one negates, resigns, gives up the finite such that one is left with the infinite (FT 38) – whereby one ‘practic[es] the absolute relation or infinite through renunciation…of relative ends’ (CUP 431-2). Despair or infinite resignation is a benefit in that with them one renounces, abandons, gives up the finite, the lower, in favour of the infinite, for the higher (FT 18, 48) – one ‘renounce[s] the whole temporal realm in order to gain eternity’ (FT 49) – one turns from Mammon to seek first the kingdom of God. With this, one gives up on all finite possibility. It is a ‘dying to’ – a ‘middle term’ in which one ‘die[s] to the world’, ‘’breaking…with that which he naturally has his life’ – and so has ‘emptied himself in the infinite (FSE 76; JFY 98; MLW 177, 214; FT 69). This renunciation, this despair extends to the whole personality (EO 515) – surrendering, losing, even hating the self (EO 522; SUD 67; MLW 335) – wresting away self-love in a movement of repentance that dies to the self and to the world (WL 17; FT 99, 101).

In all of the negation and giving up and ‘dying to’ of infinite resignation, one ends up affirming or choosing one thing: oneself ‘in one’s eternal validity’ as having an ‘eternal consciousness’ – as being in relation to the infinite, the eternal – as loving God alone (EO 515, 520; FT 46). After one renounces all that is finite one is left with God, with oneself before God – even if before God one is always in the wrong – even if in loving him one is nothing before him (EO 601-6; R 212). For such a one has renounced even being in the right; God is their only desire.

For Kierkegaard, the second movement of religious faith is that of ‘faith’. ‘Only when he individual has emptied himself in the infinite’, Johannes de Silentio writes, ‘only then has the point been reached where faith can break through’ (FT 69). After the either/or decision of infinite resignation – choosing the higher and dying to the lower – faith then returns to the lower, for ‘it is great to give up one’s desire, but it is greater to hold fast to it after having given it up; it is great to lay hold of the eternal, ,but it is greater to hold fast to the temporal after having given it up’ (FT 18). In the double-movement of faith one resigns the lower for the higher (in infinite resignation) and then regains the lower (in ‘faith’) – this is because the lower is nothing without the higher, for the lower only is in relation to the higher – one rightly renounces it as nothing (on its own, as self-existing) in the first movement.


This winning back of the finite that was lost and dead happens, as Johannes de Silentio (alone among the pseudonyms) writes, ‘by virtue of the absurd’ (FT 36, 40, 46-7, 115). This mans that faith makes an affirmation in the midst of despair – when there is no human possibility. It believes (notice de Silentio’s gloss) ‘by virtue of the absurd, by virtue of the fact that for God all things are possible’ (FT 46). For, as Constantius writes, ‘when every thinkable human certainty and probability were impossible [and] from the point of view of immediacy, everything is lost’ one can come into relation to something other than the human frame of possibility, probability, certainty ‘thunderstorm’ (R 212). So are the movements of faith the ‘movements of finitude’ (FT 38) in which one comes to receive, to regain (as a ‘repetition’) the finite – to ‘receive everything’ (FT 49), ‘to grasp the whole temporal realm’ (FT 49), to affirm temporal actuality as divine gift. Faith (re)gains ‘everything’, the finite ‘whole and intact’ (CD 146; FT 37) – more fully whole and intact than before in the light of its divine origin – including one’s self ‘whole in every respect’ (CA 106) – regains these as a ‘new creation’ (FT 40).

With the second movement of religious faith, there is a teleological suspension – suspending one’s bonds to the lower and being suspended from the higher (as an inverted foundation, like a suspension bridge). As such a double-movement (negative and then positive) ordered to an end, faith is a foresight than anticipates an arrival, a joyous sight, a fuller understanding that is to come (FT 21, 52, 65). One lives, with divine assistance, in the light of a right relation to God and to oneself (MLW 215). In faith, the self ‘rests transparently’ in God (SUD 30, 49) and has learned ‘the proper self-love’ (WL 18). This life is one of security, comfort, harmony and joy (FT 40, 50; EUD 330).

As seen in the second movement above, the higher from the perspective of the lower is seen as absurd. Faith can only be thought, be understood, on the higher plane, in a theological frame. It is seen as ‘absurd’ because it does not fit within the comprehensive frame of the lower sphere – this is a signal that either I am right and this is wrong (the absurd if false) or I am wrong (my perspective is false). The one in the lower must endure the difficult, te trial, the either/or, the ‘absurd’ to attain the higher (and regain the lower) (FT 27). The lower (without faith) cannot understand the higher – it cannot ‘get a perspective’ (FT 33). The absurd is a negative sign that something cannot be narrated from a given perspective. This makes perfect sense from the perspective of the higher (FT 261-3). As Kierkegaard writes in an unpublished reply to a review of Fear and Trembling, the paradox marks a ‘higher rationality’: ‘When I believe, then assuredly neither faith nor the context of faith is absurd. Oh, no, no – but I understand very well that for the person who does not believe, faith and the content of faith are absurd’ (FT 262 sup).


CA The Concept of Anxiety
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscripts
EO Either/Or
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FT Fear and Trembling
FSE For Self-Examination
JFY Judge for Yourself!
MLW The Moment and Late Writings
PoV The Point of View
R Repetition
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits
WL Works of Love


Leap of faith


…Kierkegaard set forth…the “stages along life’s way”…. These stages appear throughout Kierkegaard’s dialectical writings and, though there are sometimes more than four, the most prominent designations are: the Aesthetic Stage, the Ethical Stage, Religiousness A, and Religiousness B. Since these stages are cumulative, the later stages include the features of the previous stages transformed by “the leap” that moves the individual from one stage to the next. Since the decisive turning point for Kierkegaard is between Religiousness A and Religiousness B (Christianity), we will focus this discussion on these two stages and “the leap of faith” that makes the transition from A to B.

Before proceeding further, we should remember that Kierkegaard’s dialectic…is not the Hegelian version in which thesis and antithesis move systematically into a synthesis of a higher order, including but transcending both foregoing thesis and antithesis. Kierkegaard recognizes the existential power of opposites in tension, but he insists that smooth transition to a high-order synthesis not only is a violation of the ontology of human nature, but is fundamentally contrary to Christianity. The opposites, in his view, must be held passionately in tension; indeed, authentic self-understanding short of faith—Religiousness A—consists in full recognition that the tension has broken and given way to a deep dichotomous condition which is pervasive throughout human nature. The French existentialists, such as J. P. Sartre and the early Camus, and to some extent the German philosopher Heidegger, have recognized the power of Kierkegaard’s claim and made this human anguish descriptive of all human existence. The French especially have elaborated the absurdity of existence (apart from Christ) very effectively. In and by itself, human existence is indeed absurd and full of despair. Even if one seeks an “eternal happiness” in this broken form of existence and posits a God, the only God that despair will allow is totally inaccessible. This aspect of Kierkegaard recognized in the early works of Barth led to Barth’s description of God as “wholly other.” Thus, for Kierkegaard, passionate unresolvable dialectical opposition is the given human condition. Furthermore, for one to become fully conscious of this condition before the radically inaccessible God generates the intense passion and profound humor of Religiousness A.

Only from the standpoint of this stage is the full import of the contradiction which the God-man poses for human nature evident. The contradiction is that, given the dialectical opposition between existence and eternity, it is a major offense to the anguish of this assumption that God, the eternal One, should take on the fullness of human nature and yet remain fully God. The offense is maximized when it is further claimed that this God-man not only exposes the dichotomy between eternity and existence (Religiousness A) as an ontological error about what it means to be human, but also proposes to bestow his nature upon the believer, if the believer would so choose or take “the leap of faith.” In Kierkegaard’s words, the contradiction is that one’s eternal blessedness in time may be based upon a relationship to something else in time that is simultaneously eternal.

Thus, for Kierkegaard, the fundamental issue in what it means to be human is drawn out clearly in the ultimate dichotomy between A and B. This issue is precisely the core of the relationship between human existence and the eternal when they are mutually distorting, as in despair (A), and when both are fully real and simultaneously present in a singular location (B). This later condition refers first to the historical singularity of the incarnation in Jesus Christ and, second, to the singularity of an individual when by faith the tensive unity between the existential and the eternal is restored.

(James Loder, The Knight’s Move, p. 92f)


And this, friends, is the contradiction (which just is the space over which faith must leap) that open theists, while laying claim to a proposition about God’s ‘knowledge of the world’ which in itself is defensible and probably right, will not embrace, and in not embracing reject a far more consequential truth – the Christological nature (or better, the Christological content) of that contradiction which defines Christianity as faith. It is too “offensive” a leap (in the Kierkegaardian sense).

So cruel is the knowledge of our waste

tomtI’m setting my sites on a steady pathway through Thomas Traherne’s Centuries. It seems that no one who reads Traherne comes away disappointed or unaffected. I hope not to be the sole exception. I did love this paragraph from Hilda Vaughan’s Introduction:

But so cruel can be the knowledge of our waste, our self-deprivation, that we wonder why mediaeval man felt a need to invent gloating devils and everlasting tortures. It is hell enough to guess what our contrition may be in the brief, interminable instant of death, should we see, like a trampled map spread below us, the fair, God-given life we spoiled. Traherne would save us from this by persuading us to look upon the beauty of our gift until we grow ashamed to spoil it. In our arid seasons, too, he refreshes our spirits, as our bodies are refreshed after long drought by the sound, sight, touch, and taste of clean, running water. Unlike most mystics, after he regained the vision of his infancy, he himself seems never to have suffered from droughts of the soul, but so to have trusted the Shepherd of his green pastures as not to have strayed beyond reach of the living waters. Yet it is pity, not impatience, which he feels when he finds that most men thirst because they will not drink.

I know the cruelty of such knowledge, but I’m not yet as confirmed as Traherne in so saving a vision of the beauty of our gift as to shake off the hellish regret and contrition of my waste and self-deprivation. I’m all ears, though, Traherene. Talk to me.



To walk abroad is, not with Eys,
But Thoughts, the Fields to see and prize;
Els may the silent Feet,
Like Logs of Wood,
Mov up and down, and see no Good,
Nor Joy nor Glory meet.

Ev’n Carts and Wheels their place do change,
But cannot see; tho very strange
The Glory that is by:
Dead Puppets may
Mov in the bright and glorious Day,
Yet not behold the Sky.

And are not Men than they more blind,
Who having Eys yet never find
The Bliss in which they mov:
Like Statues dead
They up and down are carried,
Yet neither see nor lov.

To walk is by a thought to go;
To mov in Spirit to and fro;
To mind the Good we see;
To taste the Sweet;
Observing all the things we meet.
How choice and rich they be.

(Original spelling!)

God the center of gravity

gravityRecently I’ve been thinking about what it means to say God is the “end of all desire,” the transcendental ground from which all desire rises and to which it naturally tends, even if not always consciously. The analogy of gravity came to mind.

Gravity exerts a force of attraction upon all physical bodies. We live and move within the force of its attraction. Even our “weight” is just a measure of this force of attraction. We often think of gravity as a force to escape or overcome, say, when we send ourselves skyward in rockets. But it’s as true (though less appreciated) that this force of attraction also makes all our movements possible. All the every-day movements by which we engage and enjoy the world are made without our calculating the force of gravity vis-a-vis the mass of all the bodies that occupy our world. We don’t go about our days consciously thinking about this, but we also couldn’t go about anything at all without the universal force of attraction which makes all movements possible and relates them to each other predictably.

We might think of the universal force God has upon us (upon our desiring, our meaning-making) in a similar way. God is the center of all existential gravity – the one ‘end’ (telos, purpose, ultimate object of desire) which makes possible the intentions we form upon any object of desire as such. Even when the immediate desire we settle upon tends to some selfish end, seeking to escape the force of gravity leaves us nonetheless having to deal with it, living within the possibilities its inescapable attraction makes possible. Of course, no analogy explains everything one might want to say by comparison. There are differences between the force of gravity’s attraction upon physical bodies and the force of attraction which God is to all desire. But I find the analogy helpful. God is that transcendental orientation, that universal attraction of the Good, the True, the Beautiful upon and within all the rational movements of the mind and will, making possible and fulfilling every desire (as well as defining the consequences of unfulfilled desire), for desire just is the force of divine attraction. Our existential “weight,” consequently, is just the measure of our “meaning-making” (our “desiring”) in light of God’s being our final end and highest good. Just as the force of gravity operates from some center of gravity, making possible all the movements of our bodies, so God (the Good, the True, the Beautiful) is always present as the center of attraction to which we give the name ‘desire’, making possible and fulfilling all the movements of the will.

The God relationship our conscience

treasure_in_jars_of_clay_by_saireba-d4pjkw2Through the co-inherence of eternity and existence in love, the ethical significance of relationality emerges. Without an extended examination of Kiekegaard’s position on love (especially set forth in Works of Love), it is possible to describe the irreducibly relational nature of love. In the Great Commandment, there are no external standards to go by. After first loving God with our whole being so that “the God relationship [becomes] our conscience,” then we are told to love our neighbors as ourselves. The command begins and ends in relationality, and it works because “if one must love his neighbor as himself, then the command, like a pick, wrenches open the lock of self-love and thereby wrests it away.” In other words, since the eternal and the existential coinhere in love, there can be no other external criteria to justify love or to explain its duties which are not ipso facto less or lower than the relational reality of love itself. The very familiarity of the Great Commandment tends to obscure its radical ethical nature, but its basic power lies in the claim that relationality—not empirical fact, nor moral principle, not rational argument—is the irreducible nature not only of love’s ethic but of human beings in themselves.

(James Loder, The Knight’s Move)

And earlier this, from Steinmair-Pösel:

Jesus’s imitation of the Father doesn’t end in the blind alley of rivalry, because—as Girard says—it is not based on a greedy and egoistic form of desire. Rather, Jesus’s way of imitation is in itself an unmerited gift. Christian theology locates the fundamental reason for this fact in Trinitarian theology, in the passionate relations of the divine Persons with each other. In Extra Media Nulla Salus? Attempt at a Theological Synthesis, Jozef Niewiadomski pointed out that Jesus “became independent of mimetic projections” because his “relation to his God had become the innermost core of his own self-experience and of his own person.” The concrete man Jesus of Nazareth is stamped by his passion for the communicating God, a passion that arises from participation. Thus Jesus’s image of the Father is not that of a rivalrous God who wants to withhold something from God’s creatures, but that of a loving Father who wants to give Godself as a present. Moreover, Jesus is not an autonomous subject imitating the Father by virtue of his own efforts; he is imitating the Father by virtue of the Holy Spirit that has been given to him. According to the New Testament, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in baptism.

Creation as intra-trinitarian gift: Postscript 2

samuelSamuel David Belt (b. Jan 6, 2019), our fourth grandchild. Amazing.

I started 2019 with Martin Laird’s book Into the Silent Land. I hope to do better this year at practicing silence and resting in the present moment. I have a few phrases I use to bring myself back into the present when distractions sidetrack me – the Jesus Prayer of course is one, but also the ‘Abba, Father’. I speak it along with the rhythm of my breathing. ‘Abba, Father’ is as constantly running in my mind throughout the day as anything now.

Anyhow, as I was in prayer this morning, a phrase came out of me, or so it seemed. It wasn’t the result of a discursive train of thought I was pursuing. I wasn’t crunching numbers or trying to solve philosophical puzzles. In silent prayer you exit discursive thought and rest in the present moment. I pretty much suck at sustaining it. I feel like I spend my time kicking the world’s noise out of my head. But occasionally there’s a moment when the house inside is quiet and (Ps 46) I ‘know that he is God’. The thought was “I am your gift to me.” You can see why it can be spoken with ‘Abba, Father’. It’s the same relation. As I breathed that in and out for a few moments, another similar phrase was born: “I receive myself as a gift to you.”

Now I was pondering this thought more intentionally. Was this just more noise trying to interrupt my silent prayer? Or was this the content of that prayer? Strange content, no? To be a ‘gift’ is as wonderful a thought as any, but a gift both “from God” and “to God”? I seemed to be caught up in someone else’s conversation, someone else’s gift-giving. A third phrase mounted in portions: “I am in you…,” “I am in you, from you…,” “I am – in you and from you – for you.” That is I am in God, from and for him.

I was out of my chair by then looking for pen and pad. As I winded my thoughts down, a final line appeared on the horizon: “You are God’s gift to himself.” This was familiar, for I’ve said it before to others, but this morning God said it to me.

Salvation is participation in God’s relation to God (Rom 8.15 – we are given, by the Spirit, the Son’s own cry of ‘Abba, Father’). Creation is intra-trinitarian gift! Is it so fantastic a thought? As I thought about my own kids it was clear to me in each case that in having a child Anita and I were giving ourselves to each other, and that each child was our gift to each other, but also that we were giving ourselves to each child. All the relations were implied and fulfilled in each other.

You are God’s gift to God! Prayer is about experiencing yourself as that.