Come hither, all ye that have strayed and lost your way, whatever your error and sin may have been, whether it be one which in human eyes is more more pardonable and yet perhaps more dreadful, or one more dreadful in human eyes and yet perhaps more pardonable, one which was revealed here on earth, or one which is concealed here yet known in heaven–did ye find forgiveness here on earth and yet no rest in your inward mind, or found ye no forgiveness because ye sought it not or sought it in vain–oh, turn about and come hither, here is rest!
Kierkegaard Training in Christianity
Picking up a discussion of Kierkegaard’s of the Gospel, I want to follow him into the realm of real experience. He has thus far spoken in terms of feeling helpless and abandoned, alone and forsaken. The words of grace of such as they was to tell of the bountiful mercy offered to all. Here, he moves from the more subjective realm of feelings and yearnings to begin to show the reality of the Christian faith in a more specific way, a way which is more immediately perceivable.
I was tempted to say more ‘real’ here. That is to say, this discussion makes Christianity ‘real’ or ‘realistic’, but I do not think it helpful to think of feelings as unreal. Much LESS do I think Kierkegaard would regard feelings so flippantly. This is because our experience of reality is often shaped by the wrongdoing of others, and Kierkegaard wants to show also how Jesus offers rest FROM others, before he speaks of personal fault.
As far as I read Kierkegaard I find it easier to relate to this experience of Jesus, as one who offers rest and return from sin as I suppose it is an experience I am all too familiar with. It was not always so, and indeed my first encounter with Jesus was as Saviour from enemies and wrongdoers.
Yet here he is concerned with the human encounter with evil and participation in it. Notice above how he frames sin in an objective fashion, that is to say that the disapproval or approval of others does not constitute sin. He seems to place the conscience over sin, though. Forgiveness is a subjective matter of inner peace. The rest offered is apparently the rest from the guilty feelings of sin.
Does this mean that the one who feels no guilt might have no need of a Saviour?
No, I think not. If Kierkegaard has established a moral objectivity to sin, then one’s feeling of guilt and restless conscience is the result of a real wrongdoing or offence against that moral objective. To use an illustration: The wound is a problem because, firstly, it hurts. Indeed, if one did not smart from a cut it would worsen and kill us.
So does Jesus offer just an appeased conscience?
The invitation halts at the parting of the ways where there path of sin again veers, for the last time, and is lost to view… in perdition. Oh, turn about, come hither! Shrink not at the difficulty of the journey back, however hard it be; fear not the toilsome path of conversion, however laboriously it leads to salvation.
This is where Kierkegaard begins to offer something truly unique to us. This talk of conversion is linked not with a decision nor a feeling of forgiveness, but with a hard slog against sin. He pictures Jesus standing at the place where the path forks and the sinner ventures into a lonely desolate place. For Kierkegaard, the call to convert is the call to turn away from sin and back to the right path.
It is tempting to accuse Kierkegaard of making Christianity into an intellectual or emotional crutch, especially with his discussion on the guilt of sin.
Yet now has he given the seeker an unbearable burden?
No, since what he has described before, Christ as comforter and friend, is no less true here.
Be not in despair at every relapse, which the God of patience possesses patience enough to forgive and which a sinner might well have patience enough to be humbled under. Nay, fear nothing and despair not. He who says “Come hither,” is with you on your way; from Him come help and forgiveness in the path of conversion which leads to Him; and with Him there is rest.
Notice the use of the idea of conversion.
It has, in this instance, nothing to do with learning a creed or undergoing some religious instruction. No, conversion is the path away from sin, from death. In this we see the substance of Christianity is then not belief or learning but action and obeying. Indeed we’ve seen how Kierkegaard presents Jesus to us as a contemporary person, a real man with whom we share our life. So how could conversion be concerned with the learning of a creed? It must be conversion as allegiance to this Man, and obedience to Him and a coming to Him for rest and consolation.
Conversion then, is a becoming. It is a willing after Christ and following that call back down the road of perdition. And for the journey we are given that same Christ as our comforter.
If this is truly the case, how then do we view ourselves?
Am I a Christian?
What about our friends?
Who then could be saved? Who would ever be a Christian.
Kierkegaard leaves us with Jesus, he is the one who has done all things necessary and thus does all things necessary FOR US. And WE experience it, apparently in real time in real ways.
He goes–yet no, he has gone, but infinitely farther than [anyone else]. He went, in sooth, the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man, and that way He went in search of sinners.