Kierkegaard on Prayer. Who Knew?
Three times I’ve posted on Kierkegaard. I thought I understood him. He is an existentialist for whom belief in God is a subjective truth. The decision cannot be justified; one can barely give reasons. All one can know is what one knows about any subjective truth: that it is based on a decision to believe it. No wonder that Kierkegaard is often called the first existentialist.
Recently I came across a book of Kierkegaard’s prayers. You could say I should have known about his prayers before. Perhaps I should of, but philosophers don’t write about this aspect of Kierkegaard’s work. Neither do most theologians. It seems irrelevant to most of them. It shouldn’t be. The prayers turned my view of Kierkegaard upside down.
I’ll just summarize the content of several of the prayers. You will lose the poetry, but you’ll get the idea.
- “Thou hast loved us first” (prayer 8), Kierkegaard asks God to help us avoid the seductions of the world, and to love others as much as we love ourselves.
- “Thy forgiveness” (prayer 21). We are to forgive others seventy times seven. Will you, God, ever tire of forgiving us?
- “For faith” (prayer 27). Teach me not to get bogged down in stifling reflection, but simply to have faith.
- “To know thy will” (prayer 37). Keep us vigilant so that we may work for our salvation through fear and trembling.* But “grant that we may hear also a gentle voice murmuring to us that we are Thy children, so that we will cry with joy, Abba, Father.”
The first sentence of the last prayer sounds like the Kierkegaard I am familiar with, the author who dwelt on the anxiety and dread that accompanies the life of the faithful. But the second sentence is like that of a little boy rushing to sit on the lap of his beloved father. Abba is best translated here as “daddy.”