Of Apostles and Angst

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 24, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Of Apostles and Angst


Byline: Mark Hensch , SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Who was Soren Kierkegaard? It's a question that continues to trouble intellectuals more than a century after the Danish philosopher laid the groundwork for existentialism - the idea that meaning is a responsibility one is burdened with creating - in a series of treaties published in the 1840s. Was Kierkegaard assaulted by the angst and drowning in the despair he saw as essential elements of modern life? Or was he a content Christian nonetheless frustrated by church bureaucracy?

A new selection of Kierkegaard's works compiled and translated by Oxford theologian George Pattison argues that Kierkegaard is a man of faith rather than existential futility. Spiritual Writings combines Kierkegaard's various 1843 and 1844 discourses on upbuilding one's personal Christianity, thus providing readers with a definitive set of his religious ruminations. What emerges is an eccentric take on the Christian faith, one that could come only from a philosopher as famous for irony, absurdity and paradox as Kierkegaard.

This take on theology reveals itself gradually as readers venture through the three sections of Spiritual Writings. The first - The Gift: Every good and perfect gift comes from above - argues that God in his grace and wisdom grants humanity an inherently fulfilling existence in spite of its tendency toward doubt. Such uncertainty, Kierkegaard states, is best overcome with gratitude toward God and repentance from sin. Though difficult, this action is in man's best interest as in God there is no change or shadow of turning. Given God is good, he will always remain good.

Kierkegaard drives this point home by exploring the story of Job's suffering. Citing Job's prayer that The Lord gave, the Lord took away, blessed be the name of the Lord, Kierkegaard exposes the paradox of a man who has lost so much yet still praises God even more. The reason for this seeming contradiction, he concludes, is that Job's sufferings could have been infinitely worse given evil is in the world. Man should thus cherish God even in troubling times, he declares, given greater misfortune is always possible.

This truth masterfully introduces Creation: What we learn from the lilies and the birds, easily the book's strongest portion. Kierkegaard uses the serenity of flowers growing and birds flying as metaphors for human life, extolling the virtues of trusting in God's provisions and judgment over our own. The best human life, he claims, is the one in which people enjoy the bounty of the present and leave the future in God's hands.

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