Kierkegaard’s Understanding of the Divine Telos

by Max Andrews

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) believed that man lived on three different stages:  the aesthetic level, ethical level, and the religious level.  The self-centered aesthetic man finds no ultimate meaning in life and no true satisfaction, which leads finally to boredom and a sickness with life.  Kierkegaard recognized the objective standards of good and realized that one cannot live up to what the standard demands.  This results in a sickness, unhappiness, and despair.[1]  The religious stage is where reconciliation can be found.  He finds forgiveness of sins and a personal relationship with God, an overcoming of alienation, and a restoration of the two previous stages.

The choice to believe, according to Kierkegaard, has no criteria and is completely irrational.  This decision to trust in God to provide this meaning is completely fideistic.  Here is where one is posed with the choice a leap of faith.[2]  It seems like it would ultimately come down to one’s epistemic warrant for a divine telos.  If one is not justified in knowing the reality of the divine telos then it would seem that a leap of faith is [ironically] rational.  If a divine telos exists then one ought to be justified in trusting in that telos as being objective and genuine, no blind leap of faith is necessary.

Kierkegaard constructs a negative case for belief in God, which is similar to Dostoevsky.  Dostoevsky has no reservations when he realizes that God is the only source and the only option for absolute meaning, value, and purpose.  Kierkegaard’s response to the divine telos seems like he has certain reservations.  If teleological facts are absolute then it would be obligatory for one to adhere to them when they are epistemically warranted.  It seems that Kierkegaard’s personal subjective absurdity has interfered with his response to a divine telos.  As previously mentioned, it is impossible to relinquish all of the subjective absurdities but to consistently apply a subjectively absurd response to the divine telos is not necessarily warranted.[3]

            [1] As cited in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith ed. 3 (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2008), 69-70.

            [2] See Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Translated by D.F. Swenson and L. M. Swenson.

            [3] I am sympathetic to Kierkegaard and how he responds to the divine telos.  It would really be contingent upon his epistemic warrant for the divine telos.  If he has doubt about his justification and continues to choose to respond to the divine telos anyways then Kierkegaard may actually be commended by the outside observer for leaping through absurdity and doubt.


2 Comments to “Kierkegaard’s Understanding of the Divine Telos”

  1. Man has so many ideas about this and that, and in his finite mind, he tries to understand the infinite, and in his tininess, he tries to understand the enormity of God. And, there is a God who created fleshly, mortal, finite man. Thanks for sharing. Connie

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