I am at last slowly reading Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, and though it is a bit on the heavy philosophical side (though I think I agree that it’s not essentially philosophical), it seems to me to be essentially (to use that term again) about faith, and the primacy of faith. I may post again on the book I’m finished with it. Kirkegaard was an imaginative, as well as challenging writer.
Fear and Trembling (original Danish title: Frygt og Bæven) is a philosophical work by Søren Kierkegaard, published in 1843 under the pseudonym Johannes de silentio (John of the Silence). The title is a reference to a line from Philippians 2:12, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” — itself a probable reference to Psalms 55:5, “Fear and trembling came upon me…” (the Greek is identical).
It is about Abraham’s ascent to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his only son, the son of God’s promise, Isaac, in obedience to God’s command to do so (Genesis 22). How Abraham, after that three day journey, bound Isaac, and drew the knife to kill his beloved son, just about to do so, before God stayed his hand, commanding him not to. It is certainly not G-rated reading, and I think we tend to gloss over it, thinking of it in terms of the gospel, and having easy ready answers, while not considering the breadth and depth and significance of it, well enough. Kirkegaard meets it head on, from the standpoint, C. Stephen Evans says, of one who unlike Kirkegaard (I think), did not have faith, but very much admired it, and even seemed to hold it in highest esteem, that it is a leap into the absurd (this Kirkegaard in context did believe), which by that enters into infinity, but for finity, or one maybe could say also, into the eternal, but within and for the temporal. All that aside, I want to share one impression the book seems to be making on me as I slowly work through the New Testament/Psalms and Proverbs, which I carry around.
Faith for me, like Kirkegaard was getting at in this book, is a radical trust in a good God. It is the difference, no less, between light and darkness. If we have no faith, we might think we actually do have it by being religious, or making a profession of faith, all the while living in the status quo, or as a good member of society (again, I’m mixing my thoughts into what Kirkegaard may have been getting at). And in doing so, miss the radical nature of what trust in God in this life, in this world means.
For Abraham, it was certainly costly, and yet his entire life was already given to faith, and to the faith as he had received it, from a God who promised that all nations would be blessed through him (Genesis 12). So what took place in Genesis 22, was simply the culmination of his entire life. His choice to obey, as James tells us, was a kind of fulfillment of what he had been doing all along in simply believing God and God’s word, and living according to that.
So I’m left with what seems to be a dilemna, and is most certainly a choice, either to follow God through following Jesus, by the naked choice, and continued choosing, living day to day in that commitment. Or to proceed in my own way, what seems good and right to me, and is most certainly acceptable to others, even if it is not necessarily altogether wise, and above all not really trusting in God. We seem to have it hard pressed in our genes, that we ourselves have to take care of ourselves, and that it all depends on us, so that we take the place of God on our own agenda, or at least on our way of being on God’s agenda. Instead of simply trusting God and God’s word.
And the difference is between light and darkness both existentially, in our experience, but more basically in our lives. Yes, faith is not just a head matter, but what we call a heart matter, and something which we test in tasting along the way, comparing that with our basic, and actually broken, though to us comparably safe place, or way of living. And yet God calls us to the same faith which our father of faith, Abraham had. Of course God does so with much grace, and in much smaller measure. And none of us would ever ever be commanded to do anything like what Abraham was told to do in Genesis 22, fulfilled when God did not spare his only Son, Jesus. And remember, that even then Abraham never for one minute sacrificed his love for Isaac, even as he had the knife in hand, ready to plunge it into his son. A most disturbing story indeed. And our world will be shook up much the same, if we take God at God’s word and by faith obey. But the difference will be no less than light, as opposed to darkness. Something I’m aware of now in my own life, as I try to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, as God works in me (along with all others in Jesus) to will and act, to fulfill his good purpose in and through Jesus.