Kierkegaard’s view on Faith and conquering Anxiety

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“No one can be wholly and indivisibly in the present,” writes Kierkegaard, “before he is finished with the future.”

With this single line Kierkegaard exposes profound implications of both faith and how to conquer anxiety.

In Kierkegaard’s most spiritual works, the “Upbuilding Discourses”, he battles with the question, “How do I know I have faith and not my own creation of faith?” He feared being involved in a self-deception and sought some sort of proof that his faith was genuine. His solution was to ask himself, “Do I expect victory?”

He reasoned that if he expected nothing then, obviously, he had no faith: “…those who have already drawn up the balance sheet with life and expect nothing are indeed the unhappy ones.” However, if he expected something particular based on something particular then, once again, he had no faith.

Faith could not be about knowing the exact conclusions or being able to explain unforeseen outcomes, otherwise what was called faith is really just insight and confidence in one’s ability to form correct perceptions.

Belief in the promises made by the world cannot be faith either. The world promises many victories that it does not deliver. Real faith recognizes that the world will not keep its promises – “The expectancy for victory is in God, not the world.” There is no making peace with the future based on worldly promises.

Evidence of genuine faith, Kierkegaard concludes, is experienced as peace with the future. And “only when one has conquered it (the future), only then is one able to return to the present.” Only with the expectancy of faith – that God is “drawing our balance sheet” – are we able to live in the present and find meaning in it.

Faith’s expectancy of victory in the future is the simple belief that “God works all things together for good of those who love Him” (Rom 8:28). This expectancy of victory conquers the future: “The believer, therefore, is finished with the future before he begins with the present.”

Here’s the full quote we began with:

No one can be wholly and indivisibly in the present before he is finished with the future. But one is finished with the future only by conquering it, but this is precisely what faith does since its expectancy is victory. Every time I catch my soul not expecting victory, I know that I do not have faith.

If one is able to gain this victory through faith, anxiety is in big trouble. Anxiety requires that space, that no-man’s-land, between the present and the future threat in order to exist. If the dreaded future threat is tamed or destroyed by the expected victory of faith (again, not over some particular event but over the boogieman of ultimate peril) then one is able to fully enter the present moment free from anxiety. Anxiety has no air in the present; it suffocates.

Any good therapist knows that in order to control anxiety a person must first learn to become embodied, be able to make good contact with one’s self in the present moment. The present is almost never as terrible as the imagined terror composed in the mind. As a therapist I have never witnessed anything more effective against anxiety than when a client finds genuine faith. Until a person has made a pact with the future, their present is in constant turmoil.

Kierkegaard finishes by clarifying why we so often go astray in our faith. We do so because we seek assurance of what is expected instead of faith’s assurance of itself. “If I were to presume something to be substantiated, then in substantiating my expectancy it would also refute.” In other words, what is substantiated is no longer hoped for. Faith is this ‘hoping’. “Time can neither refute nor substantiate the expectancy of faith, because faith expects an eternity.”

Thanks for reading.

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