Kierkegaard on Knowing God

A PRECIS on Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript: Part II, Section 2, Chp. 2 (189-224)

Edited and modified January 6, 2010


SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT

True knowledge of God is subjective, not objective. Subjective knowledge is true because it properly handles the uncertainty inherent in existence. All human knowing involves uncertainty. While objective knowing attempts to explain and remove the uncertainty, subjective knowing decides to act despite uncertainty. Deciding to act despite uncertainty is the very faith required for true knowledge of God.

Still, we can have no true knowledge of God apart from God’s revelation of Himself in us. Human persons are in process, but God is complete. Our knowledge is in process. Humans in process cannot access knowledge of God, who is complete.

God is complete in that his essential, eternal truth is simultaneously objective and subjective. Human persons approach this truth in rare moments of intense intentional directing of the self (passion). In the normal course of life we must decide to seek either objective or subjective truth. If we choose objective knowing, then subjective truth becomes untrue. If we choose subjective knowing, then objective truth becomes untrue. We cannot go in both directions at once.

Not only must we choose one or the other, but we choose between unequal options. Our humanity depends on which one we choose. Objective knowing makes a person something other than human. Objective truth is static; humans are dynamic. When the self is directed towards static, external truth, the self becomes static. To be static is to be something other than human.

Subjective knowing makes a person increasingly human. It deepens one’s understanding of truth because truth is accessible within the self. Truth is discovered by an intense intentional directing of the self toward the self.

We see, then, that objective and subjective knowing pull the self in opposite directions. Objective knowing pulls the self away from the self. In so doing the self becomes something less than and other than human. Human affections are set aside as the self moves toward externals. In contrast, subjective knowing engages the affections and moves the self toward internal truth with intention and intensity. Deciding despite uncertainty (the leap of faith) is required for knowledge of God. True knowing is the decision to make the leap of faith and it is the leap itself.

Every act of knowing outside the leap of faith is an estimate because the only thing that can be surely known is what we are deciding. Our deciding—the leap of faith—carries risk. What is reasonable requires no faith, for faith requires risk. What is reasonable has no risk. Christianity is unreasonable. It is a paradox based on the unreasonable and absurd notion of the essential and eternal entering the contingent and partial (incarnation). Objective faith consists in propositional truth statements that attempt to explain the paradox. Subjective faith consists in intense intentional directing of the self toward the divine. Christianity, therefore, does not consist in the compilation of propositional truth statements, but in the continuing process of risking and deciding toward the divine.

Rather than attempting to explain, faith clarifies the incarnation paradox, showing it to be increasingly paradoxical. The explanations of propositional truth statements remove the paradox and make it something else. Once the paradox is removed faith is no longer required. What is explicable requires no faith; what is inexplicable requires faith. God is inexplicable; therefore, He can only be known through the intense intentional deciding of faith.

CRITIQUE

Kierkegaard is correct when he places the affective and volitional squarely in the realm of faith. Faith surely includes emotions and values, decisions and behaviors. A faith that is merely cognitive is a false faith.

But Kierkegaard goes too far.

He goes too far when he equates what is partial with what is untrue. Partial truth is not untruth; it is merely partial. When a obstetrician does a sonogram on a pregnant woman the resulting picture is partial. Nonetheless, the picture provides reliable contours of the fetus. To one accustomed to these contours, the picture provides important information about the fetus.

The same is true of objective knowing. Objective knowing is a partial picture that provides reliable contours of truth. To one accustomed to the contours, the picture provides reliable information about truth outside the self.

Objective and subjective truth are both partial: by itself, objective truth lacks perspectival and relational insights, while subjective truth, on its own, lacks facts and the broader, external perspective.  We begin to approach a more complete picture of truth only by combining the subjective and objective reflections of many individuals to arrive at consensus. As with a sonogram, a greater number of soundings provide a more complete picture.

Kierkegaard goes too far in his rejection of passionless intellectualism.   He focuses so heavily on will and emotion that reason is cast aside. Humans are whole persons commanded to love God with their will, emotions, reason, and body (Mark 12:29-30).

Much theology in Kierkegaard’s day was far removed from daily Christian life. Life in the state church was also far removed. Spiritual passion had little to do with the objective worlds of theology and church. Kierkegaard seems to have been a man of great spiritual passion and his concern for professing Christians who remain passionless is clear.

In the end, Kierkegaard is guilty of the same offense as those he accuses: his truth is just as partial as that of the “assistant professors” he so harshly criticizes.

About Laura

My name is Laura and I am on a journey, pondering the implications of God's glorious design of humanity and integrating every aspects of this design into a description of whole life health.
This entry was posted in in the world and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Kierkegaard on Knowing God

  1. Pingback: What has Kierkegaard to do with our common life? - Who in the World Are We?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *