This morning I got into a brief discussion with a friend via email about Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Kierkegaard was a 19th-century Danish philosopher who has been called the “Father of Existentialism,” and with those few words I have told you everything I knew about Kierkegaard. My friend suggested I do a Google search on Kierkegaard especially having to do with his writings regarding “leaps of faith“ as he said I tend to do that a lot (e.g., taking “leaps of faith”).
So, I decided to take my friend up on his suggestion this morning and here is what I found:
The phrase [leap of faith] is commonly attributed to Søren Kierkegaard; however, he never used the term, as he referred to a leap as a leap to faith. A leap of faith according to Kierkegaard involves circularity insofar as a leap is made by faith. In his book Concluding Unscientific Postscript, he describes the core part of the leap of faith, the leap. “Thinking can turn toward itself in order to think about itself and skepticism can emerge. But this thinking about itself never accomplishes anything.” Kierkegaard says thinking should serve by thinking something. Kierkegaard wants to stop “thinking’s self-reflection” and that is the movement that constitutes a leap. He’s against people thinking about religion all day without ever doing anything. But he’s also against external shows and opinions about religion and in favor of the internal movement of faith. He says, “where Christianity wants to have inwardness, worldly Christendom wants outwardness, and where Christianity wants outwardness, worldly Christendom wants inwardness.” But, on the other hand, he also says, “The less externality the more inwardness if it is truly there; but it is also the case that the less externality, the greater the possibility that the inwardness will entirely fail to come. The externality is the watchman who awakens the sleeper; the externality is the solicitous mother who calls one; the externality is the roll call that brings the soldier to his feet; the externality is the reveille that helps one to make the great effort; but the absence of the externality can mean that the inwardness itself calls inwardly to a person-alas, but it can also mean that the inwardness will fail to come.” The “most dreadful thing of all is a personal existence that cannot coalesce in a conclusion,” according to Kierkegaard. He asked his contemporaries if any of them had reached a conclusion about anything or did every new premise change their convictions. (Quote source here.)
In the middle of that pool of information, what I liked best about what is being said is the point Kierkegaard makes when he stated he’s “against people thinking about religion all day without ever doing anything. But he’s also against external shows and opinions about religion and in favor of the internal movement of faith.” And it is that “internal movement of faith” that transcends so much of the “talk” and “showiness” of Christianity we see on the surface so much of the time.
I also found some information on Kierkegaard on the philosophy website at Texas A&M University that I assume (from the URL) is written by a professor (or associate) by the name of S. Daniel (URL and source here). This is what he wrote:
Volitional Arguments for Religious Belief (continued):
Søren Kierkegaard (Religious Existentialism)
Søren Kierkegaard: religious beliefs are beliefs, not objective bits of knowledge. The confrontation with, and anguish (angst) over, the ambiguity of human existence–what is its point if one is going to die anyway?–raises the prospect of the meaninglessness of one’s existence. Since no convincing arguments can be given to justify existence itself, the only proper (i.e., authentic) response is unconditioned faith, belief that there is a God who has promised us his salvation.
Abraham is the embodiment of the religious mentality. He is not great because he is willing to sacrifice what he loves most but because he acts not knowing (in fear and trembling) whether he is right but nonetheless believes that this is what God asks of him. Indeed, humanly speaking, he is insane because his act is unintelligible and even contradicts what God has told him to expect as the father of a great nation: he acted “by virtue of the absurd.” That is, he took responsibility for his action, affirming his power rather than engaging in (Freudian) resignation.
The three enemies of authentic existence and faith are: (1) established Christianity (i.e., doing what the Church says is right); (2) middle-class, bourgeois culture (i.e., doing what society says is right); and (3) the dominant philosophy of the day (i.e., Hegelianism, in which truth is objective, rational, totalizing). The aesthetic life lies in doing what seems or “feels” right according to society because it is what we have been taught; the moral life consists in doing what can be rationally justified (philosophically); only the religious life entails acting on faith in doing this or that particular action.
Truth is subjectivity. Rationality and knowledge are based on the premise that truth is objective, impersonal, a relationship between a belief and the world. But the truth about human existence is not something about which we are simply intellectually curious but is rather something about which we care deeply. Our caring about it determines it as something different from other things; that is, what it is depends on how we feel about it. Our existence and salvation are meaningful not because they correspond to some objective fact but because our interest in them is unconditioned and passionate, without any inner reservations or doubt. This entails:
The leap of faith: there is ultimately no justification for the belief in eternal life and God’s existence; the gap between the finiteness of our comprehension and the infinity of the justification is incommensurable. Only a leap of faith can surmount the gap. Religious belief must be just that–a belief for which one cannot give rational justification. Knowledge of moral directives is rationally possible on a universal level but not on the personal level, and doing something because it is the socially acceptable (or aesthetic) thing to do involves no faith at all. Moral knowledge is general, faith in salvation is particular. The leap of faith is not irrational as much as beyond rationality. (Quote source here.)
Faith is not something that can be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands, and as stated above, it is not irrational as much as it is beyond rationality to those who do not understand or live by faith and only live by what they can see, experience, and manipulate.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany (1933-1945), wrote a statement in his diary in 1939 that is an excellent example of his taking a “leap of faith.” I quoted it previously in a blog post titled, “Free At Last,” and it happened at a time when he was contemplating returning to Germany after spending only 26 days in New York City. While he was “safe” in New York City from the reach of Hitler, he was compelled to return to Germany in spite of Hitler’s growing reign of terror. While making the decision to return to Berlin, Bonhoeffer wrote the following in his diary:
It is remarkable how I am never quite clear about the motives for any of my decisions. Is that a sign of confusion, of inner dishonesty, or is it a sign that we are guided without our knowing, or is it both? . . . Today the reading [a passage of Scripture not noted in this diary entry] speaks dreadfully harshly of God’s incorruptible judgement. He certainly sees how much personal feeling, how much anxiety there is in today’s decision, however brave it may seem. The reasons one gives for an action to others and to one’s self are certainly inadequate. One can give a reason for everything. In the last resort one acts from a level which remains hidden from us. So one can only ask God to judge us and to forgive us. . . . At the end of the day I can only ask God to give a merciful judgement on today and all it’s decisions. It is now in his hand. (Quote source: “Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (2014), by Eric Metaxas, p. 130).
This is a classic example of taking a “leap of faith.” On the surface, his decision to return to Germany seems quite irrational as it would be putting him squarely in the face of danger, and yet it was that “internal movement of faith” noted by Kierkegaard that compelled him to return anyway. God always has His reasons that we cannot understand (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
A minor prophet, Habakkuk, in the Old Testament spoke of days much like Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced when he returned to Germany from New York City back in 1939. I’ve written about Habakkuk in several previous posts, most notably in a post written three years ago titled, “The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited.” The theme of Habakkuk has repeated itself down through the pages of history, and Habakkuk lived during the death-throes of the nation of Judah before the Babylonians destroyed that nation. Bonhoeffer lived during the Nazi invasion of Germany, and died at the hands of Hitler a scant three weeks before WWII ended in 1945 (Hitler committed suicide at that time). I can’t help but think that Bonhoeffer, being a pastor and a theologian, might have remembered the words of Habakkuk while he was in prison awaiting his execution. Habakkuk was the only prophet recorded in the Old Testament who took our side in the conflict of why God allows evil to apparently ride roughshod over people who are just trying to live decent lives.
In Habakkuk, (see Habakkuk 1-3) the prophet asks God two questions, and God answers both questions, and it is in God’s answers that Habakkuk understood. In the answer to Habakkuk’s second question Habakkuk makes a statement at the end of the question, and God’s answer begins after his statement (See Habakkuk 2:1-4):
I [Habakkuk] will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.”
But the just shall live by his faith. . . . The rest of Chapter 2 states what happens to the proud, and their end eventually comes even in the midst of chaos all around. Chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer of worship to God for who He is, and a hymn of faith is given at the end of the chapter that states (in verses 17-19):
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
Even in the midst of great trials, God is still in charge.
Hebrews 11 is the great “hall of faith” chapter in the Bible and it is full of examples of people who believed and put actions behind their faith and belief in God. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (verse 1), and if we don’t put actions (that “internal movement of faith”) to our faith, we have no faith at all. And as Hebrews 11:6 states, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Therefore, “leaps of faith” are a normal and natural part of the genuine Christian experience, and true believers are compelled to take them, just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was compelled to return to Germany in the summer of 1939.
We walk by faith . . . .
I’d like to end this blog post with the benediction found at the end of Hebrews 13 (verses 20-21):
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him . . .
Through Jesus Christ . . .
To whom be glory for ever and ever . . .
Amen . . . .
YouTube Video: “Step by Step” sung by Whitney Houston (in “The Preacher’s Wife”):