Kierkegaard on the Virtue of Faith (and Taking the First Step in Anything)

Have you ever known you had to do something, but hesitated just to begin because you feared the outcome? Perhaps you feared that it might not turn out in your favor, or that it might make a situation worse, not better? This may be a misplaced, premature attempt to justify a course of action, because one is seeking to judge this action by an outcome that has yet to be determined. Maybe it is often more simple than we think: if we believe we ought to do something, we should stand on that conviction and make a leap of courage and do it, to the best of our ability, leaving the results to God.

It seems this is what the nineteenth century Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard (a father of modern existentialism) was onto when he wrote the following in Fear and Trembling (Penguin, 2003), his remarkable reflection on the meaning of faith as seen in the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac. In this passage he asks, “How does the single individual assure himself that he is justified?” The short answer is, he can’t. This is why it takes faith, and why such a faith is indeed a virtue.


“…[the fact is that] ever since the Creation it has been accepted practice for the outcome to come last, and that if one is really to learn something from the great it is precisely the beginning one must attend to. If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin. Even though the result may gladden the whole world, that cannot help the hero; for he knows the result only when the whole thing is over, and that is not how he becomes a hero, but by virtue of the fact that he began.”

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