The Immanent Kierkegaard

In his conclusion to Works of Love Kierkegaard introduces the words of beloved apostle,
Beloved, let us love one another
These are words of consummated love that we novices are not yet able to speak. These words are somehow transfigured and blessed. They speak of the old law that is ever-new. We do not speak these words as we cannot leave the school of commandment prematurely but we must become hearers of these words. From here SK begins his final exposition.

Now only one thing more. Remember the Christian like-for-like, the like-for-like of the eternal.

Christianity has abandoned the like-for-like which exacts an eye for an eye and instead,

Christianity turns attention completely away from the eternal, turns inward, makes your every relationship to other human beings into a God-relationship. . . . Christianly understood one has ultimately and essentially to do with God in everything, although one nevertheless must remain in the world and in the relationships of earthly life allotted to him. But having everything to do with God . . . is simultaneously the highest consolation and the utmost strenuousness, the greatest mildness and rigour.

SK clarifies this is in terms of education. This like-for-like is education and God is the educator and as such this relationship remains as mild as rigorous and as rigorous as mild. Now God’s classroom is admittedly large and so the use of much talking actually diminishes the education.

No, the competent educator educates with help of the eyes.

The educator learns to shift the students’ eyes from the little world which they create to being able to follow the educator.

SK introduces the centurion to whom Jesus said, “Be it done for you, as you believed.” This becomes the paradigm of Christian faith, of God’s education. In this way,

the Gospel is first a gospel.

To whatever claims or queries we pose to Christianity the voice comes back to us, be it done for you as you believe. SK sees no greater mildness and no greater rigour in this orientation. The response does not change for the proud or the cowardly. There are no other means for advancement in the Gospel.

In these times when in social-political relationships there is so much talk about security and security, men finally extend this into Christianity and let baptism be the security – which it certainly is, if you really believe that is the security of ‘Be it done for you as you believe.’

SK advances the basic unresolvable dialectic of striving and the uselessness of striving.

[God] is far too transcendent in heaven for it to occur to him that a human being’s striving should be something meritorious to him. Yet he requires it, and then one thing more, that the man himself does not presume to think that it is something meritorious.

And so if there is any certainty of faith it is something that must be won at

every moment by God’s help, consequently not in some external way. . . . But everything which is of flesh and blood, of timorousness and attachments to the earthly, must despair so that you cannot get an external certainty, a certainty once and for all, and, in the most convenient way. You see, it is the striving of faith in which you get occasion to be tried every day. The gospel is not the law; the gospel will not save you with rigour but with mildness. But this mildness will save you; it will not deceive you; consequently there is rigour in it.

SK shifts this to Lord’s Prayer in which our sins are forgiven as we forgive. Here again is mildness and rigour of the extent to which we will seek exacting judgment on another we will receive such judgment. We cannot go privately before God (God, can you do something about so-and-so) as God’s books are always open in relationship.
And then SK introduces Jesus’ question, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” This is the rigorous like-for-like. This passage is interpreted as saying that to look for a speck means to have a speck but it then means that the speck becomes a log in God’s sight. For

seeing the speck in your brother’s eye – God’s presence (and God is in fact always present) is high treason.

This is all contrasted to the ‘activist’ like-for-like who sees

to it that in the long run you do unto others what others do unto you. But the Christian like-for-like is: as you do unto others, God does unto you in the very same mode. Christianly understood you have absolutely nothing to do with what others do to you. . . . what you do unto men you do unto God, and therefore what you do unto men God does unto you. If you are embittered towards men who do you wrong, you are really embittered towards God, for ultimately it is still God who permits wrong to be done to you. If, however, you gratefully take the wrongs from God’s hand “as a good and perfect gift,” you do not become embittered towards men either. If you will not forgive, you essentially want something else, you want to make God hard-hearted, that he should not forgive, either: how, then, should this hard-hearted God forgive you? If you cannot bear the offences of men against you, how should God be able to bear your sins against him? No, like-for-like. For God is himself really the pure like-for-like, the pure rendition of how you yourself are. . . . God’s relationship to a human being is the infinitising at every moment of that which at every moment is in a man. (emphasis mine)

I will break up this block quote but there is more that follows that should be quoted in full as SK is almost wrapping up now.

You know well enough that echo dwells in solitude. It corresponds exactly, O, so exactly, to every sound, to the slightest sound, and duplicates it, O, so exactly. If there is a word which you prefer not said to you, then watch your saying of it, watch lest it slip out of you in solitude, for echo duplicates it immediately and says it to you. If you have been solitary, you have also never discovered that God exists. But if you have been truly solitary, then you also learned that everything you say to and do to other human beings God simply repeats; he repeats it with the intensification of infinity. . . . But who believes in echo if night and day he lives in urban confusion! . . . If one so confused hears of Christianity he is nevertheless not in position to hear it rightly; as Christianity does not resound rightly in the inwardness of his being, he never discovers the resonance which is the Christian like-for-like. Here in the noise of life he perhaps does not discern God’s or the eternal’s repetition of the uttered word; he perhaps imagines that the repayment should be in the external or in an external mode; but externality is too dense a body for resonance, and the sensual ear is too hard-of-hearing to catch the eternal’s repetition.

There are of course significant questions in all this. The primary question that looms over this conclusion is the description of God. I am gaining some familiarity with certain expressions of immanent ontology. I can’t help shake some of the similarities to moves that are being made in this final section.  It seems here that SK closes the loop of immanence and places the ‘leap’ within its existing bounds.  Faith is not in a transcendent God but in an awareness of the immanent movement of God.  This runs in the face of what I have popularly come to understand in SK’s theological mode. I will have to think more clearly about this and figure out what model of immanence makes sense to read it by. But in any event I suspect SK’s response would end up being the same,
Be it done for you as you believe


4 thoughts on “The Immanent Kierkegaard

    1. I read this line most simply as SK’s basic orientation that life is lived engaged in existence and so for the Gospel to exist it must exist particularly in human lives and not as an abstract structuring principle. Did you have something else in mind?


      1. I suppose that my curiosity would be in how the radical particularity of the Gospel could interact with abstract structuring principles.

        I would be inclined to mediate-transcend-sublate the two into something dynamically other, rather than settle for the limitations of each on its own.


  1. Hey knock yourself out with that! I tend not to view SK’s dialectic as limiting but as generative and so at this point I would not see the benefit in something other but I could certainly be convinced.


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