The Infinite Qualitative Difference Between God And Human Beings

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One reason Kierkegaard, via the persona of Johannes Climacus, so adamantly opposes the immanence or pantheism of ancient and modern speculation is that it does away with the infinite qualitative difference between God and human beings. As Kierkegaard sees it, the law governing the relation between God and human beings is that 'there is an infinite, radical, qualitative difference' between them (JP ii. 1383; translation modified; cf. CD 63). Consequently, when a human being wants to speak about God, it cannot be done on a comparative scale with the human because

God and the human being resemble each other only inversely. You do not reach the possibility of comparison by the ladder of direct likeness: great, greater, greatest; it is possible only inversely. Neither does a human being come closer and closer to God by lifting up his head higher and higher, but inversely by casting himself down ever more deeply in worship. (CD 292)

In Kierkegaard's view, the obliteration of this difference in an attempt to affirm an essential continuity and unity of the human with the divine constitutes the 'fundamental derangement at the root of modern times' in all areas, including 'logic, metaphysics, dogmatics, and the whole of modern life', resulting in a 'depth of blasphemy' in theology unknown in ancient

paganism, the demise of ethics altogether, and a general insubordination and effrontery toward the divine (JP v. 6075).

Two explanations are given in Kierkegaard's authorship as to why this difference exists and must be acknowledged. The first has to do with our human finitude and its inherent limitations in the realm of existence vis-à-vis the infinity and eternity of God:

But the absolute difference between God and a human being is simply this, that a human being is an individual existing being (and this holds for the best brain just as fully as for the most obtuse), whose essential task therefore cannot be to think sub specie aeterni (under the aspect of the eternal), because as long as he exists, he himself, although eternal, is essentially an existing person and the essential for him must therefore be inwardness in existence; God, however, is the infinite one, who is eternal. (CUP i. 217; cf. 412)

Here temporal existence itself is seen as the differentiating and limiting factor of a human being in relation to God. But Kierkegaard makes it clear in The Book on Adler that the difference between them is not merely temporal but eternal in nature:

But between God and a human being there is an eternal essential qualitative difference, which only presumptuous thinking can make disappear in the blasphemy that in the transitory moment of finitude God and a human being are certainly differentiated, so that here in this life a human being ought to obey and worship God, but in eternity the difference will vanish in the essential likeness, so that God and human beings become peers in eternity, just as the king and the valet. (BA 181)

This difference is given expression even in paganism by Socrates, who in The Sickness unto Death is seen as guarding 'the frontier between God and a human being, keeping watch so that the deep gulf of qualitative difference between them was maintained, that God and a human being did not merge in some way... into one' (SUD 99, translation modified).

The second explanation confirms the first even more radically by predicating sin of a human being. As Kierkegaard's Christian pseudonym, Anti-Climacus, states it:

The [Christian] teaching about sin—that you and I are sinners—a teaching that unconditionally splits up 'the crowd,' confirms the qualitative difference between God and a human being more radically than ever before ...In no way is a human being so different from God as in this, that he, and that means every human being, is a sinner, and is that 'before God' ...Sin is the one and only predication about a human being that in no way, either via negationis [by denial] or via eminentiœ [by affirmation], can be stated of God. (SUD 121-2, translation modified)

In Anti-Climacus's view, the Christian teaching on sin is also what most decisively distinguishes Christianity from paganism:

It is specifically the concept of sin, the teaching about sin, that most decisively differentiates Christianity qualitatively from paganism ...The qualitative distinction between paganism and Christianity is not, as a superficial consideration assumes, the doctrine of the Atonement. No, the beginning must start far deeper, with sin, with the doctrine of sin—as Christianity in fact does. (SUD 89)

In the next chapter I shall examine the Christian doctrine of original or hereditary sin and its psychological precondition and manifestation in anxiety and despair. Here sin will be considered only in terms of its role in positing an absolute difference between God and human beings. In Philosophical Fragments and the Postscript sin is seen as constituting a radical breach with the eternal in which the essential condition or potentiality for actualizing the eternal is lost in a human being as a result of the individual's own act (PF 14-15; CUP 1: 571, 583). Sin thus constitutes a 'new existence-medium' in which one becomes a different person or undergoes a qualitative change in one's essential self-identity in coming into existence:

'To exist' generally signifies only that by having come into existence the individual does exist and is becoming; now it signifies that by having come into existence he has become a sinner____By coming into existence the individual becomes another person, or in the instant he is to come into existence he becomes another person by coming into existence, because otherwise the category of sin is placed within immanence. (CUP i. 583)

Sin thus constitutes a break with immanence and the possibility of knowing the divine via thought or recollection. The eternal is no longer present ubique et nusquam (everywhere and nowhere) as believed in immanent religiosity but can only be encountered and regained via a relation in time to the eternal in time (Jesus Christ) as claimed in Christianity. Moreover, if God is absolutely different from a human being as a result of sin, there is 'no distinguishing mark' by which one can know this difference or the divine (PF 45). The human understanding cannot think what is absolutely different from itself: 'It cannot absolutely transcend itself and therefore thinks as above itself only the sublimity that it thinks by itself' (45). Consequently the understanding arbitrarily confuses the absolute difference with itself and the deity becomes a product of the individual's own imagination. As Climacus sees it, therefore, neither the god nor the absolute difference between the god and a human being, which is sin, can be thought or known by the human understanding by itself but must be revealed by the deity. For 'if a human being is to come truly to know something about the unknown (the god), he must first come to know that it is different from him, absolutely different from him', which the understanding is incapable of knowing and can only come to know from the god (46). Even if this difference is revealed by the god, however, the understanding still cannot understand or know the god as absolutely different from itself since it cannot understand the absolutely different. The understanding thus finds itself in the quandary of a paradox: 'Just to come to know that the god is the different, a human being needs the god and then comes to know that the god is absolutely different from him' (46, translation modified).

Sin thus introduces an epistemological gulf between the god and a human being that seemingly cannot be overcome. This gulf is not due to the metaphysical difference between the god and a human being noted earlier but is caused by human beings themselves (46-7). Thus the only way it can be overcome, Climacus proposes, is by annulling the absolute difference in absolute equality through the entry of the god in time in the form of an individual human being (47). As Climacus sees it, this event is motivated by God's love, not out of any divine need, and is the result of God's eternal resolve to bring about a relation of love and understanding between them:

Out of love, therefore, the god must be eternally resolved in this way, but just as his love is the basis, so also must love be the goal, for it would indeed be a contradiction for the god to have a basis of movement and a goal that do not correspond to this. The love, then, must be for the learner, and the goal must be to win him, for only in love is the different made equal, and only in equality or in unity is there understanding. (PF 25)

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  • sagramor
    What is the difference between a “person” and a “human being” (in the philosophical sense)?
    8 years ago
  • salvia
    What are the infinite qualitative difference?
    8 years ago
    What difference did the coming of Christ make to out thinking about human beings?
    10 months ago

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