Venturing a Relation to

For Kierkegaard, theology or discourse about God is rooted in and arises out of the single individual's God-relationship, which is a possibility for every human being and the only way one really comes to know the divine. The proper context for thinking Christianly about God, therefore, is within a personal relation to God, not by engaging in abstract speculation on the nature of the deity.1 As Kierkegaard sees it, a relation to God is 'a voyage of discovery' in which one comes to know God through an 'inland journey' into oneself (JP ii. 1451). It is a venture fraught with uncertainty fear and trembling, lifelong striving, self-denial, and suffering on the part of the single individual, but not to venture such a relation is in his view 'to lead a religious still-life' that avoids all risk and danger (JP ii. 1383; TDIO 24-7). One cannot become involved with God 'without bearing the marks of being wounded' or 'suffering heterogeneity in this life' (JP ii. 1405). In fact, Kierkegaard claims that 'to become involved with God in any way other than being wounded is impossible, for God himself is this: how one involves oneself with Him ...In respect to God, the how is what' (1405). The way to discover what God is, then, is by becoming involved with him in the only way possible, namely by an absolute devotion to God that is 'instantaneously recognizable' by the 'limp' or wound of suffering one bears as a result of venturing a relation to the divine.

The God-relation is thus a 'daring venture' in which one must be willing 'absolutely to venture everything, absolutely to stake everything, absolutely to desire the highest t>\os of human existence, which is eternal happiness (CUP i. 404, 423). Like the inscription on the pagan temple at Delphi, ne quid nimis (nothing too much), which according to Clima-cus/Kierkegaard is the motto of all 'finite worldly wisdom' or sagacity, one may be willing to venture a relation to God 'to a certain degree' (404; JP ii. 1405). And if one could be sure that there is such a thing as eternal happiness, one might even be willing to venture all for it, but like passion and certainty, venturing and certainty do not hitch up as a team. As Climacus expresses it: 'To venture is the correlative of uncertainty; as soon as there is certainty, venturing stops' (CUP i. 424). Over against the secular mentality,

which wants to be exempt from all danger and effort as well as immediately certain of success, Christian venturing—indeed, in Kierkegaard's view, all truly religious venturing—requires that one relinquish probability in reliance upon God, which means that one is just as likely to fail as to succeed in the world (JFY 98-104). In fact, from a merely human standpoint, the most probable outcome in religious venturing is that one will be defeated rather than victorious in the world. But according to the inverse dialectic that informs Christianity, which is always the opposite of the secular mentality, what the world understands as failure is inversely a sign that one has truly ventured all in reliance upon God and that victory is assured eternally even if one loses temporally (96).2 The probability of failure in the world thus prevents the true venturer from taking God in vain by presuming that temporal victory will occur as a result of relying on God. But it also prompts the worldly sagacious mentality in Christendom to renounce true Christianity in favor of a lenient, comfortable religiosity that does not dare to venture beyond the bounds of probability, thereby slipping out of all personal effort and slipping in credit 'dirt cheap' for presumably being a 'God-fearing pious Christian' (102). Such 'deification of sagacity in our day', Kierkegaard contends, 'is precisely the idolatry of our age' which he seeks to expose in his critique of Christendom (102-3; cf. JP ii. 1354).


For Kierkegaard, the first thing to be said about God from a Christian standpoint is that God is Spirit (cf. John 4: 24), in relation to whom a human being is also defined as spirit (JP iii. 2446, 3098, 3099; EUD 88; SUD 13). But what does it mean to be spirit? In the Christian tradition the concept of spirit is associated primarily with the third person of the Trinity, but it has also been understood as constituting the very core of the divine essence, especially in nineteenth-century speculative theology.3 Hegel identified the concept of spirit (Geist) as 'the distinctive ontological quality of God' that constitutes 'the Trinity as such and as a whole' rather than as 'an aspect or person of the divine Trinity'.4 He understood divine spirit in a dynamic and cognitive sense as the creative power and mind or thought (Idee) that comes to know itself and to be known concretely through a historical process of mediation or reconciliation of itself as substance and subject in nature and human consciousness. As substance or the essential, underlying ground of everything that is, spirit has being in itself in the

2 On the inverse dialectic of Christianity, see Walsh (2005).

3 Schmid (1961: 111-17); Schelling (2006: 32-3). 4 Hodgson (2005: 16-17).

form of immediate consciousness. As subject or actual, determinate being, it relates itself to itself or knows itself in relation to an object other than itself and thus has being for itself in the form of human self-consciousness. In being outside itself, however, it remains within itself and thus has being in and for itself in the form of a spiritual substance that includes subject and object, self and other, thought and being, inner and outer, identity and difference.5

Hegel identified three stages in the unfolding and mediation of divine spirit in human history: subjective spirit (in the soul, consciousness, and mind as such), objective spirit (in the social and political order), and absolute spirit (in art, religion, and philosophy).6 Theologically, he understood divine spirit as an immanent Trinity that exists eternally in and for itself prior to and apart from creation and as an economic Trinity at work temporally in a drama of creation, fall, redemption, and reconciliation that re-enacts the immanent trinitarian dialectic in the necessary movement of world history towards the consummation of all things in God as Absolute Spirit.7 Defining spirit in this context as 'the living process by which the implicit unity of divine and human nature becomes explicit, or is brought forth', Hegel envisioned the Father as the idea of spirit in abstract, universal form, the Son as the historical appearance of the idea of divine-human unity in a single individual (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit as the cultus or religious community.8

Kierkegaard was introduced to the Hegelian concept of spirit in Martensen's lectures on speculative dogmatics (SKP xiii, II C 28, §§ 71-2). Like Hegel, he made the New Testament identification of God as spirit central to his theology, but while he affirms the doctrine of the Trinity, it is not an organizing principle of his theology as in Hegel's and Martensen's, nor is it understood as a process of actualization of the one universal spirit through a historical objectification and mediation of itself in and through nature and culture.9 Rather, for Kierkegaard, the individual's God-relationship is the lens through which the Trinity is encountered and known in human existence. This relationship begins with an unmediated relation to God the Father, whose fatherliness is not just a metaphor but 'the truest and most literal expression' of his being (EUD 98-9). The Father then directs us to the Son as our personal mediator

5 Hodgson (2005: 18-20); Hegel (1977: 1-21). 6 Hegel (2007).

8 Hegel (1984-7: iii. 21-2, 66-7, 77-8, 83, 109-10, 149-51, 189-98, 230-2, 328, 360-74).

9 Cf. Martensen (2004: 593): 'If the Trinity is really to have meaning for thought, as the absolute truth, then it must become the key to the entire system of the world. All actuality in heaven and earth must be taken up into its circle, and it must be known as the Concept which conceives everything and itself.'

and prototype, and the Son in turn directs us to the Holy Spirit for help in striving to become like the prototype (JP ii. 1432). There is mediation in Kierkegaard's concept of spirit, then, but the reconciliation that occurs is not within the Godhead itself or between divine and human nature as such but between the individual and God through the atonement of Christ and the revitalizing inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which work hand in hand for the redemption and sanctification of the single individual in faith.10

Kierkegaard likewise does not understand the divine spirit as the identity of subject and object. In his view, God is not an object or something external that can be perceived or known objectively, although this does not mean that God lacks independent reality.11 Rather, God is a transcendent subject who is accessible to human beings only through a personal relationship in inwardness or subjectivity (CUP i. 162, 200; cf. JP ii. 1347; SUD 80; TDIO 64).12 In several late journal entries Kierkegaard even goes so far as to claim that 'God is pure subjectivity, sheer unmitigated subjectivity', by which he means that 'intrinsically the divine has no trace at all of the objective' in itself and relates objectively only to its own subjectivity through self-reflection, in which the divine subjectivity redoubles itself in an unconditioned, perfect objectivity (JP iii. 2570, 2576; iv. 4571).13 As an 'infinitely faint analogy' to what he sees as the deity's objective relation to itself, Kierkegaard cites Socrates' ability to relate to himself objectively as if he were an 'entirely separate third party' or another 'I' at the moment he was condemned to death (JP iv. 4571). Kierkegaard observes that most people are subjective towards themselves and objective towards others, whereas 'the task is precisely to be objective towards oneself and subjective toward all others' (JP iv. 4542). In other words, like God, we should relate to ourselves objectively in self-reflection, and to others, including God, subjectively as subjects or persons. This does not mean, of course, that we should forgo becoming subjective; on the contrary, it is precisely through subjectivity that one becomes self-reflective or objective toward oneself in passionate self-concern. God's self-reflection in infinite subjectivity thus provides a model for human self-reflection and self-knowledge as well as for interpersonal relations, which should be construed as subject-to-subject rather than subject-to-object in character.

10 On the Holy Spirit in Kierkegaard's thought see Frawley (2003) and Martens (2002).

11 On realism and antirealism in Kierkegaard's view of God, see Evans (2006: 29-46, 54-9) versus Cupitt (1988: 153-5; 1997: 83-7).

12 On God's relational transcendence, see also Sponheim (2004).

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