The Cross-trail

One thing that has been a lifeline for us in Florida is the Cross Seminole trail that happens to run not far from our house. Euodia and I go run there every second morning. We love to bike on it and take the kids there to go rollerblade.

We did not know any of this the day we picked our new home, so we were delighted and deeply thankful when we discovered its beauty so close to our front door.

We often reflect on how beautiful the bike-paths and trails are where we have lived during our sixteen years of marriage (if you live in Holland or Riehen, you would know what we are referring to). But, along with that, we often try imagine what life for a believer in, say Syria must be like. What type of trails do their children have to tread everyday. And how is it that our worlds, our trails are so different? Why are their trails so reminiscent of the via dolorosa and mine so much of the promised land?

“First the Kingdom of God” (Søren Kierkegaard – The Moment)

…something perhaps offensive to us aspiring workers in God’s Kingdom.

A head-and-shoulders portrait sketch of a young man in his twenties that emphasizes his face, full hair, open and forward-looking eyes and a hint of a smile. He wears a formal necktie and lapel.

The theological graduate Ludvig From – he is seeking. When one hears that a “theological” graduate is seeking, one does not need a lively imagination to understand what it is that he is seeking—naturally, the kingdom of God, which, of course, one is to seek first.

But no, it is not that; what he is seeking is a royal livelihood as a pastor, and very much, which I shall indicate by a few episodes, happened first before he attained that.

First he attended high school, from which he graduated to the university. Thereupon he first passed two examinations, and after four years of study he first passed the degree examination.

So then he is a theological graduate, and one would perhaps think that after having first put all that behind him, he finally can get a chance to work for Christianity. Yes, one would think so. No, first he must attend the pastoral seminary for a half year; and when that is finished, nothing can be said about having been able to seek during the first eight years, which had to be put behind him first.

And now we stand at the beginning of the story: the eight years are over, he is seeking.

His life, which until now cannot be said to have any relation to the unconditioned, suddenly assumes such a relation. He is XIV  seeking unconditionally everything; he fills one sheet of officially stamped paper after the other with writing; he runs from Herod to Pilate; he recommends himself both to the minister of ecclesiastical affairs and to the janitor—in short, he is totally in the service of the unconditioned. Indeed, one of his acquaintances, who has not seen him the last few years, is amazed to discover that he has become smaller; perhaps the explanation is that the same thing happened to him that happened to Münchhausen’s dog, which was a greyhound but because of much running became a dachshund.

Three years go by in this way. After such enormously strenuous activity, our theological graduate really needs a rest, needs to have a respite from activity or to come to rest in an official position and be looked after a little by his future wife—for in the meantime he has first become engaged.

Finally, as Pernille says to Magdelone, the hour of his “deliverance” arrives, so with the full power of conviction and from his personal experience he will be able to “witness” before the congregation that in Christianity there is salvation and deliverance—he obtains an official position.

What happens? By obtaining even more exact information about the income of the call than he had, he discovers that it is  rix-dollars less than he had believed. That did it! The unhappy man almost despairs. He has already bought official stamped paper in order to apply to the minister for permission to be considered as if he had not been called—and in order then to begin again from the beginning—but one of his acquaintances persuades him to give up this idea. So it ends with his retaining the call. He is ordained—and the Sunday arrives when he is to be presented to the congregation. The dean, by whom this is done, is a more than ordinary man. He not only has (something most pastors have, and most often in proportion to their rank) an impartial eye for earthly gain, but also a speculative eye on world history, something he cannot keep for himself but lets the congregation share to its benefit. By a stroke of genius he has chosen as his text the words by the Apostle Peter, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you,” and now explains to the congregation that precisely in times such as ours there must be such men as teachers, and in that connection he recommends this XIV  young man, who he knows was close to withdrawing because of the  rix-dollars.

Now the young man himself mounts the pulpit—and the Gospel for the day (strangely enough!) is: Seek first the kingdom of God.

He delivers his sermon. “A very good sermon,” says the bishop, who himself was present, “a very good sermon; and it made the proper impression, the whole part about ‘first’ the kingdom of God, the manner in which he emphasized this first.”

“But, your Reverence, do you believe that there was here the desirable agreement between the discourse and the life? On me this first made almost a satirical impression.”

“How absurd! He is called, after all, to proclaim the doctrine, the sound unadulterated doctrine about seeking first the kingdom of God, and he did it very well.”

This is the kind of worship one dares—under oath—to offer to God, the most horrible insult.

Whoever you are, just think of this Word of God, “first the kingdom of God,” and then think about this story, which is so true, so true, so true, and you will not need more to make you realize that the whole official Christendom is an abyss of untruth and optical illusion, something so profane that the only true thing that can be said about it is: By ceasing to participate (if you usually do participate in the public divine service) in it as it now is, you always have one and a great guilt less, that of not participating in making a fool of God (see This Must Be Said; So Let It Be Said).

God’s Word says “First the kingdom of God,” and the interpretation, perhaps even “the perfecting” of it (since one does not want to do it shabbily) is: first everything else and last the kingdom of God; at long last the things of this earth are obtained first, and then finally last of all a sermon about—first seeking God’s kingdom. In this way one becomes a pastor, and the pastor’s entire practice thus becomes a continual carrying out of this: first the things of this earth and then—the kingdom of God; first the consideration for the things of this earth, whether it pleases the government or the majority, or whether there is at least a group—that is: first a consideration for what fear of people bids or forbids, and then God’s kingdom; first the things of this earth, first money, and then you can have your child baptized; first money, and then earth will be thrown on your coffin and there will be a funeral oration according to the fixed rate; first money, and then I will make the sick call; first money, and then: virtus post nummos virtue after money; first money, and then virtue, then the kingdom of God, and the latter finally comes last to such a degree that it does not come at all, and the whole thing remains with the first: money—only in that case one does not feel the urge “to go further.”

This is how in everything and at every point official Christianity is related to the Christianity of the New Testament. And this is what is not even acknowledged to be wretchedness; no, it is brazenly insisted that Christianity is perfectible, that one cannot stay with the first Christianity, that it is only an element, etc.

Therefore there is nothing to which God is so opposed as official Christianity and participation therein with the claim to be worshiping him. If you believe, and that you surely do, that God is opposed to stealing, robbing, plundering, whoring, slandering, gluttonizing, etc.—the official Christianity and its worship are infinitely more loathsome to him. To think that a human being can be sunken in such brutish obtuseness and lack of spirit that he dares to offer God such worship, in which everything is thoughtlessness, spiritlessness, lethargy, and that people then brazenly dare to regard this as a forward step in Christianity!

This it is my duty to say, this, “Whoever you are, whatever your life is otherwise—by ceasing to participate (if you usually do participate) in the public divine service as it now is, you always have one and a great guilt less.” You yourself, then, bear and have to bear the responsibility for how you act, but you have been made aware!

Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Kierkegaard’s Writings XXIII (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009).

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