Sunday, June 3, 2012

Kierkegaard on spiritual trials...

Since I don't really have much of interest to say these days, I'll turn to what someone else has said much better than I can -- of course, that means I'm going to quote from Kierkegaard... who else? ;-)  I've been pondering this section from "For Self-Examination" recently:

"Truly, rest assured that anyone who comes down these paths shouting with joy has not been called.  There is not one of those called who has not preferred to be exempted, not one who, as a child begs and pleads to be let off, has not pleaded for himself, but it does not help -- he must go on...

When the terror rises up, the person who is not called becomes so alarmed that he turns and runs.  But the one who is called -- ah, my friend, he would rather turn back, shuddering before the terror, but as soon as he turns to flee he sees -- he sees an even greater horror behind him, the horror of spiritual trial, and he must go forward...

Everything that closely or remotely belongs to the given actuality arms itself against this man of spiritual trial whom it nevertheless is impossible to terrify because, strangely enough, he is so afraid -- of God.  All attack him, hate him, curse him.  The few who are loyal to him cry out, 'Be careful!  You are making yourself and everybody else unhappy.  Stop now and do not make the terror more intense.  Check the words on your lips and recant what you have just said.'  O my listener, faith is a restless thing."

While I suppose that some would merely perceive here an account of the psychological turmoil associated with religious belief, there is something about Kierkegaard's description that seems to contain a very important truth, though I'm not sure how to express it.  What I want to say is something like this:

Faith is found in the individual's decision to follow God above all else, and this decision cannot help but create a kind of fear or terror in a person.  But it is a terror that must be faced, because one is convinced that it will be an even worse thing to turn away from God.  Nevertheless, there is a severe trial that takes place in every genuine expression of faith, because the person must hold together three things: 1) A belief that God is to be followed, even at the expense of everything else. 2) A recognition that this will not make sense to anyone else, unless they have gone through the same experience (and how can anyone be sure of that?).  3) The recognition that there is no way to ascertain whether one has made the right decision or not, at least not in our current human state.

Given this situation, faith should be a thing taken most seriously, and with full recognition of its difficulties and its offensive status vis-a-vis standard modern/postmodern human conceptions of knowledge and reality.  This is why I, like Kierkegaard, am always a bit suspicious of people who make their claims to faith quickly and easily.  I suspect that they likely haven't really dealt with faith on a very significant level.  Why?  Because, as Kierkegaard says, "faith is a restless thing."  Faith cannot be domesticated, and any attempt to do so may just lead to its disappearance.  And nothing is worse than to think you have faith when you don't.

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