"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

“Fear and Trembling” in Review

Posted in Stuff I'm Reading by matt on Thursday, June 5, 2008

I recently finished a little book entitled Fear and Trembling and – as you roll your eyes – I’d like to take a second of your time to explain what Kierkegaard does to make me like him so much. But for those of you who’ve read him you know it’s more fitting to clarify what he doesn’t do rather than what he does. He doesn’t provide neatly packaged answers, he doesn’t simplify at the expense of clarity, he doesn’t attempt to postulate his own (or add to anyone else’s) version of ‘the system’, and he doesn’t avoid tension of any kind – theological, philosophical, logical, etc.

The dude’s intellectually fearless.

The Scriptures contain a lot of things that just don’t make perfect sense, but, rather than attempting to force them to make complete sense, he says we should simply believe and obey them – even when they’re a little painful. He believes the Bible enough that he’s unwilling to turn its stories into pop-up books with bright colors and put it on display in Mardel. For him, a person must approach the Bible as either absolute garbage or as the Truth of God – but it’s scary regardless.

As Ben would say, the Bible may not be as family-friendly as we’ve made it out to be.

Now, Kierkegaard isn’t infallible and I definitely have trouble fully agreeing with (and understanding!) a lot of what he says, but I love that he doesn’t try to reconcile all the classic theological problems. This brings me back to Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard uses the story of Abraham on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22) to answer the question, “What is faith?” He argues that Abraham’s intention to sacrifice of Isaac on Moriah is either murder, obedience (faith), or both, but we can’t pretend like the story’s tension isn’t important for us. Right standing with God through faith is pretty central to the Bible’s message, and Abraham is usually considered the father of all that.

Or do you think that the outcome of the story is what justified Abraham before God?

Abraham was reckoned righteous because he rode for three days, tied his son onto a pile of sticks, and raised the knife without hesitation – not because God spared Isaac.

But we breathe a sigh of relief and excitedly retell the story. I mean, it has such a happy ending! And no, I’m not cynical I’m frustrated! It’s difficult for me to grasp the horror of Exodus 33 because I put so much emphasis on the ending. I don’t try to understand the anguish Abraham must have felt during his trip into the mountains, how deplorable it would seem to watch an old man tie his son with the intention of bleeding him out and then burning the remains, and I especially don’t try to understand why God would command it.

I mainly just focus on the conclusion.

And this is what I learned from Fear and Trembling: I’m numb to the terrifying reality of faith. God commands crazy things from us, but I’ve slipped into thinking that life is just about going to heaven and enjoying things till you get there. But I don’t wanna focus on the ending at the expense of the beginning and middle

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One Response

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  1. dad said, on Sunday, June 8, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    i like the pictures to the right!


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