One cannot follow an argument in Kierkegaard the way one would follow a lecture or a legal presentation. The parts do not move in the same obvious logical progression. He is famously suggestive and indirect. This is not to say that the ideas move illogically. But rather than move directly to a point, he seems to circle the topic, forcing to you to consider it from all sides. He at times will not make his conclusion clear, forcing you to think through the implications. It is as if he brings you to see a waterfall from a new angle.
And so when he comes to the main point of this sermon, What is it means to seek God, he answers with a paradox. He borrows here from Luther’s maxim that we are simultaneously sinners and justified
No man can seek God without purity and no man can know God without becoming a sinner.
Having presented that paradox, he immediately seems to back off; perhaps you will not want to proceed with me. Certainly, “This discourse … has no authority.” I cannot compel you to come with me as we consider this. It may be too much for you to seek this “stillness.”
But you must know that this stillness is not in some particular place. Then, having made plain that one does not confront God by going somewhere (recall at the first that he raises the question of how far away God may be), he shifts to the poet.
He references the “poetical” that a wordless sigh may “the best prayer.” This he compares to the one who thinks that God can be approached by traveling to some particular place. Both this moves “help to create an illusion” of worship.
No, he says, if you actually come into confrontation with God you will have words. This poetical idea springs from a vague idea of God (just as the concept that God is some place is a vague idea of God.
If one had an actual confrontation with God, you would have clear words. But this is a “difficulty not dreamed of when God is at a distance.”
He then shifts focus slightly again to our everyday world. We live in a world which proclaims that the most important thing to is to avoid this danger. It would seem that the danger is a confrontation with God.
But the nature of avoiding that danger throws an interesting light on avoiding this danger. It is one “who is neither in solitude nor confusion but in a busy absent-minded state of reflection.” It is one who simply has no thought of the thing. Solitude and confusion are the poles for the one who think of God is being found in a pilgrimage: I must go some particular place to meet God. This person is even less awake: he is not looking at all and is not even thinking of looking for God.
Notice that he is not directly addressing how to come God. Rather he is holding up a portrait of what is to not seek God. To come to God is a paradox: you may not be interested in this. You might think that it is going somewhere or perhaps a “poetical” sigh o fa prayer – well its not either. But you who are not even considering the matter are like one sleeping walking in life.
Yes, I can’t make you come to seek God: But I can show you what it is to not seek God.
How does he describe this sort of place: avoiding the “danger”? This “is the most mediocre thing in the world.” You are busy avoiding. Kierkegaard does not directly articulate what is being avoided, the implication requires the reader to think through what is being avoided so that the one who is reading and who is also avoiding God must accuse himself? What am I avoiding? God.
This seems to turn our age of authenticity on its head. The temptation of the Serpent was to define ourselves. But the one who has not confronted God (as a sinner and one pure of heart – in confession) is not actually a human being.
The idea which strikes him here is Peer Gynt who comes to the end of his life and seems to be so inconclusive he cannot even be sent to Hell.
This man who who simply goes about life in an absent minded way being himself and avoiding God – at best having vague thoughts is simply “mediocre”.
I can’t help thinking about mold of the world that seeks for us nothing better than to be tax payers, workers, consumers, busily entertained, always absent minded.