Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, March 13, 1847 by Soren Kierkegaard, copyright 1993 by Howard Hong, Princeton University Press
These discourses require patience from the reader. Follow them to their conclusion and you will find that they lay hold of you. They were written to edify – Hong used the word upbuilding because Kierkegaard was so much against tearing down in order to build up. He was all about upbuilding and edifying the reader.
Everyone who when before himself is not more ashamed than he is before all others will, if he is placed in a difficult position and is sorely tried in life, end up becoming a slave of people in one way or another. What is it to be more ashamed before others than before oneself but to be more ashamed of seeming than being? p. 53
Many readers are likely to agree with the observation of the Danish scholar Eduard Geismar on Part One of Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits:
“I am of the opinion that nothing of what he has written is to such a degree before the face of God. Anyone who really wants to understand Kierkegaard does well to begin with it.” Howard V. Hong, Historical Introduction, (Eduard Geismar, Soren Keirkegaard, hans Livsudvikling of Forfatterviksomhed, I-VI (Copenhagen 1927), V, p. 11) p. xiv
“He must either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other” –therefore love of God is hatred of the world and love of the world is hatred of God; therefore this is the colossal point of contention, either love or hate; therefore this is the place where the most terrible struggle carried on in the world must be fought, and where is this place? In a person’s innermost being.
This may be why the person who sensed this struggle in his own inner being often paused and sought diversion in watching the raging of the elements and the battle of nature, because he felt this struggle is indeed like a game, since it makes no difference whether the storm wins or the ocean. Yes, why is it really that the storm and the ocean struggle, and over what is it really that they are struggling! The terrible struggle in a person’s inner being is something different. Whether the struggle is over millions or a penny, the struggle is a matter of someone’s loving and preferring it to God-the most terrible struggle is the struggle over the highest. p. 205
First Part I. An Occasional Discourse.
On the Occasion of a Confession, I. Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.
First comes the lightly armed wish and wants to capture the world – but retreats in terror. Then comes the manly strength of resolution and wants to venture battle – but must fall back. Now it is the eleventh hour – then comes repentance. Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers IV 4947 1846
Purity of heart is to will one thing : spiritual preparation for the feast of confession was translated in 1938 by Douglas V Steere (1901-1995).
God does not find out anything by your confessing, but you, the one confessing does. Much of what you try to keep in obscurity you first get to know by letting an omniscient one become aware of it. p. 23
Kierkegaard discussed eternity often in his books. I like this quote from Either/Or because it puts God first in an interesting way.
The true eternity does not lie behind either/or, but before it. Hence, their eternity will be a painful succession of temporal moments, for they will be consumed by a two-fold regret. Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or part 1 1843 Swenson tr. p. 37-39
He makes a good point about the eternity that resides within each individual and always refers to the single individual as a key concept. Changelessness was another idea Kierkegaard liked to express. The good is always the good and never changes due to circumstances.
If then there is something eternal in a human being, this must be able to be claimed throughout every change. Thus neither can it be wisdom to talk impartially about it and say that it has its time just as the corruptible has, that it has its cycles just as the wind does, which really never makes any headway, that it has its course just like the river, which still never fills the ocean. p. 11
James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. NIV
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God. … but in faith, not as a double-minded person” (James 1:5,6,8), because purity of heart is precisely the wisdom that is gained by praying; a man of prayer does not pore over scholarly books but is the wise man “whose eyes are opened-when he kneels down” (Numbers 24:16). p. 26
Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the good gifts of God in his 1843 Discourses.
Every good and every perfect gift is from above. James 1:17-22
Kierkegaard’s Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses 1843-1844
Willing one thing is a difficult matter. Have you ever tried to do it? I struggle with some bad habits that I can’t seem to break. I tell myself not to do it and then do it anyway. I can’t tear myself from the thing that lies between me and my goal. Double-mindedness and poor decisions are a plague in the lives of many people Kierkegaard made some good observations about the subject in the first part of this book.
Whether he, the weak one, despairs over not being able to tear himself loose from the evil or he, the presumptuous one, despairs over not being able to tear himself completely from the good – they are both double-minded, they both have two wills; neither of them in truth wills one thing, no matter how desperately they seem to be willing it. p. 29-31
Kierkegaard discussed the barriers to willing one thing. He says we must renounce all double-mindedness and be willing to do everything for the good or to will to suffer everything for the good. Once we find the good we must will to be and to remain with the good as the single individual. Becoming aware that we are single individuals is when eternity enters in.
When the ocean lies still, deeply transparent, we extol its purity and delight in this sublime picture. So also with a person’s soul – when the low and finite and multifarious in it are in motion, it is like muddied water, is murky, opaque, has no depth, but when it is quietly deep in willing only one thing, it is pure as the transparent ocean. Therefore we compare the soul to water, and the image is appropriate: stillness is purity, when all that is impure sinks; purity is transparency, transparency is depth. Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers IV 4434 – VII B 192:12 1846
In eternity there will be no question at all about whether you were in charge of much or little, whether you were given many pounds to work with or were given a hundredweight to bear – but only about your faith and your faithfulness. p. 147-148
Second Part. What We Learn From the Lilies in the Field and From the Birds of the Air. Three Discourses.
I. To Be Contented with Being a Human Being. p 159ff
Matthew Chapter 6, verse 24 to the end
We certainly hear much about diversity in today’s charged political climate. We are constantly reminded of the differences that exist between individuals and groups of individuals. Kierkegaard notices the trend in 1847 and wrote about the lily that doesn’t worry about the diversity that exists. Comparison is a problem that doesn’t seem to want to go away. A naughty little bird came to a lily one day and taught it to long for a better place than it was planted.
In the worry of comparison, the worried person finally goes so far that because of diversity he forgets that he is a human being, in despair regards himself as so different from other people that he even regards himself as different from what it is to be human, just as the little bird thought that the lily was so unimpressive that it became a question whether the lily actually was a lily. p. 170
The naughty bird and the lily. Once upon a time there was a wood-dove.
Just suppose that there were diversities among the lilies that in their little world corresponded to human diversities; suppose that these diversities occupied and worried the lilies just as much as they do human beings-and then suppose that what was said was really true: it is not worth paying attention to such diversities and such worries. p. 166-167
Among individuals in the world, the conflict of disconnected comparison is frequently carried on about dependence and independence, about the happiness of being independent and the difficulty of being dependent. And yet, yet human language has not ever, and thought has not ever, invented a more beautiful symbol of independence than the poor bird of the air. And yet, yet no speech can be more curious than to say that it must be very had and very heavy to be-light as the bird! To be dependent on one’s treasure-that is dependence and hard and heavy slavery; to be dependent on God, completely dependent-that is independence. p. 181
So what does the worried person learn from the lilies? He learns to be contented with being a human being and not to be worried about diversity among human beings… p. 170
II. How Glorious it is to Be a Human Being. Read the discourse. 183ff
What do we do to put an end to our worry. We seek diversion and diversion seeks us. Kierkegaard thinks we should look to the lily and the bird as godly diversions from worry. Consider the lily of the field and the bird of the air.
Since all diversion is not only to pass the time but is to serve primarily to give the worried one something else to think about, we shall now consider how the worried person who looks at the lily and the bird with the help of the godly diversion that disperses the fogs has something other than the worry to think about, how by forgetting the worry in the diversion he is led to consider: how glorious it is to be a human being. p. 187
When the eyes are staring, they are looking fixedly ahead, are continually looking at one thing, and yet they are not actually seeing, because, as science explains, the eyes see their own seeing. But when the physician says: Move your eyes.
And thus the Gospel says: Divert your mind-look down at the lily and quit staring at the worry. Then when the tears stop while the eyes are looking down at the lily, is it not as if it were the lily that wiped away the tears! When the wind dries the tears in the eyes that watch the bird, is it not as if it were the bird that wiped away the tears! This is what we dare to call a godly diversion, which does not, like the empty and worldly diversion, incite impatience and nourish worry, but diverts, calms, and persuades the more devoutly one gives himself over to it. p. 184
Soren Kierkegaard illustrated the gloriousness of being a human being well in this passage.
III. What Blessed Happiness is Promised in Being a Human Being. p. 201ff
Kierkegaard emphasizes the choice that is given the human being. A choice is a wonderful thing that is not available to all of God’s creation. He also discusses seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. And he always refers to the lily and the bird as models for the Christian believer.
Let us now reflect on how the worried one, through his sadness out there with the lily and the bird, acquires something different from his worry to think about in the earnest sense, how he is led to consider properly: what blessed happiness is promised in being a human being. No one can serve two masters, for he must either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) but are these also words of the Gospel? They certainly are. This is how the Gospel text about the lilies in the field and the birds of the air begins. But are they spoken to a worried person? Certainly, they are spoken to a worried person, to whom a high value is attributed, and for this very reason the words are righteous. 203-204
Upbuilding Discourses in Varous Spirits March 13, 1847
Third Part. The Gospel of Sufferings. Christian Discourses. p. 213-341
The Joy of it. Kierkegaard used that phrase in his Upbuilding and his Christian Discourses. He liked to assign seven discourses to many of his books. He also used those holy numbers three and nine.
What Meaning and What Joy There Are in the Thought of Following Christ. (1)
Whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27. “When you have chosen, you will surely find fellow pilgrims, but in the decisive moment and every time there is mortal danger you will be by yourself. This is the meaning of the thought to follow someone.” p. 220-221 “There is only one name in heaven and on earth, only one road, only one prototype.” p. 225-226
But How Can the Burden Be Light if the Suffering is Heavy. (2)
My yoke is beneficial, and my burden light. Matthew: 11:30. “The believer humanly comprehends how heavy the suffering is, but in faith’s wonder that it is beneficial to him, he devoutly says: It is light. Humanly he says: It is impossible, but he says it again in faith’s wonder that what he humanly cannot understand is beneficial to him. In other words, when sagacity is able to perceive the beneficialness, then faith cannot see God; but when in the dark night of suffering sagacity cannot see a handbreadth ahead of it, then faith can see God, since faith sees best in the dark.” p. 238.
The Joy of it That the School of Sufferings Educates for Eternity. (3)
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). People are willing enough to learn when it is a matter of learning more, but when it is a matter of learning anew through sufferings, then learning becomes hard and heavy, then aptitude does not help, but on the other hand no one is excluded even though he is ever so lacking in aptitude. The lowliest, the simplest, the most forsaken human being, someone whom all teachers give up but heaven has by no means given up-he can learn obedience fully as well as anyone else. p. 252-253
The Joy of it That in Relation to God a Person Always Suffers as Guilty. (4)
Kierkegaard wrote about guilt in his first book Either/or in the third section: The upbuilding that lies in the thought that in relation to God we are always in the wrong. p, 335ff Either/or Part II based on Luke 19:41 to the end.
The other robber mocked to the very last, hardened himself even upon the cross – he presumably hung on the left side. The Gospel writer Luke has preserved the robber’s words on the cross (Luke 23:41). We are receiving what our deeds have deserved, but this one has done nothing wrong. We shall at this time make these words the subject of our consideration as we consider: the joy of it that in relation to God a person always suffers as guilty. p. 265-266
The joy, then, is that it is eternally certain that God is love; more specifically understood, the joy is that there is always a task. As long as there is life there is hope, but as long as there is a task there is life, and as long as there is life there is hope-indeed, the task itself is not merely a hope for a future time but is a joyful present. The believer who bears in mind that in relation to God a person always suffers as guilty therefore dares to say, “Whatever happens to me, there is something to do, and in any case there is always a task; hopelessness is a horror that belongs nowhere if a person will not presumptuously give himself up. p. 279-280
The Joy of it That it Is Not the Road That Is Hard but That Hardship Is the Road. (5)
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Luke 10:31-34
“The story tells of at least three, in fact five, people who walked “along the same road,” whereas, spiritually speaking, we have to say that each one walked his own road-the highway, alas, makes no difference; it is the spiritual that makes the difference and distinguishes the road. How shall one walk in order to walk the right road on the road of life? When you walk the road as the Samaritan did, you are walking the road of mercy, because the road between Jericho and Jerusalem has no advantage with regard to practicing mercy. It all happened on “the same road… p. 289-291 These are the Lord’s own words: The road is hard that leads to eternal happiness; and if he has said them, then they indeed stand eternally fixed and firm. p. 301
The Joy of it That the Happiness of Eternity Still Outweighs Even the Heaviest Temporal Suffering. (6)
“Our hardship, which is brief and light, procures for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” (II Corinthians 4:17)
Perhaps the sufferer reads the words from the Apostle Paul: Our hardship, which is brief and light, procures for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. (II Corinthians 4:17) This time we will make these words the subject for upbuilding as we consider the joy of it for the sufferer: that the happiness of eternity still outweighs even the heaviest temporal suffering. 307-30
When a well-to-do person is riding comfortably in his carriage on a dark but starlit night and has a lantern lit-well, then he feels safe and fears no difficulty; he himself is carrying along the light, and it is not dark right around him. But just because he has the lanterns lit and has a strong light close by, he cannot see the stars at all. His lantern darkens the stars, which the poor peasant, who drives without lanterns, can see gloriously in the dark, but starlit night. The deceived live this way in temporality: busily engaged with the necessities of life, they are either too busy to gain the extensive view, or in their prosperity and pleasant days they have, as it were, the lanterns lit, have everything around them and close to them so safe, so bright, so comfortable-but the extensive view is lacking, the extensive view, the view of the stars. p. 310
If the sufferer firmly holds on to what understanding admittedly cannot comprehend, but what faith, on the other hand, firmly holds on to-that suffering will procure a great and eternal weight of glory-then eternal happiness has the overweight, then the sufferer not only endures the suffering but understands that the eternal happiness has the overweight.p. 314
The Joy of it That Bold Confidence Is Able in Suffering to Take Power from the World and Has the Power to Change Scorn into Honor, Downfall into Victory. (7)
There is a reverseness that may be called brazenness; there are people who reverse the concepts and who, as the apostles say, “place their glory in their shame, boast of their disgrace.” Philippians 3.19
Let us with calmness and self-control consider the matter. If it is God who gives the spirit of power and strength, then it is also the same God who gives “the spirit of self-control,” 2 Timothy 1:7 and if ignoble cowardice and fear of people are just as detestable in any age, the excess of eager enthusiasm, “zeal without wisdom,” are no less corrupting and at times are fundamentally just as detestable, just as blasphemous. p. 323 To confess in the way the Bible and the Church use this word presupposes opposition, presupposes that there is someone who speaks against it. p. 324-325
Woe to the one who presumptuously, precipitously, and impetuously brings the horror of confusion into more peaceable situations; but woe, also, to the one who, if it was necessary, did not have the bold confidence to turn everything around the second time when it was turned around the first time! Woe to him-if it is hard to bear a world’s persecution, it is still harder to bear the responsibility for not having acted, to stand ashamed in eternity because he did not through God win bold confidence to transform shame into honor. This is what the apostles did, but they did it in suffering. p. 330 If you are perhaps suffering for a conviction, or if you are preparing to suffer for a conviction, or if you are seriously considering what can happen to a person, then rejoice for a moment in the joy that it was the theme of this discourse; but do not make a mistake, do not indulge in the joy. Instead, earnestly strive to win bold confidence before God and then the joy will come all the more richly to you. p. 341
Upbuilding Discourses in various Spirits.
(Opbyggelige Taler i forskjellig Aand) Mar 13, 1847