With the theme of God's love we arrive at what for Kierkegaard is the main 'thesis of Christianity', namely that God is love (JP ii. 1446). As he sees it, love is not a predicate or attribute of God such as omnipresence or omnipotence but constitutes 'the only substantive' qualification or very essence of God (JP ii. 1319, 1446).21 What does it mean, then, to say that God's essence is love? Perhaps the best explanation is given in a late journal entry in which Kierkegaard states: 'The law of loving is quite simple and familiar: to love is to be transformed into likeness to the beloved' (JP iii. 2450, 2438). This definition squares nicely with the thought experiment of Philosophical Fragments, where the eternal resolve of the god to establish an absolute likeness to human beings out of love is illustrated by a parable about a king who loved a maiden of lowly station (PF 26-35). The king decides that the only way truly to establish equality, unity, and understanding between them in a happy love relation is not by an ascent, that is, by drawing her up in adoration and glorification of himself, but by a descent of the king into likeness with her in the lowly form of a servant. Climacus
21 Cf. Schleiermacher (1956: 730).
emphasizes, however, that with respect to the god 'this form of a servant is not something put on like the king's plebeian cloak' but is 'his true form', expressing 'the boundlessness of love' in willing to be the equal of the beloved (31-2). Climacus declares:
For love, any other revelation would be a deception, because either it would first have had to accomplish a change in the learner (love, however, does not change the beloved but changes itself) and conceal from him that this was needed, or in superficiality it would have had to remain ignorant that the whole understanding between them was a delusion (this is the untruth of paganism). (PF 33)
But there is a twofoldness in the thesis that God is love inasmuch as God not only loves human beings but wants to be loved by them in return (JP ii. 1446; iii. 2448, 2452, 2453). Thus, in Kierkegaard's estimation it is 'pure nonsense' to suggest, as is commonly done in Christendom, that God is 'pure love' in the sense that the deity is transformed into likeness to humans without also seeking to transform them into likeness to him (JP iii. 2450). 'No, that God is love means, of course, that he will do everything to help you to love him, that is, to be transformed into likeness to him', he explains (2450). The inducement for this reciprocity of love is the forgiveness of sins, which is the starting point for Christianity and the transition to loving God and being remade into likeness to the divine. For Kierkegaard, then, 'To love God is to be a Christian' (JP iii. 2453). But learning to love God is not as simple or as easy as one might think, for according to Kierkegaard 'God must make you unhappy, humanly speaking, if he is to love you and you are to love him' (JP iii. 2450; cf. 2443, 2449). This is so, he suggests, because one cannot love God in addition to the world, for 'it is the greatest possible high treason to want to love God also, to enjoy life, be attached to the world, and also love God' (JP iii. 2437). On the contrary, 'to love God is possible only by clashing with all human existence (hating father and mother, hating oneself, suffering because one is a Christian, etc.)' (JP iii. 2453).
These statements, drawn from Kierkegaard's late journals, anticipate the terrible and inevitable clash between Christianity and culture that awaits the person who ventures to love God Christianly in contrast to the accommodation of Christendom to the worldliness and aestheticism that Kierkegaard sees all around him and protests so vehemently in his writings. The opposition of Christianity to worldliness and the inevitability of Christian suffering are constant themes in the second literature or later religious writings of Kierkegaard. But the other side of the coin is dialecti-cally presented in these writings as well, namely that 'all things must serve us for good—when we love God' (CD 188-201). To get a balanced picture of what it means to say that God is love and to love God, therefore, we need to look at the positive side as well. Kierkegaard contends that the only way a person can truly love God is out of a need for God. Although it may seem high-minded to say that one loves the deity because 'God is the highest, the holiest, the most perfect being', and selfish to love God because one needs him, it is the latter condition of need that constitutes 'the fundamental and primary basis for a person's love of God' (188). Indeed, Kierkegaard says it would be presumptuous and fanatical to love God without needing him, for even in human love relations one does not normally love another person 'solely for the beloved's perfection' (188). Thus one must first humbly acknowledge one's need of God and then ask oneself whether one believes that God is love, for if one believes that God is love, then one also loves God and all things serve one for good (193).
The appropriate way to settle the question of whether God is love, then, is not by trying to demonstrate it in an impersonal, objective manner but by asking out of self-concern and with fear and trembling whether one personally believes that God is love, which in Kierkegaard's view is the main and decisive question as well as the 'best means' of allaying 'all doubt about the truth of the doctrine' (CD 189). If I believe that God is love, 'then everything else follows without any demonstration—from the demonstration nothing follows forme; from faith everything follows for me (191; cf.JP iii. 3453). One may successfully demonstrate that God is love, but it does not follow from God's being love that one believes that God is love or that one loves him. This is so, Kierkegaard explains, because 'knowledge that God is love is still not a consciousness of it. Consciousness, personal consciousness, requires that in my knowledge I also have knowledge of myself and my relation to my knowledge. This is to believe, here to believe that God is love, and to believe that God is love is to love him' (194). When one is personally conscious that God is love and feels the need of him, then and only then does everything that normally counts as good fortune, such as riches, good health, mental gifts, honour, prestige, spouse, and children, serve one for good.
According to the inverse dialectic that governs Christian thought, in which everything is understood as the inverse or opposite of the natural, merely human, secular or worldly mentality, even if one meets what is generally regarded as bad fortune in life, it is still good fortune and can serve one for good—when one loves God. To illustrate this situation, Kierkegaard asks us to imagine an extraordinarily gifted thinker who has pondered the nature of God as love and written a scholarly book on the subject that is used by pastors to demonstrate this Christian truth (CD 197-8). Then some terrible misfortune happens that plunges the thinker into wretchedness and he begins to doubt that God is love. Finally, at his wit's end he goes to visit a pastor who does not know him personally in order to open himself and seek comfort. The pastor makes several unsuccessful attempts to convince the stranger that his misfortune is good fortune and for the best because God is love. Unknowingly and ironically, the pastor then recommends the thinker's own book as the only resource that may be of help to him. From this experience the thinker learns that even though his thoughts about God were undoubtedly true, 'until now he had lived under the delusion that when it had been demonstrated that God is love it followed as a matter of course that you and I believe it', and he learns to take a somewhat dimmer view of thought, especially 'pure thought', as the basis of faith (198). More importantly, his 'train of thought' becomes inverted, so that he no longer says, 'God is love; ergo all things serve for one's good', but says instead: 'When I believe that God is love, then all things serve me for good' (199). Kierkegaard claims that when we come to love God, an eternal change takes place within us, but no one can tell whether or when that will happen. The voice of conscience, or what he calls 'the preacher of repentance' within us, can help to make us aware of God and keep us awake in incertitude in order to seek the certitude of faith, which only God can grant (194).
In another discourse Kierkegaard asserts: 'We are not, after all, required to be able to understand the rule of God's love, but we certainly are required to be able to believe and, believing, to understand that he is love' (UDVS 268). Thus, 'if the slightest thing happened that could demonstrate or could even merely appear to demonstrate that God was not love—well, then all would be lost, then God would be lost, for if God is not love, and if he is not love in everything, then God does not exist at all' (267). In the twentieth century, for many Jews and Christians the Holocaust was just the sort of event that called God's love into question. But to Kierkegaard this possibility is unbearable, 'inasmuch as no human being would be able to endure this horror' (270). Although he recognizes that many people live in such a way as to lose faith if something dreadful were to happen to them, in his view this way of living is 'indefensible' because it vitiates 'the highest passion in a semi-drowsiness between doubt and trust' and 'loses everything, loses that without which life really is nothing' (269). Not only do they suffer 'the shipwreck of eternity's joy of living', they suffer damage 'in the innermost joint in a human being' (269). Further connecting these two images, Kierkegaard states:
Whether there are any spikes that in particular can be said to hold the ship's structure together, I do not know, but this I do know—that this faith is the divine joint in a human being and that if it holds it makes him the proudest sailing ship, but if it is loosened it makes a wreck of him and thereby makes the content of his whole life futility and miserable vanity. (UDVS 269)
Kierkegaard is confident and finds joy in the fact that 'it is eternally true that nothing has happened or ever can happen... that can rock the faith that God is love' (UDVS 268). We may be reassured of this fact by the consciousness of guilt, namely that 'in relation to God a person always suffers as guilty', for unless one can claim to be innocent before God, which no human being can possibly do, doubt has no basis on which to accuse God (265, 273-4). Before God we are not merely guilty in this or that but 'essentially and unconditionally guilty' as aresult ofsin (2 85).22 Kierkegaard further points out:
If in relation to God a sufferer could be in the right, if it were possible that the fault is with God, well, then there would be hopelessness and the horror of hopelessness, then there would be no task. The tasks of faith and hope and love and patience and humility and obedience—in short, all the human tasks, are based on the eternal certainty in which they have a place of resort and support, the certainty that God is love. If it had ever happened to a human being in relation to God that the fault lay with God, there would be no task; if this ever had happened to a single human being, there would be no tasks for the entire human race. It would not be only in this particular case that there is no task; no, if God just one single time had demonstrated that he was not love in the smallest or the greatest, had left the sufferer without a task—then for all humankind there is no longer any task, then it is foolishness and futility and soul-deadening pernicious laboriousness to believe, a self-contradiction to work, and an agony to live. Life issues from the heart, and if a person's heart suffers damage, then by his own fault there is no longer any task for him except the sedulous toil of sin and emptiness; but from the heart of God issues the life in everything, the life in the tasks. If it is so that the creature must die if God withdraws his breath, then it is also true that if God for one single moment has denied his love, then all tasks are dead and reduced to nothing, and hopelessness is the only thing there is. (UDVS 277)
This is a powerful statement on existential grounds, not rational ones, for believing that God is love. But the consciousness of guilt also makes it 'eternally certain that God is love', because the consciousness of guilt makes it 'impossible to begin to doubt that God is love' (UDVS 279-80, 282-3). This does not mean that Jews and others who were slaughtered in the Holocaust, for example, deserved death or were being punished because they were guilty before God. Kierkegaard's conviction that God is love utterly rules out that possibility. Moreover, he makes a clear distinction between being in the wrong and suffering as guilty and between innocent and guilty suffering in relation to other people and in relation to God (283). When a person is guilty, that person suffers as guilty in relation to both God and other people, but when a person is in the right, humanly speaking, and
22 On essential guilt, see also Kangas (2005) and Law (2005).
suffers innocently at the hands of other people, as in the case of the Jews vis-à-vis the Nazis, that person still stands in the wrong before God—not for something in particular he/she has done but because 'in relation to God a human being always suffers as guilty' (283). Kierkegaard clearly rejects the notion that God is 'a cruel tyrant' who punishes people for particular sins (286-7). From his perspective, therefore, the genocide of the Holocaust could only be attributed to the unmitigated evil perpetrated by the Nazis, not to God, who out of love grants human freedom and thus the possibility of evil as well as good in the world.
By presupposing that a person is essentially guilty before God, Kierkegaard also subverts all attempts to construct a theodicy or rational justification to vindicate God for what appears to be innocent suffering in the world, thereby overcoming doubt through thought.23 The way to overcome doubt, as he sees it, is not by presumptuously 'thinking through doubt' to a higher understanding but 'to believe without being able to understand' (UDVS 273-4; cf. 279). In taking this approach to the problem of doubt, Kierkegaard rejects the guiding principle of medieval theology, credo utintelligam (I believe in order to understand), as well as the starting point of modern philosophy and speculative theology, inasmuch as modern philosophy begins with doubt in order to get beyond it to knowledge, and speculative theology, particularly that of Martensen, seeks to 'go further' to a higher understanding of the divine through mediation.
GOD'S CREATIVE OMNIPOTENCE, GOODNESS, AND MAJESTY
Just as God is the Omnipresent One for Kierkegaard, he is also the Omnipotent One whose omnipotence is identical to his goodness and whose absolute majesty is infinite and sublime and therefore incomprehensible as well as qualitatively different from the human. But as Kierkegaard sees them, God's omnipotence, goodness, and majesty are inseparable from God's essence as love and his work as creator (EUD 32-48, 141-58, 2 3 3 -51).24 In a journal entry from 1851 Kierkegaard writes: 'God's majesty seems to be forgotten; therefore, instead of the customary expositions on God's qualities, I could be tempted to concentrate on God's majesty, in order that there might be proper appreciation of—love' (JP iii. 2557; cf. ii. 1432, 1449; iii. 2558, 2559). Similarly, with respect to the omnipotence of God, he observes: 'Everyone who assumes that there is a God of course
23 On Kierkegaard's critique of theodicy see also Kangas (2005: 306-12), and Law (2005: 345-8).
24 See also Lindstrom (1982).
considers him the strongest, as he indeed eternally is—he, the Omnipotent One, who creates out of nothing, and to whom all creation is as nothing— but presumably he scarcely thinks of the possibility of a reciprocal relationship' (CD 127). Affirming the traditional Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo, Kierkegaard sees God's omnipotence as being manifested first of all in the creation of the world out of nothing. But that which is 'as nothing' to the Omnipotent One is lovingly called to become 'something' in a reciprocal relation to God through the power (Magt) or omnipotence (Almagt) of divine love, which for Kierkegaard is even more incomprehensible than the omnipotence that creates out of nothing (128). The omnipotence of God is thus understood as operating in concert with God's love, which through its own omnipotent power makes possible a purpose and reciprocal relation to the divine which a human being otherwise would not have: 'omnipotence made him come into existence, but love made him come into existence for God' (128). But unlike God's primal omnipotence, which requires nothing of a human being because a human being is nothing before it, God's omnipotent love also requires something of a human being; otherwise there would be no reciprocity between them. This is the inverse of the common understanding of the relation of omnipotence and love to requirements, as omnipotence is generally associated with imposing rigorous requirements and love with being lenient. But as Kierkegaard sees it, the existence of God's infinite love must be presupposed 'in order for a person to exist in such a way for God that there can be any question of requiring anything of him' (128).
What God in his infinite love, omnipotence, goodness, and divine majesty as creator requires of a human being is obedience—unconditional obedience (JP ii. 1345, 1436; EUD 98-9; WA 23-35; UDVS 256-63). Humorously and ironically, the 'divinely appointed teachers' and models of unconditional obedience for human beings, according to Kierkegaard, are none other than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air (cf. Matthew 6: 24-34), which like everything in nature are totally subject to God's will and entirely dependent on his sustaining care (WA 25-31; UDVS 155-212; CD 3-91). But obedience, if it is to be true obedience rather than submission to a blind necessity, must be grounded in freedom (UDVS 205). The greatest good that can be done for a being, Kierkegaard contends, is to make it free (JP ii. 1251; cf. WL 276-8). For that to happen, however, omnipotence is required. This seems strange and contrary to the common conception of omnipotence, which seeks to make the other dependent rather than independent through the exercise of power. But as Kierkegaard sees it, 'Only a wretched and mundane conception of the dialectic of power holds that it is greater and greater in proportion to its ability to compel and to make dependent' (JP ii. 1251). Unlike all finite power, God's omnipotence has 'the unique qualification of being able to withdraw itself', thereby allowing a human being to be independent. This no finite power can do, because it remains 'ensconced in a relationship to an other' that keeps the other from being wholly free (1251). Kierkegaard further points out that there is an element of 'finite self-love in all finite power', whereas God's omnipotence gives itself away completely (1251). In this instance, however, God's self-giving is identified not with God's love, as one might expect, but with God's goodness, which Kierkegaard defines as 'to give oneself away completely, but in such a way that by omnipotently taking oneself back one makes the recipient independent' (1251). God's omnipotence, then, is the same as God's goodness, which is the same as God's love.
Kierkegaard's theology of creation is thus intimately bound up with his understanding of the omnipotence, goodness, and love of God, from whom every good and perfect gift comes (cf. James 1:17-22; EUD 32-48, 133— 9, 141—58). Besides being favoured with the gift of independence, human beings have the added distinction of being created in the image of God, thus sharing in the invisible glory of God as spirit (UDVS 181—2, 192—3). Unlike nature, which lives entirely in the moment and lacks the eternal, human beings possess a consciousness of the eternal and have the task of becoming the lofty creatures they are intended to be, namely single individuals or separate and distinct entities rather than generic animals or mere numbers in a crowd (UDVS 189—90; EUD 88). As Kierkegaard sees it, the meaning of creation is not completed until individuality is given, which is 'the true period' or end of creation (JP ii. 1981). As 'creation's wonderwork', human beings are divinely destined to be God's co-workers by ruling over nature, which in its beauty and ingenious formation honours, bears witness to, and reminds us of God but does not resemble him (EUD 84, 86—7, 333; UDVS 165, 189, 192, 199). But human beings are rulers over nature and resemble God only insofar as they are obedient to God and submit to being his humble servant, prostrating themselves in adoration and worship (EUD 84—7; UDVS 193). For Kierkegaard, to worship God is precisely what it means to resemble God, inasmuch as 'to be able truly to worship is the excellence of the invisible glory above all creation' (UDVS 193). In his estimation,
The human being and God do not resemble each other directly but inversely; only when God has infinitely become the eternal and omnipotent object of worship and the human being always a worshipper, only then do they resemble each other. If human beings want to resemble God by ruling, they have forgotten God; then God has departed and they are playing the rulers in God's absence. (UDVS 193)
Another aspect of God's love, goodness, and infinite majesty that confounds the human understanding is the belief that suffering comes from God (JP ii. 1443, 1447; iii. 2558, 2560). In Kierkegaard's view, the idea that suffering is incompatible with the Christian belief that God is love and that only the good comes from God has led many Christians, especially in Protestantism and Luther in particular, to attribute suffering to the devil (JP ii. 1447, 1449). As Kierkegaard sees it, however, this idea is not truly Christian because it posits a majesty over against God and degrades the divine majesty by making it unable to avert suffering caused by a foreign power (1447). God's way of punishing the ungodly in the world is not by bringing sufferings upon them but by ignoring them as if they were non-existent, which in Kierkegaard's view is precisely God's 'truly majestic punishment upon Christendom' (JP ii. 1440; iii. 2560, 2563, 3644, 3648). God brings sufferings only upon those he loves and who love him in return so that they may be called through sufferings to become heterogeneous to the world, which is 'immersed in evil' (JP iii. 2560). Suffering, then, is a sign that one is being educated for eternity by being 'weaned' from the world:
Alas, it is certainly true that through sufferings a person comes to know a great deal about the world, how deceitful and treacherous it is, and much else like that, but all this knowledge is not the schooling of sufferings. No, just as we speak of a child's having to be weaned when it no longer is allowed to be as one with the mother, so also in the most profound sense a person must be weaned by sufferings, weaned from the world and the things of this world, from loving it and from being embittered by it, in order to learn for eternity. (UDVS 257)
As human beings we are created in the image of God but as Christians we have God for our prototype in Christ, who is the fulfilment of creation (CD 41-2; UDVS 231; JP ii. 1391). Just as Christ learnt obedience from his sufferings, what we learn for eternity in the school of sufferings is obedience, 'to let God be master, to let God rule', which for Kierkegaard constitutes the sum and substance of all eternal truth and knowledge of God: 'Everything that a human being knows about the eternal is contained primarily in this: it is God who rules, because whatever more a person comes to know pertains to how God has ruled or rules or will rule' (UDVS 250-8, 263). As finite beings created with independence, human beings are therefore faced with a choice, an either/or: either to love God or to hate him, for they cannot serve two masters, both God and the world, good and evil (UDVS 201-12; WA 21-35; JP i. 952). In actuality, however, there is really only one choice, which is God, since to choose the other is perdition.
To Kierkegaard it is clear what the choice is, en masse, in Christendom (JP iv. 4911). His late journals abound with charges that God's majesty has been belittled, degraded, and obliterated, that it has been 'fantastically infinitized' in such a way as to get God 'smuggled out of everything to some point infinitely distant from actuality' and thus to get rid of him (JP iii. 2561; cf. JP ii. 1436, 1449; iii. 2562, 2570, 2571, 2576; iv. 4917). Perhaps the most damning charge of all is that, by downgrading God's majesty to being merely the superlative of human majesty, 'as if God were some human Majesty who aspires to extend himself and become the mightiest', Christendom has served Christianity as if it were politics (JP iii. 2571). As Kierkegaard sees it, God's majesty is 'anything but domineering or aristocratic' in a human sense (JP ii. 1432; cf. iii. 2574). God has no cause in the sense of 'aspiring to expand his power', which is already infinite and thus cannot be expanded; rather, God desires to be worshipped, which is not done by building beautiful churches and filling them with thousands of so-called Christians who seek to avoid suffering, but by adoring God in such a way as to 'look only to him and find it blessed to suffer' (JP iii. 2571, 2562). Kierkegaard's indictment of Christendom on this score is directed especially against the clergy, for whom, in his view, God has 'no use at all' because they are self-serving (JP iii. 2571). We shall have occasion to return to the relation of Christianity to politics in a later chapter, where Kierkegaard's indictment of Christendom will be spelt out more fully. Suffice it to point out here that, in Kierkegaard's estimation, 'all the confusion in Christendom centers in our having lost a conception of God's majesty, what majesty of spirit is' (JP iii. 2570).
'GOD IS THAT EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE'
For Kierkegaard the majesty of God is perhaps best expressed in the biblical claim that for God everything is possible. In answer to the question in Matthew 19: 26 concerning who can be saved, Jesus responds: 'For men this is impossible; but everything is possible for God.' The belief that everything is possible for God is a central theological tenet for Kierkegaard and 'in the deepest sense' the watchword of his life and thought (JP v. 6535). It underlies his view of the incarnation, which is impossible from a human standpoint, and constitutes the very substance of his concept of faith. In line with the New Testament, Kierkegaard's Christian pseudonym Anti-Climacus declares that 'possibility is the only salvation' and explicitly equates believing in possibility with faith or the belief that for God everything is possible (SUD 38-9). But Anti-Climacus goes beyond the biblical assertion that all things are possible for God to define the deity itself as identical to possibility: 'since everything is possible for God, then God is this—that everything is possible' (som nemligfor Gud Alt er muligt, saa er Gud det, at Alt er muligt) (40; SV1 xi. 153).25 An older English translation by Walter Lowrie construes this statement in the following manner: 'Inasmuch as for God all things
25 See also Theunissen (2005: 81-6); Come (1997: 227, 256-7).
are possible, it may be said that this is what God is, viz. one for whom all things are possible.'26 The latter translation is less literal and wordier than the Hong version but may be closer to the meaning intended by the pseudonym. Yet Anti-Climacus goes on to reiterate: 'the being of God means that everything is possible, or that everything is possible means the being of God' (thi Gud er det at Alt er muligt, eller at Alt er muligt, er Gud) (40). This time the statement in question is rendered more literally by Lowrie as 'for God is that all things are possible, and that all things are possible is God'.27 This could be taken to mean that God is ontologically equivalent to infinite possibility itself and not simply a being for whom everything is possible, which opens up the possibility of an intriguingly different way of understanding the divine in Kierkegaard's authorship. Since this is the only place in his writings that such a claim is made, however, there is no way to resolve the matter by comparison to other statements. But for that reason as well, one should perhaps not make too much of the claim in a metaphysical sense. In his journals Kierkegaard refers to God as having '100,000 possibilities at every moment' and 'possibilities to burn', which does not suggest an equation of God with possibility but only that God is the source or ground of possibility in the world (JP ii. 1382, iii. 3344). As the infinite ground of possibility, God transcends all human conceptions of what is possible based on experience, reason, and imagination. Kierkegaard thus suggests that instead of saying 'there is no possibility', one should say 'I see no possibility' (JP iii. 3344). Similarly, in another journal passage he states: 'Just because I see no way out, I must never have the audacity to say that therefore there is none for God. For it is despair and blasphemy to confuse one's own little crumb of imagination and the like with the possibilities God has at his disposal' (JP v. 6135).
The fact that everything is possible for God, however, does not mean that everything is possible for us in the sense that we can be or do anything we wish. There is much that is not possible for human beings, and the recognition of one's given nature, social context, and limitations as a finite human being is requisite, along with possibility, for becoming oneself in likeness to God. Kierkegaard was highly critical of the German romantic poets in particular for promulgating the notion that everything is possible for a human being by virtue of the absolute freedom of the creative imagination, through which one is able not only to experiment poetically with a multiplicity of possibilities in the production of works of art but also 'to live poetically' by creating or making oneself a work of art (CI 272-323).28 From a Christian standpoint, as Kierkegaard sees it, the human task is not to create oneself but to develop one's God-given potentialities in cooperation
26 Kierkegaard (1968: 173).
with the divine so as to be 'poetically composed' by God rather than 'to compose oneself poetically' (280). God may also be likened to a poet in that 'poetically he permits everything possible to come forth' and puts up with all manner of evil, nonsense, wretchedness, mediocrity, etc. in the world (JP ii. 1445). But just as a poet should not be confused with the thoughts and actions of the characters in his or her poetic productions, one should not assume 'that God consents to all that happens and how' (1445). As a poet, then, God is the source of all possibility in the world, but not everything that happens accords with the divine will.
GOD'S PROVIDENCE, GOVERNANCE, AND CHANGELESSNESS
In associating God with possibility, Kierkegaard rejects determinism or fatalism, which according to Anti-Climacus either has no God or else identifies God with necessity (SUD 40). But Kierkegaard does believe in God's providence (Forsyn) and governance (Styrelse), which are synonymous terms for the special care (providentia specialissima) and guidance given to those individuals who are willing to venture a relation to God and are led further and further into suffering as a result (PC 190-1; JP iii. 3631, 3632). Kierkegaard was especially conscious of divine guidance or 'Governance' in his own life, viewing it as continually playing a major role in his work as an author and personal upbringing (PV 71-90). Oddly enough, however, while there are many references to these concepts, especially governance, in his journals, one finds little mention and even less sustained discussion of them in his published works. In Practice in Christianity governance is identified with God's love, which 'however tight it will turn the screws' on a person is never cruel and 'never tries a person beyond his ability' (PC 190).
Governance helps one to understand that suffering cannot be avoided in this life, that it will even increase as one goes forward, and that this is precisely what it means to exist as a human being in the world: 'to live under or to endure life under this pressure is what we call with emphasis to exist as a human being' (191). Suffering is further intensified in Christianity as a result of 'the Christian's having to live in this world and having to express in the environment of this world what it is to be a Christian' (196). Thus governance not only helps one to understand the unavoidability of suffering as a human being and Christian in the world but also to persevere in it by trusting in God's love.
Like every concept associated with the divine, however, God's providence and governance are frequently misunderstood and inverted in
Christendom, which typically associates them with rewarding good and punishing evil in the world. Piety is thus seen as being rewarded with good fortune, and the fortunate are given an excuse for ignoring those who suffer by advising them to 'turn to providence', which has the 'tranquilizing effect' of letting the fortunate off the hook and enabling them 'to enjoy life lavishly' (JP iii. 3632). Further justification for not helping those who suffer is provided by the explanation that suffering is self-inflicted and a punishment from God, whose 'purposes of providence for every individual' are not to be disturbed (3632). Of this self-serving affirmation of God's providence, Kierkegaard observes: 'But here as everywhere we treat Christianity as arbitrarily as possible. We human beings select what seems able to suit our self-indulgence and throw away what does not please us—and thus we cook up a rascally religiosity which is supposed to be Christianity' (3632, translation modified).
As early as 1834 it seemed to Kierkegaard that the equivalent of a 'Coper-nican Revolution' occurred when dogmatic theology discovered that 'God is not the one who changes... but that a human being changes his position in relationship to God' (JP ii. 1303, translation modified). The changeless-ness or immutability of God was 'a central thesis' of the rationalist theologians of Kierkegaard's time (JP ii. 1304). While wholeheartedly agreeing with this thesis, Kierkegaard was unhappy with the way it was understood by the rationalists, as it seemed to him that in their view the appearance of Christ was only a declaration of God's eternal changelessness, which made it possible to grasp the idea of God's changelessness philosophically without naming Christ. In a journal entry from 1846 he further objects to the abstract manner in which the changelessness of God is reflected upon by thinkers in his day, charging that 'by thinking abstractly about God's abstract unchangeableness a person wants to transform himself', that is, 'to make himself just as unchanged as God is unchangeable' (JP ii. 1348). As Kierkegaard sees it, this is contrary to the doctrine of the atonement, which 'teaches that God has remained unchanged while human beings changed, or it proclaims to human beings-altered-in-sin that God has remained unchanged' (1348, translation modified). Moreover, by focusing abstractly on God's changelessness, the whole deliberation is transformed into 'a phantom-battle about the predicates of God' instead of enquiring whether a change 'from what he eternally must be assumed to be' has occurred in the thinker's own being (1348). If such a change has occurred, then in Kierkegaard's view 'the proclamation of God's changelessness' is urgently needed in order for reconciliation to occur (1348). But if God's changelessness is 'an abstract something', reconciliation is impossible, as that requires a personal relation between two parties, whereas one has only an impersonal relation to an abstract being (1348).
This personal or subjective approach to God's changelessness is already apparent in Kierkegaard's early upbuilding discourses, where he states that 'this changelessness is not that chilling indifference, that devastating loftiness, that ambiguous distance, which the callous understanding lauded. No, on the contrary this changelessness is intimate and warm and everywhere present; it is a changelessness in being concerned for a person' (EUD 393). This warm and intimate understanding of God's changelessness is especially evident in the only work penned by Kierkegaard that is specifically devoted to this topic, The Changelessness of God, a discourse delivered at the Citadel Church in 1851 and published in 1855 shortly before his death (TM 263-81). The biblical text on which this discourse is based is James 1: 17-21, described by Kierkegaard as 'my first, my favorite, text' inasmuch as it was the text for several upbuilding discourses published in 1843 (JP vi. 6769; EUD 32-48, 125-58). The first sentence of this text provides the biblical basis for the Christian claim of God's changelessness: 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change or shadow of variation.' In the opening prayer of the discourse Kierkegaard subtly contrasts the changelessness of God in love, who is moved by everything but changed by nothing, to the unmoved mover of Aristotle which causes motion in the universe by being the object of desire or love but is not itself love or loving.29 Like Aristotle, Kierkegaard associates the temporal realm with changeableness, and he particularly contrasts the changeableness of human beings to the changelessness of God. Because we lack the pure clarity or transparency of the divine, which has no darkness in it, we are changeable or variable, as things are sometimes clearer, other times darker to us, with the result that we are changed within ourselves as we respond to changes taking place in the world around us (TM 272).
The thought of God's changelessness is thus cause not only for 'sheer fear and trembling' as to whether we are in conflict with his changeless will but also for 'sheer consolation' in that rest from our weary changeableness is to be found in it (TM 272, 276, 278). When falsehood, violence, and wrong are victorious in the world, it may seem that God is not noticing or has changed, but Kierkegaard sees this divine inaction in a different light as further certainty of God's eternal changelessness in that God takes his time in order to give us time to turn around and reform, since in the accounting of eternity nothing is forgotten (273-4). Kierkegaard thus reminds the reader: 'If, then, your will is not in accord with his, consider this: you will
29 Cf. Aristotle (1984: ii. 1694-5, 12. 7). See also Torn0e (2006), who contrasts Kierkegaard and Schleiermacher to Plato's view of the immutability of God and to the German idealists, especially Hegel, who ascribed change or becoming to God.
never escape him' (276). But the reader is also reminded that: 'When you allow yourself to be brought up by his changelessness so that you renounce instability and changefulness and caprice and willfulness—then you rest ever more blessedly in this changelessness of God' (278). Likening God's unchanging love to the delicious coolness of a desert spring, Kierkegaard ends the discourse and his authorship with a prayer to God that offers the following words of consolation: And whenever a person comes to you, at whatever age, at whatever time of day, in whatever condition—if he comes honestly, he will always find (like the spring's unchanged coolness) your love just as warm, you Changeless One! Amen' (280-1).
Was this article helpful?
Download this Guide and Discover How To Find And Monetize on Your Expertise And Strengths. Inside this special report, you'll discover: How positive thinking is one of the key factors in a successful life. Five ways and tools to help you stay positive. Use these to help you keep on track. Case studies that'll inspire you to stick to your dreams. Plus much, much more.