This brings us to the existential crisis which lies so importantly at the crux of Kierkegaard’s thought. (Now those who have much greater expertise may identify a different controlling idea in the Dane’s thinking, and will defer to their greater knowledge. But from what I have read, this seems to be the motivating conceit).
The one who, by reason, no longer experiences Romantic Wordsworthian Wonder at a flower or shadowy forrest, finds himself in a strange place. At this point, we know that there things which could inspire a lesser wonder and a lesser fear: a fear of an angel or devil; or a fear of some terror in the world. But all such fears can at most lead to superstition.
But there is a true and wonder and a true fear which can be experienced when the false fears are cleared away.
“True wonder and fear first appear only when he, just he, whether greatest or humblest, is alone with the omnipresent God.”
It matters nothing who the human being is when confronted with this God. All things in the creature matter nothing: that confrontation with God is a confrontation of pure fear and wonder. This fear and wonder are secure from an assault of reason: reason can merely clear away the creaturely wonders and fears.
“The experience here described was once the lot of every man in the moment of decision, when the sickness of the spirit struck in, and he felt himself imprisioned in existence, everlasting imprisoned.” What he means by this everlasting imprisonment I think must be mean the apparent inability to move past this confrontation.
The thought becomes particularly opaque (at least to me), but the sense seems to be unless one is changed at this confrontation, there is an imprisonment. This is the confrontation of “fear and trembling” and movement to the stage of faith (the “leap”).
Here is the salient passage, “Therefore the thing sought exists, the seeker himself was the place [because we find God in faith in the confession of sin — as will be explained later], but he is change, changed from having once been the place whether the thing sought was [this is the movement in the thought which I find confusing]. Oh, now there is no wonder, no ambiguity! When the soul apprehends this, its condition is fear and trembling in the consciousness of guilt, passion in the sorrow following remembrance, love in the repentance of the prodigal.”
I am not quite sure about that clause of the seeker having once been the place. But the remainder makes sense: this existential confrontation of the living God is the confrontation of a realization that of my guilt and of knowing that I am loved in the confession of and repentance from sin. It is the paradoxical moment of grace: that I am received precisely in the moment I realize I am bound to be cast-off.
God justifies the ungodly; God shows love for the unlovely. Indeed, it is precisely when one realizes one’s complete unworthiness that the Father welcomes in the prodigal and gives him the robe and the ring and fattened calf. If that moment is achieved, there is nothing in human existence which can equal it for importance.
There is one final note which to make about this section of the discourse concerning apologetics. It is a brief section, but it is worth considering. Someone may “wish” to say, “it is so hard to find Him [God] that some men even prove that He exists, and find evidence necessary.” At this point, one could accuse Kierkegaard of pure fideism: he merely asserts God exists. But he continues on at this point in a way which I think is helpful when we consider apologetics. “Let the work of proving it be hard and especially troublesome for him who tries to understand that it proves anything; for the author of the proof, it is easy because he has place himself outside, he does not deal with God, but considers something about God.”
God is personal — absolutely so. Yet, so often in our theology of God, and particularly in apologetics, we can reduce God to an object of our consideration. We speak about God and reduce God to an inference. But for the one who knows God, we do not merely know about God. Indeed, we cannot now the most critical elements of Christianity by deduction from historical evidence. We could prove up the death and burial of Jesus. We can make a quite cogent argument for the Resurrection. All those facts could be unquestionably true, but they cannot lead us to understand that Jesus died for me. I cannot know God in Jesus Christ except by knowing in experience.
It is that experience which is the most critical event in the life of a human being. If our apologetics is to be greatest use it must be more than winning an argument over historical deduction. And we must be careful that we do not merely “something about God” rather than God.