Answering Doubt (Kierkegaard)

Have you ever doubted? I wonder whether you have ever born the marks of imitation? I wonder whether you have forsaken all to follow Christ? I wonder, whether your life has been marked by persecution? Indeed, many have doubted. And there have been those who felt obliged to refute their doubt with reasons. But these reasons backfire and foster a doubt that gets stronger and stronger. Why? Because demonstrating the truth of Christianity does not lie in reasons but in imitation: what resembles the truth. Yet we Christians prefer to take this proof away. The need for “reasons” is already a kind of doubt – doubt lives off reasons. We fail to notice that the more reasons one advances, the more one nourishes doubt and the stronger doubt becomes. Offering doubt reasons in order to kill it is just like offering a hungry monster food it likes best of all in order to eliminate it. No, we must not offer reasons to doubt – at least not if our intention is to kill it. We must do as Luther did, order doubt to shut its mouth, and to that end we must keep quiet.

Those whose lives imitate Christ’s do not doubt such things as Christ’s resurrection. And why not? Because their lives are so strenuous, so much expended in daily sufferings that they are unable to sit in idleness keeping company with reasons and doubt, playing at evens or odds. Secondly, need itself quenches the doubt. When it is for a good cause that you are despised, persecuted, ridiculed, in poverty, then you will find that you do not doubt Christ’s resurrection, because you need it. Without a life of imitation, of following Christ, it is impossible to gain mastery over doubts. We cannot stop doubt with reasons. Those who try have not learned that it is wasted effort. They do not understand that imitation is the only force that, like a police force, can break up the mob of doubts and clear the area and compel them to go home and hold their tongues. Recall that the Savior of the world did not come to bring a doctrine; he never lectured. He did not try by way of reasons to prevail upon anyone to accept his teaching, nor did he try to authenticate it by demonstrable proofs. His teaching was his life, his existence.

If someone wanted to be his follower, he said to that person something like this, “Venture a decisive act; then you can begin, then you will know.” What does this mean? It means that no one becomes a believer by hearing about Christianity, by reading about it, by thinking about it. It means that while Christ was living, no one became a believer by seeing him once in a while or by going and staring at him all day long. No, a certain setting is required – venture a decisive act. The proof does not precede but follows; it exists in and with the life that follows Christ. Once you have ventured the decisive act, you are at odds with the life of this world. You come into collision with it, and because of this you will gradually be brought into such tension that you will then be able to become certain of what Christ taught. You will begin to understand that you cannot endure this world without having recourse to Christ. What else can one expect from following the truth?

This is also what Christ says, and this is the only proof possible for the truth of what he represents: “If anyone will act according to what I say, he will experience whether I am speaking on my own.” Venture to give all your possessions to the poor and you will certainly experience the truth of Christ’s teaching. Venture once to make yourself completely vulnerable for the sake of the truth, and you will certainly experience the truth of Christ’s word. You will experience how it alone can save you from despairing or from succumbing, for you will need Christ both to protect yourself against others and to maintain yourself upright when the thought of your own imperfection would weigh you down.

Yes, doubt will still come, even to the one who follows Christ. But the only person who has a right to leap forward even with a doubt is someone whose life bears the marks of imitation, someone who by a decisive action at least tries to go so far out that becoming a Christian can still be a possibility.

Everyone else must hold his tongue; he has no right to put in a word about Christianity, least of all contra.

Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals 67–68, 190,191, 197; JP-IV, 536ff Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself,   “Copyright 2007 by Plough Publishing House. Used with permission.”

By doubting we come to inquiry, by inquiring we perceive the truth,” said Abelard, the medieval dialectician.

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