What effect does the despair of the loss of wonder bring upon the searcher? He can no longer wander about, see something he cannot explain, and think, Ah, I have come upon the divinity in this place. This realization leads one to despair. And this despair, as it intensifies, leads one to a very different conclusion.
The trajectory which he describes here seems to follow along a very particular path: There is the Romanticism of a modern who is searching for God in nature. I cannot really understand his explanation as being applicable to a true animist pagan. For such a one, the spirits are not beautiful but rather frightening. Virgil’s Tityrus in the first eclogue is quite pleased with his local god – but Virgil was an extremely sophisticated Roman.
The wonder expressed by Kierkegaard seems to sound more like Wordsworth or Coleridge. Perhaps he is speaking of himself.
The Romantic posture is quite appealing to one on this side of the Enlightenment who still can’t bring himself to banish the spiritual and God. Perhaps there is a way around the world as machine. And so in this sermon, Kierkegaard seems to be speaking to a particular type of person. The one is who is a dull-headed materialist by default is not his target.
This would be the “spiritual but not religious” young adult: You are finding some evidence for the divine in this or that “wonder.” But I must tell you something, this will fail.
One solution is mocking, but not realizing, “mockery [is] a two-edged sword!” If this is you, you know of what I am speaking. You understand the “jumble of confused memories.” This person, I would presume, retreats to an aesthetic position.
Or, there is the one who cynically abides by the rules, and – in Christian parlance – seeks to fulfill the Law (however misguided the sense of the Law may be. I believe that we can understand a great deal of modern political discourse among professedly “secular” people as an intense desire to fulfill the Law).
But there is another way through this: The despair is intensified and brought to a new sense of “wonder.” Something has happened here, something unexpected: “The wondering individual is changed.”
The despair wrought by learning that one’s first Romanticism has failed gives rises to something more profound: You are now different. He also has realized something new about God.
He no longer looks for the place where the thing sought is concealed, for this exactly within him; nor does he look for the place where God is, he does not strive therefore, for God is with him, very near him, near him everywhere, omnipresent in every moment, but he shall be changed so that he may in truth become the place where God dwells.
This language is very striking, because Kierkegaard has restated something which has become domesticated in Christian discourse. But this is precisely what is at the heart of the Christian message.
The proximity of God is a truly terrifying and awe-inspiring aspect of Christianity which seems so often completely absent. Our familiarity with the concepts domesticates them. Then when Kierkegaard expresses the idea in an unfamiliar way, it sounds dangerous.
But consider these passages:
Romans 10:5–13 (ESV)
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (ESV)
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Luke 10:9 (ESV)
9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Kierkegaard then describes the limitation on modernity, “ Was it not a blessed thing that superior power could shut you up in the darkest prison, but could not shut out God?”
Then this final line reminds me of a prayer, which I will quote below
“Was it not blessed , was it not indeed blessed that you could fall into the deepest pit, where you could not see the sun or the stars, and still could see God?”
The Valley of Vision:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter
Thy stars shine;
Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.