The Paradox of Faith

One of Kierkegaard's pseudonyms who is acutely aware of the fact that he lacks faith is Johannes de silentio (John of Silence), the 'author' of Fear and Trembling.4 In this early pseudonymous work, Kierkegaard's literary persona laments the tendency of modern philosophy—by which he means Hegelian speculative philosophy most notably that of the Danish Hegelians and Martensen in particular—to 'go further' than faith by presumably comprehending it conceptually in a philosophical system (FT 3-4). As Johannes sees it, faith is a lifelong task that is not achieved in a matter of days or weeks nor can it be comprehended by reflection: 'Even if one were able to convert the whole content of faith into conceptual form, it does not follow that one has comprehended faith, comprehended how one entered into it or how it entered into one' (5). For an exemplar of faith Johannes looks to Abraham, traditionally regarded as the father of faith because he did not doubt when tested by God's command to sacrifice his son Isaac, who had been given to Abraham and his wife Sarah in their old age in order to fulfil the Lord's promise to make Abraham the father of a great nation (cf. Genesis 12:1; 22:1-19). Abraham believed by virtue of the absurd that God would fulfil his promise in spite of the divine command to sacrifice Isaac, either by rescinding the command or by providing a new Isaac if he were sacrificed, which Abraham was willing to do in obedience to God even though it stood in stark contradiction to his love for Isaac and to the divine promise. To Johannes, therefore, the faith of Abraham is a paradox that goes against all human understanding and expectation, a paradox that can be entered into only with much anxiety, fear and trembling, and courage.

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