The thought that God is love contains all the joy in the world

celloOne last passage from Christopher Ben Simpson’s survey of Kierkegaard’s thought – just to close out on a note of joy, as Kierkegaard would have it.

For Kierkegaard, joy in the midst of suffering is evidence in the present temporal world of something other than this world (BoA 186) Such joy does not make sense within a finite frame – it is ordered beyond it. This joy is paradoxical – ‘the Christian is poor, yet not poor but rich’ and ‘“Life begins at death,” says the lowly Christian’ (CD 22, 46). It is a higher joy that seems absurd to the lower because ‘God’s thoughts are eternally higher than the thoughts of a human being, and therefore every human conception of happiness and unhappiness, of what is joyful and what is sorrowful, is faulty thinking’ (UDVS, 284). It is to be ‘happy’, to be ‘joyful’ ‘out on 70,000 fathoms of water’ – where suffering ‘is the 70,000 fathoms of water’ (SLW 470; CUP 140, 288). It is to be suspended over nothing, suspended from the higher.

There is joy in the Christian life that comes from one’s being with God, from one’s relationship with God. For Kierkegaard, different qualities of joy can be discerned relative to the central characteristics of God – relative to God as eternal, as the good, and as loving. The Christian has the joy of resting in God’s changelessness. To him, the changelessness of God is ‘sheer joy and gladness’ (MLW 269). Here, one enjoys God’s eternity as the ground of one’s existential security. To rest in God’s changelessness as an ‘eternally safeguarded’ and ‘happy home’ (MLW 279) as a beloved spring’s ‘faithful coolness’ that ‘is not subject to change’ is to find security in God’s availability; God for the Christian is ‘everything to be found’, ‘always to be found and always to be found unchanged’ (MLW 280-1). The Christian also has the joy of relating to God as the good end that they desire as their ‘happiness’, or ‘blessedness’ (CD 222) – the blessing that is ‘the good in itself; it is the one thing needful, is infinitely more glorious and blessed than all success’ (CD 297). Finally, the Christian has joy in God’s love for them. ‘The thought that God is love’, Kierkegaard writes, ‘contains all the joy in the world’ (UDVS 282, emphasis mine). Our ‘unconditional joy’ is ‘worshipfully to dare to believe “that God cares for you”’ (LFBA 43). God’s love to us is joy as light from the one sun radiating.

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BoA The Book on Adler
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
LFBA The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air
MLW The Moment and Late Writings
SLW Stages on Life’s Way
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

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Infinite resignation

sk4

Still meandering about in Christopher Ben Simpson’s introduction to Kierkegaard, that genius of a Christian (Kierkegaard that is).

In 1972 Hal Lindsey (still alive today at 89) wrote Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, having published two years earlier The Late, Great Planet Earth which the NY Times called the No. 1 non-fiction of the decade. It’s hard to over-emphasize how big a deal Lindsey and these two books where in the 70’s. I cut my teeth as a new believer on Lindsey, and I remember first running across the name of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (SK) in Lindsey’s Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. Lindsey argued there that SK (the “third bomb” after Kant and Hegel) was evidence that Satan was alive and well. Kierkegaard’s writings, he claimed, were “contrary to biblical principles,” were a “denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith,” and they “launched a system of though in which despair was the underlying current.” Lindsey explained that one finds purpose in life by taking a leap which “has no rationality behind it at all” and suggested that SK introduced Hegel’s thoughts into the stream of Christian thought (not true, SK deplored Hegel). In the end SK’s account of the Christian faith amounted to “the doctrines of demons.” It’s no surprise that my first thoughts of SK were negative. SK was an evil enemy of Christianity.

Time corrects some mistakes, thankfully, and I’m only mentioning Lindsey as the context in which I first read the name of Kierkegaard whose account of Christianity is genius. In one, two, or five hundred years from now people will be still reading and discussing SK who will still be rescuing the faith of the truly hungry from the cheap subterfuge that Lindsey, whose writings no one will know in two or five hundred years, got famous selling.

Here’s a third and final clip from Simpson’s summary of SK. Enjoy!

For Kierkegaard, one relates to God as the eternal, transcendent other in faith. Our subjectively being true to our relationship with the transcendent God is to see him as ‘the eternal being, who is the object of faith (FT 51). The eternal, the absolute, is always ‘an occasion for offense’ for finite humans and our relation to the eternal God happens in the ‘supreme passion’ and ‘divine madness’ of faith (in the first movement of the double-movement of faith), we are faced with an ‘either/or’ decision to choose God over the finite, either to be devoted to God or to despise him, to seek God’s kingdom first, for ‘the person who does not seek God’s kingdom first is not seeking it at all’ (LFBA 19-22; MLW 233-6). This is faith difficult beginning, its leap – as dying to or ‘losing the temporal temporally’ in order to gain or grasp the eternal (UDVS 209; CD 72; 141-2). The resolution of faith – as the only way ‘in which God will involve himself with a human being’ – ‘joins a person with the eternal (EUD 347; TDIO 63). It is the relation to the eternal God in faith that then (in the second movement of faith) comes to structure and orient one’s existence in finitude, ‘express[ing] the sublime in the pedestrian’ (FT 41). Faith – as constantly, daily being acquired and repeated – works to join all of one’s life together with the eternal and so establish a continuity, a constancy in life given stability with the ballast of the unconditional (EUD 14; CUP 55, 535; SUD 105; PoV 19-2). The eternal grounds repetition. At the same time, as in the process of becoming, we encounter the eternal with fear and trembling; faith so challenges all our relative stabilities – as Anti-Climacus writes, ‘fear and trembling signify that there is a God – something every human being and every established order ought not to forget for a moment’ (PIC 88).

sk5We are lovingly created (as good, glorious, free) and sustained (in God’s presence) by God. We live as if this is true – we are religious – when we gratefully affirm and strive to be what we are created to be. We should relate to ourselves as we are in relation to God. In that we, for Kierkegaard, as human beings are created by God, this understanding should affect our self-understanding; it should found our way of existing (EUD 32; CUP 249). When one comes to understand and to choose oneself in God – ‘when’, as Judge Vilhelm writes, ‘in an eternal and unfailing sense one become aware of oneself as the person one is’ – ‘one receives oneself’ (EO 509). This is to choose oneself, to take possession of oneself, ‘in one’s eternal validity’ (EO 515). In this process – in which ‘it is as if his self is outside him and is to be taken possession of’ – a person comes ‘to relate himself to himself in his religious idea’ (EO 519; SLW 428). In choosing oneself as originated – in relation to ‘the originality that was his eternal source’ (CUP 153; EO 518) – one seeks to attain a ‘religious transparency’ in which ‘he has seen his self over against the eternal power, whose fire has permeated it without consuming it (SLW 428; EO 529). One ‘rests transparently in God’, in the changelessness of God’s love (SUD 30; UDVS 212; MLW 278). This transparency is a sober coming to oneself, to be oneself before God (UDVS 137; SUD 5; LFBA 17)…

God is the good that we desire, that we love, that we long to be in communion with in blessedness. We are true to this in our loving God – in our passionate concern, our worship, and our obedience. The God-relationship, for Kierkegaard, is a relating to God with an infinite passion – its ‘how’ is ‘the passion of the infinite’ (CUP 203). Having gone through infinite resignation (in the double-movement of faith), one is assured that what one relates to in truly infinite passion, in a desire for one’s eternal end beyond finite, is God (CUP 201). ‘The inspecting resignation’, Climacus writes, ‘discovers no irregularity, this shows that the individual at the time of inspection is relating himself to an eternal happiness’ (CUP 395). Such is the intimate connection between the form and content of religiousness – that ‘the person who in truth will only one thing can only will the good, and the person who wills only one thing when he will the good can will only the good in truth’ (UDVS 24). God is one’s eternal end, and so the God-relation at once ‘consists precisely in being religiously, infinitely concerned about oneself’ (CUP 200; SLW 486). One desires God as one’s own eternal happiness. One’s ‘eternal happiness’ is the ‘highest telos’ that is ‘willed for its own sake’ in ‘the moment of resignation, of collecting oneself, of choice’ (CUP 394, 400). Religiousness, for Kierkegaard, is for a person so ‘to relate himself with pathos to an eternal happiness’ – ‘simultaneously to relate oneself absolutely to the absolute telos and relatively to the relative ends’ – that his existence is transformed (CUP 393, 414). Kierkegaard describes this religious ‘pathos-filled transformation of existence’ as a ‘humble, obedient enthusiasm’, as ‘be[ing] shaken’, as being ‘infinitely, unconditionally engaged’ before God (CUP 581; UDVS 62; BoA 112-13; JFY 104). Yet this strenuous, passionate engagement brings ‘a tranquility and a restfulness’ for there is ‘no contradiction…to relate oneself absolutely to the absolute telos’ – in doing so one is acting in accord with reality, for God is the end of human being. To relate oneself absolutely to God is ‘the absolute reciprocity in like for like’, while it is ‘demented…for a being who is eternally structured to apply all his power to grasp the perishable’ (CUP 422). One God comports with our infinite passion….

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BoA The Book of Adler
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
EO Either/Or
EUD Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
FT Fear and Trembling
LFBA The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air
PIC Practice in Christianity
PoV The Point of View
SLW Stages on Life’s Way
SUD The Sickness Unto Death
TDIO Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
UDVS Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

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.

the-scream

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).

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CA The Concept of Anxiety
CD Christian Discourses
CUP Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
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