I have been reading Two Ages. I read the following this morning and it gave me a laugh-out-loud moment:
I once witnessed a fight in which three men shamefully mistreated a fourth. The crowd watched with indignation; their hostile muttering began to spur them to action: some of the crowd converged on one of the assailants and threw him down, etc. The avengers thereby exemplified the same law as the assailants. If I may be permitted to interject my own incidental person, I will finish the story. I approached one of the avengers and attempted to explain dialectically the inconsistency of their behavior, but apparently it was quite impossible for him to engage in anything like that, and he merely repeated: “He had it coming. Such a scoundrel deserves three against one.” This borders on the comic, especially for the person who did not witness the beginning and then heard one man say of the other that he (the lone man) was three against one, and heard it the very moment when the opposite was the case—when there were three against him. In the first situation there was the comedy of contradiction in the same sense as “when the watchman said to a solitary person: Please break it up! Disperse!” The second situation had the comedy of self-contradiction. I gathered, however, that it was probably best for me to surrender all hope of ending this scepticism lest it be continued against me.
As my prayer become more attentive and inward I had less and less to say. I finally became completely silent. I started to listen – which is even further removed from speaking. I first thought that praying entailed speaking. I then learnt that praying is hearing, not merely being silent. This is how it is. To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking, Prayer involves becoming silent, And being silent, And waiting until God is heard.
I have been reading Fear and Trembling more. I am surprised (pleasantly) by the repeating of the phrase “paradox of faith” by SK. Ultimately for SK the issue is a question of right ordered relationship. Maybe in Augustinian terms, order love vs disordered love? For SK, the single individual stands before God alone without appeal to the universal (morality). The single individual’s relationship with God is absolute – there is nothing above it, nothing that defines it in terms of action.
So here is a quote:
The paradox of faith then is this, that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the single individual, to recall a now rather rare theological distinction, determines his relation to the universal by his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absolute by his relation to the universal.
Fear and Trembling
Not by doing the right thing does one become a follower of Jesus but a follower of Jesus does the right thing. And that is the paradox of faith – to live in the tension of absolute relationship.
One of the books I often return to reading is SK’s Fear and Trembling. The first time I read it, like most of SK’s writings, it was confusing and seemed very repetitive. But on reflection, I think it has some great insights – also like most of SK’s writings.
One I have been thinking about is the Knight of Faith – especially the relationship between the Knight of Faith and the knight of infinite resignation. Or, to put it differently, the “double movement” of faith of surrender followed by “receiving”.
Many people get to Lent and wonder what they should “give up”. Few ask, “what should I open myself to receive?”
I have been thinking about that double movement in the context of religious life – a life of faith. People see the singleness, the “enclosure”, and the rules. “I could not give all that up”, many people think. What they do not see is the ”me”, the space, and the freedom that is received. And the person who returns into the world in Jesus’ secret service.
Thus the position of the monastic recluse had developed into a far more socially symbolic and responsible one: on the one hand he was now locked up within a cell deep within the monastery itself in order to concentrate wholly on God; on the other, the local community had access to that cell in order to receive his advice, counselling and accumulated wisdom.
It reminds me of the Kierkegaard quote:
Of this there is no doubt, our age and Protestantism in general may need the monastery again, or wish it were there. The “monastery” is an essential dialectical element in Christianity. We therefore need it out there like a navigation buoy at sea in order to see where we are, even though I myself would not enter it. But if there really is true Christianity in every generation, there must also be individuals who have this need . . .
In antiquity as well as in the Middle Ages there was an awareness of this longing for solitude and a respect for what [solitude] means; whereas in the constant sociality of our day we shrink from solitude to the point (what a capital epigram!) that no use for it is known other than as a punishment for criminals. But since it is a crime in our day to have spirit, it is indeed quite in order to classify such people, lovers of solitude, with criminals.
I was reminded of the above quote from Sickness unto Death. The analogue that SK draws is really interesting. And, maybe, even more true today.
I am just a criminal who needs to be locked up for loving Jesus. And that is my understanding of heaven – Jesus and me alone!
… the terms of salvation differ for every individual, ever single solitary human being. There is a general proclamation of Christianity, but far as the conditions of salvation are concerned every single individual must relate to God as a single individual.