Today, 5 May, is the anniversary of the birthday of that gloomy Dane, Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard, who was born in 1813 and died on 11 on November 1855, has been called the father of existentialism. If you don’t know what existentialism is, just read Ecclesiastes. Existential thinking often pertains to the state of man apart from God.
Existential writing is often full of angst, but what I love about it is that it’s honest angst! Angst and dread are entirely appropriate responses to a life apart from God. It’s the raw honesty of Kirkegaard that turned me into a fan in my 20s. I loved his damning critiques both of godless society and the institutional church of his day. His parable of the duck church is an all-time classic.
Kirkegaard certainly wasn’t a radical just for the sake of it. There is evidence that he lived with constant pain. (He died young at 42.) He also believed he lived under a curse on account of his father committing what they thought was an unforgivable sin. He battled with depression, yet his work is peppered with flashes of great hope and brilliant insight.
I have not gone with any particular theme in selecting my top 12 Kirkegaard quotes below. Some of them convey the despair of life without meaning; others point to a hope that exists beyond the world of men. The quotes are quite random and are merely intended to give you a tiny insight into the mind of a great, if troubled, Christian thinker.
Happy birthday Søren!
1. “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
2. “I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me. But I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth’s orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.”
3. “Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for him, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can kindle”
4. “I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.”
5. “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.”
6. “Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth — look at the dying man’s struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.”
7. “My standpoint is armed neutrality.”
8. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
9. “Without risk, faith is an impossibility.”
10. “A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.”
11. “The truth is a trap: you cannot get it without it getting you; you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you.”
12. “What the age needs is not a genius — it has had geniuses enough, but a martyr, who in order to teach men to obey would himself be obedient unto death. What the age needs is awakening. And therefore someday, not only my writings but my whole life, all the intriguing mystery of the machine will be studied and studied. I never forget how God helps me, and it is therefore my last wish that everything may be to his honour.”
Note: Søren Kierkegaard wrote in Danish and much of what he wrote has been badly translated into glib, catchy English quotes. A good source of translations is Wikiquote.
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