Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Knight of Faith has Faith in the Absurd

What is faith? The book of Hebrews gives us a definition of faith: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). What does that mean? Throughout the history of Christianity, different theologians have attempted to define faith. However, faith is not something that can be clearly defined because it is really a subjective experience. In his book Fear and Trembling*, Søren Kierkegaard attempts to explain why Abraham is one of the greatest examples of a man of faith, a "Knight of Faith". 

Abraham Sacrificing Isaac, Reims
Kierkegaard (writing under the pseudonym of Johannes de silentio), follows Abraham’s journey to Moriah and argues that there are times when faith requires one to cross the boundaries of the Ethical. According to the Ethical, if Abraham had sacrificed Isaac, he would have been a murderer, but because Abraham was acting in faith, he was justified. Many people dwell on the fact that Abraham was “merely being tested by God,” and fail to understand the grief and pain of a man who is called to kill the person he loves the most in the world. Abraham was a Knight of Faith, and not a Tragic Hero, because he had trust in the absurd. “It is not to save a nation, not to uphold the idea of the State, that Abraham [goes to Moriah], not to appease angry gods” (p.88). Abraham does not go to kill his son because he thinks that he will get something in return, but because he has trust in God’s promise and has completely resigned himself to God’s Will. Abraham’s story can be quite disconcerting when read from the perspective of Abraham. It is true that a misunderstanding of the story could lead one to condone terroristic behavior. However, it is worth repeating again that Abraham does not go to kill his son for any reward or because of any hatred he had towards Isaac. He goes to kill his son as proof of his faith to God. Only Abraham can understand what he has been called to do, and others do not have the right to judge his choice. “When a person sets out on the tragic hero’s admittedly hard path there are many who could lend him advice; but he who walks the narrow path of faith no one can advise, no one understand” (p.95).

There are other characters in the Bible who are also called to do the absurd and sometimes to cross what is considered moral and ethical by the world's standards. For example, Hosea is called to marry a prostitute. Kierkegaard writes, “There was one who relied upon himself and gained everything, and one who, secure in his own strength, sacrificed everything; but greater than all was the one who believed God. There was one who was great in his strength, and one who was great in his wisdom, and one who was great in hope, and one who was great in love; but greater than all was Abraham, great with that power whose strength is powerlessness, great in that wisdom whose secret is folly, great in that hope whose outward form is insanity, great in that love which is hatred of self” (p.50).

And what about the Virgin Mary, called to be the Mother of God? What about her? Though the angel explains the situation to Joseph, who can really understand Mary and her calling? Mary, in her faith, her complete resignation to God’s Will, accepts to suffer in complete trust that her Son will save the world. “[I]t takes a paradoxical and humble courage then to grasp the whole of temporality on the strength of the absurd, and that courage is the courage of faith” (p.77). The most courageous of all was Jesus who allowed himself to be crucified in complete faith and trust in his Father. After all, if Abraham had indeed sacrificed Isaac, his sacrifice would not have been an atonement for the sins of the world, but the Father perfectly sacrificed his Son and saved the world. To have faith, one must be willing to tell God, “[S]till, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42b). Of course, most of us are not called to do radical things to prove our love to God, but let us not think that unconditional faith is easy to have. Kierkegaard writes, “[W]hat no one has the right to do is let others suppose that faith is something inferior or that it is an easy matter, when in fact it is the greatest and most difficult of all” (p.80). 

*Kierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling. London: Penguin Classics, 1985. Print.

Side Note: The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity starts in a few days: January 18-25. Pray Pray Pray. God Bless!! I will post daily the daily readings and reflections that can be found on the Vatican (use search box) and the World Council of Churches websites.

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