‘precisely because existence will test you, test your love or whether there is love in you, for this very reason with the help of the understanding it presents you with truth and deception as two equal possibilities in contrast to each other, so that there must be a revelation of what is in you since you judge, that is, since in judging you choose. Alas, many think that judgment is something reserved for the far side of the grave, and so it is. But one forgets that judgment lies much closer, that it takes place every moment, because existence judges you every moment you live, inasmuch as to live is to judge oneself, to become open’ –Søren Kierkegaard in ‘Works of Love’
We are confronted with an epistemological problem when we are speaking of the existing individual. How does knowledge relate to how one lives one’s life? Clearly there is a difference between knowledge and action, but one must consider where that line meets and how the two interact with each other. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Johannes Climacus (one of Kierkegaard’s pseudonyms) argues the claim that ‘truth is subjectivity and subjectivity is inwardness’. This is made in reference to the issue of Christianity and how an objective, world-historical event i.e. such as Jesus, God being on earth, is related to how we live our daily lives. In this case something external (and in ancient history) has internal, present effects and consequences. This doesn’t makes sense right away, nor should it because this is a paradox of faith and Christianity. So how does this happen? This depends, for example, on one’s relation to the utterance of: Christ was fully God and fully man, died for the forgiveness of sins and thus through Him I receive salvation and eternal life. The utterance itself means nothing, they are just words; the meaning comes from how you stand in relation to the utterance. If you are a Christian, this statement has plenty of meaning because it pertains to you specifically, right now and how you are living your life. The relation comes about by a choice given to us by our Christian freedom in Christ. The words are presented to us, so what do we do with the information? This is where the decisive leap to faith comes in; where the paradox has its purpose. According to Climacus, the paradox of faith results in our experiencing passion in our inner being. Essentially, the passion derives from our choosing, on the strength of the absurd, the paradox and entering into a subjective relation to it. He also gives us a definition of truth, according to subjectivity: “An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.” By objective uncertainty, he explains that our knowledge of history is essentially only an approximation because, on the one hand, the facts aren’t all in and there are still volumes and volumes of information to be gathered about events in history that truth ends up only being an approximation. This uncertainty is precisely where the choice comes in. It isn’t a matter of just receiving knowledge. No, it is us taking that knowledge and applying to our existing selves.
the definition of truth stated above is a paraphrasing of faith. without risk, no faith. faith is the contradiction between the infinite passion of inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am able to apprehend God objectively, I do not have faith; but because I cannot do this, I must have faith. If I want to keep myself in faith, I must continually see to it that I hold fast to the objective uncertainty, see to it that in the objective uncertainty I am ‘out on 70,000 fathoms of water’ and still have faith’ - Søren Kierkegaard in ‘Concluding Unscientific Postscript’
Jesus spoke to the people in parables for the reason that, instead of the knowledge he was imparting them becoming just more facts to be disputed, judged or approximated, he spoke to them in such a way that the truth would come to them through applying what they learned in the lesson to their daily lives. In this way, one’s only relation to Jesus’ lessons are essentially through application or ‘appropriation’ because they apply specifically to the existing individual and his walk in faith. An either/or is implicit in each of Jesus’ parables: either you follow their instruction or you don’t; or, either you follow God or you don’t. The inward passion results in the choice, in the expression of one’s freedom. You are choosing for yourself and you are choosing the Good, thus this is your expression of faith. In choosing the Good, you are proving that you have entered into the right relation to God, because you could only have chosen the Good if the condition was provided to you first by your relation to God. Thus, you have a standard of judging and a right and wrong answer available to you: either you choose right or you choose wrong; or, either you follow God or you don’t. In this way, faith is less a belief, so to speak, but more of an action. A belief implies that you simply believe that something is true or that something is false. But an action involves choice, it involves doing one thing instead of another; it involves an either/or. Living in faith isn’t just living in belief of something, it means to live by acting according to faith.
do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. do what it says. those who listen to the word but do not do what it says are like people who look at their faces in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like. but those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do – James 1:22-25
Just saying the words, I am a Christian, do not make you a Christian, it takes the action that the statement implies. If you have salvation and eternal life and are in faith, this should be part of your life-view and perception of events in the world. So Christianity is a matter of inwardness (as we decided above) and is also a matter of action.
Martin Luther wanted to remove James from the Bible because he felt that James put too much emphasis on the ‘works’ of Christianity and less on the ‘faith alone’ aspect. I see his argument, but what does living by ‘faith alone’ really mean? The phrase does seem to imply anything about the existing individual, only sounds like a type of knowledge. Perhaps I am just misunderstanding what is meant by ‘faith alone’, but ‘faith alone’ seems useless unless there is action or some type of inward relation accompanied to the phrase. James 2:14-24 says straight out that faith alone, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:17). Faith needs works, it needs action – or it is dead. These are strong apostolic words: is dead. If our task is to love one’s neighbor, without distinction, even in their sin and imperfection, then our faith must be expressed through action, namely: through love.
Yes, love is a ‘good and perfect gift from above’ and it is an action that necessarily follows faith. Without faith, no love. Love is an action that results from choice. Our choice of faith and our relation to God has certain active, existential consequences. Loving one’s neighbor results from first loving ourselves – loving ourselves by entering into a subjective, inward relation to God and by making the movement of faith. From this results: love. Yet, the same still applies here to love, that saying that you must love one’s neighbor is a different matter than actually loving one’s neighbor. This is true only true when faith is chosen in freedom and one rests transparently in the Creator and humbly at His feet; only true when the command becomes an appropriation and becomes a daily action for the existing individual. Without action, faith is dead.