Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reflections: Faith in Existenz

In the Edifying Discourse entitled “The Expectation of Faith”, the great Danish religious philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, assures us that “the expectation of faith…is victory.” The dark forest of myriad contingencies, through which the quest of the Knight of Faith must progress, harbors a “crafty” adversary, known as doubt:

In its secret way [doubt] sneaks about a man, and when faith expects victory, then it whispers that this expectation is a delusion. “An expectation whose time and place are not determined, is only an illusion; thus one can always continue to expect; such an expectation is an enchanted circle from which the soul cannot escape.” Certainly the soul, in the expectation of faith, is prevented from falling out of itself into the manifold; it remains in itself; but it would be the greatest evil which could befall a man if he escaped from this circle.

Kierkegaard goes on to assert:

It is true that he who expects something in particular, may be disappointed; but this does not happen to the believer. When the world begins its sharp testing, when the storms of life snap the vigorous expectations of youth, when existence, which seems so loving and so gentle, transforms itself into a merciless proprietor who demands everything back, then the believer looks with sadness and pain at himself and at life, but he still says: “There is an expectation which all the world can not take from me; it is the expectation of faith, and this is victory. I am not deceived; for what the world seemed to promise me, that promise I still did not believe that it would keep; my expectation was not in the world, but in God. …I have still conquered, conquered through my expectation, and my expectation is victory.”

This essential sadness and pain which dwells like a heart worm at the core of existence, which impels the Buddhist toward the refuge of oblivion and the consumer of the material toward the abyss of insatiable acquisitiveness, is for Kierkegaard the impetus toward the mysterious and paradoxical victory of the Cross. This is an existentialism without nihilistic despair: victory over existence.