The more I study Kierkegaard, the more I am convinced he has captured something of the true essence of Christianity, which is, at least in today’s American churches, desperately lacking. It is, quite simply, the nature of faith. Most modern Christians seem to have a rather one-dimensional view of faith: it is understood to be the decision one makes in response to Christ’s offer of salvation. So we make pronouncements, complete with “altar calls” - if anyone will pray the “sinner’s prayer,” Christ will save them. But minimizing faith to “accepting Jesus as my savior” reduces the depth and richness, as well as the challenge, of the continual surrender to Christ and appropriation of God’s "life" within our lives. What's more, we usually offer those who respond to our altar calls little explanation as to what a life of faith really entails.
Worse, some make faith into a kind of spiritual “Aladdin’s lamp,” with God as its genie. They believe material blessings flow from a robust faith, and suffering is the sign of weak faith. If we only had more faith, we are told, our problems would be solved and our questions would be answered. But Kierkegaard would have none of this! As he so aptly states in Fear and Trembling, “No one has the right to… let others suppose that faith is… an easy matter, when in fact it is the greatest and most difficult of all.” Faith is not a simple one-time decision; faith is a life-changing, life-long, event. Moreover, faith is not some mathematical formula that we plug in to get the right spiritual answer. Faith is an act of trust made “on the strength of the absurd,” and, grounded in absurdity, “is unshakeable even when it sees the impossibility.”
If Abraham is a true example of faith, then surely we must never tread lightly in matters of faith. Faith is a matter of life and death! Faith, in Abraham’s case, meant giving up everything: not just his son, but his future (because the legacy of the father is dependent upon future generations), his ethic, and his hope in everything other than God. Abraham is, in effect, being asked to lose himself for the sake of a God who is apparently going back on the promise He made to Abraham and taking away the very means through which Abraham, and indeed the world, would be blessed. This test is more than just a test of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac; it is a test of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice himself for a God that appears unethical to the rational mind.
Abraham’s decision to sacrifice Isaac involves rejecting the ethical in order to fulfill an even greater purpose. But this decision goes against the ethical categories which are held by all rational people. Faith, in its truest form, appears insane! The “knight of faith” offers no justification for his or her actions; he or she simply acts in faith. We must do the same, if we are to be genuine people of faith. We must take a leap into the unknown, because we believe with all our hearts, and contrary to all sense, that God’s hand will be there to catch us. This view of faith should fill Christians with holy fear, because it immediately becomes clear that we do not live this way. We have not relinquished hope in our ideal categories; we do not step out beyond our comfortable, rational lives. And even when we do, it is often an orchestrated effort designed to benefit ourselves. But faith defies gravity and runs toward the edge, certain that, though it may freefall, it will not hit the ground. Altar calls and personal “genies” pale in comparison.
And so it is (at least I know this is true in my life) that our view of faith is quite often much too small. Our view of God’s grace and mercy is also much too small. Kierkegaard calls us as believers to remember how far we are from the life of faith, and in so doing reminds us to be humble and grateful to the God who both gives us the gift of faith, and remains faithful to us, even when we are so often nothing more than faithless.