Reflecting On Faith

In a journal entry from 1850 Kierkegaard testifies to the centrality of the question of faith in his pseudonymous works and to the importance of employing dialectical reflection to illuminate it, which he claims to have done with unparalleled devotion and accuracy:

In many forms and under several pseudonyms, a whole pseudonymous literature is chiefly concerned with illuminating the question of faith, with discerning the sphere belonging to faith, with determining its distinction from other spheres of the intellect and spirit, etc. And how is all this done? By dialectic, by reflection. I venture to claim that it would be hard to find an author who has been so devoted to

2 On the relation of faith and works in Kierkegaard, see also Barrett (2002) and Rae (2002).

reflecting on faith—although certainly not speculating unceremoniously on particular dogmas; for I 'reflected,' yes, I thought (and that was, after all, reflection) that the first thing to be done was to clear up the whole question of faith. I venture to claim that in my writings the dialectical qualifications of specific points are set forth with an accuracy such as has not been known before. (JP vi. 6595)

The starting point for Kierkegaard's reflection on faith, however, was not in his pseudonymous writings but in his early upbuilding discourses, the very first one of which focuses on the concept of faith. In this discourse faith is seen as being qualitatively different from all other good things of life such as health, happiness, prosperity, power, good fortune, and fame, in that it is not only the highest good but a good in which all human beings can share:

The person who wishes it for another person wishes it for himself; the person who wishes it for himself wishes it for every human being, because that by which another person has faith is not that by which he is different from him but is that by which he is like him; that by which he possesses it is not that by which he is different from others but that by which he is altogether like all. (EUD 10)

First and foremost, then, faith is a possibility for every human being that is based on and gives expression to our common humanity rather than our differences as single individuals. But faith cannot be had by just wishing for it, nor is it something one can procure for others; rather, faith is gained only by personally willing it, which all individuals must do for themselves. Like hope, faith is directed towards the future in that it constitutes the power of the eternal within us through which everything, including the past, present, and future, can be fathomed as a whole (19). Only by conquering the future, then, can we understand the past, find meaning in the present, and face the future without anxiety and despair. That is done, Kierkegaard claims, by expecting victory in the certitude that 'all things must serve for good [for] those who love God' (cf. Romans 8: 28; EUD 19-23, 26-8). The first condition for arriving at faith, therefore, is to become aware of whether one has it or not, which is disclosed by how one relates to the expectation of victory in the eternal—an expectancy which for Kierkegaard is never disappointed, regardless of whether it is substantiated in time by something in particular.3

3 See Walsh (2000) on Regine Olsen as the unnamed intended recipient of this discourse, which was written specifically to encourage her not to lose faith as a result of their broken engagement.

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