Kierkegaard on the Epistemological Benefits of Faith: From Divine Hiddenness to Human Selfhood

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According to Kierkegaard, faith yields results that are epistemically significant.[7] In order to see the epistemic and cognitive benefits that follow from faith, we will look briefly at four ideas found throughout the later works.

First, in Practice in Christianity, Kierkegaard discusses the sense in which Jesus is “the truth” (PC, 203-206). Truth is not mere knowledge. Christian truth has more to do with being than with knowing. But if one is true, then knowledge of the truth follows. Consider this extended quotation:

…when the requirement is to be truth, to know the truth is an untruth. For knowing the truth is something that entirely of itself accompanies being the truth, not the other way around. And that is why it becomes untruth when knowing the truth is separated from being the truth… (PC, 205)

Kierkegaard tells his readers that this kind of knowledge cannot be gained apart from how one chooses to live. The main point here is that knowledge of the truth comes of itself after choosing to live in the truth as Jesus did.

Second, Kierkegaard says that someone with faith discovers or knows numerous facts, including facts about God’s existence and God’s nature. Throughout the later works, Kierkegaard claims that a Christian can “come to know everything about love” (WL, 364), know that one is loved by God (WL, 364), know “that God’s will is grace” (CD, 65), and know that Jesus was love and acted out of love (PC, 178). He also says that those with faith can discover “that God is” (WL, 362; cf. WL, 361) – that is, that God exists – and also that Christians can “know God” very intimately (CD, 291). There seem to be, then, some facts or truths about God that the Christian knows. The status of much of this knowledge is, to be sure, of the subjective rather than the objective sort, but it is knowledge nonetheless.[8]

Third, Kierkegaard speaks in terms of certitude and certainty. In many works, he often speaks of the certainty that faith possesses as well as the “certitude of faith.”[9] Often, certitude is the result of imitation. That is, given true imitation of Jesus, an individual may receive certitude that one’s faith and efforts are not in vain.

Fourth and finally, Kierkegaard believes that God can and does give an individual certitude about one’s relationship with God. And he says that God gives this certitude through God’s own Spirit witnessing with an individual’s spirit. He maintains that only God can give an individual certitude about one’s relation to God, and that God gives this certitude “as God’s Spirit witnesses with this person’s spirit that he loves God” (CD, 194). Therefore, Kierkegaard believes that God’s own Spirit is the bearer of certitude about some religious truths. Additionally, in The Point of View, Kierkegaard testifies that “[God’s] Spirit witnessed powerfully with my spirit that this [Kierkegaard’s method] had his complete and highest approval” (PV, 60).[10] Further, a central role of the Holy Spirit is also affirmed in both For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself!.[11]

Kierkegaard obviously takes Paul’s words from the Epistle to the Romans very seriously. Paul, writing to those with faith in Jesus, says: ” …you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:15-16, NIV). The main point to make regarding Kierkegaard’s use of this passage is that he sees the testimony of the Holy Spirit, given directly to an individual, as real evidence for God and as a source of certitude regarding God’s reality. The Holy Spirit’s testimony to an individual is neither reproducible for another to see nor objectively measured or controlled. However, the mere fact that God’s reality may not be objectively, deductively, or abstractly proven does not mean that there is no proof or no evidence available.

An individual who has faith, according to Kierkegaard, personally encounters the Holy Spirit and experiences this inner testimony of God’s Spirit. The result of this encounter is certitude and acquaintance knowledge. Therefore, someone with faith has a distinctive kind of evidence for God, which results in subjective knowledge of God.

Toward a Response to the Problem of Divine Hiddenness

The main argument of this paper is that Kierkegaard’s religious epistemology, as we have explained it, provides a partial response to the problem of divine hiddenness. Many who cite divine hiddenness as an objection to theism claim that there is not enough evidence of God’s existence. What Kierkegaard’s works show is that there is a possibility that evidence of God is available to each person. However, this available evidence might not be apprehended or perceived by each person. If this is true, then the fact that one particular unbeliever sees no evidence for God’s existence may be a result of the choices he or she has made. That is, the use of one’s will may block one from “seeing” or “hearing” the evidence of God that is available.