15 of Soren Kierkegaard’s Most Challenging Quotes

Honor his birthday by learning from his words.

Today is Søren Kierkegaard's 203rd birthday. And even though he lived a relatively short life (he died in his early 40s), his writings on faith, the Church, ethics and the nature of God have gone on to have a profound influence on Western Culture and the legions of Christian thinkers who’ve encountered them ever since.

Here’s a look back at some of Kierkegaard's most powerful quotes.

On Observing Scripture

The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.
Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

On Purpose and Potential

If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility!
Either/Or: A Fragment of Life

On a Loving God

It is really remarkable that while all the other attributes ascribed to God are adjectives, “Love” alone is a substantive, and it would scarcely occur to one to make the mistake of saying: “God is lovely.” Thus, language itself has given expression to the substantial element that is found in this attribute.
― The Journals of Kierkegaard

On Dying for What You Believe

The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.
― The Journals of Kierkegaard

On Being Christlike

Present-day Christendom really lives as if the situation were as follows: Christ is the great hero and benefactor who has once and for all secured salvation for us; now we must merely be happy and delighted with the innocent goods of earthly life and leave the rest to Him. But Christ is essentially the exemplar, that is we are to resemble Him, not mere profit from Him.
― The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard

On Salvation

God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.
― The Journals of Kierkegaard

On Pride

The proud person always wants to do the right thing, the great thing. But because he wants to do it in his own strength, he is fighting not with man, but with God.
Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

On Faith

And this is one of the most crucial definitions for the whole of Christianity; that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith.
Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

On Challenges

The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted.
― The Journals of Kierkegaard

On Obedience to God

This much is certain: The greatest thing each person can is to give himself to God utterly and unconditionally—weakness, fears, and all. For God love obedience more than good intentions or second-best offerings, which are all too often made under the guide of weakness.
Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

On Legacy

What the age needs is not a genius—it has had geniuses enough, but a martyr, who in order to teach men to obey would himself be obedient unto death. What the age needs is awakening. And therefore someday, not only my writings but my whole life, all the intriguing mystery of the machine will be studied and studied. I never forget how God helps me and it is therefore my last wish that everything may be to His honour.
― The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard

On Truth

The truth is a trap: you cannot get it without it getting you; you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you.
― The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard

On Forgiveness

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Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for him, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can kindle.
― Referenced in The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations

On the Virtue of Faith

Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.
Fear and Trembling

On Christ’s Atonement

What precisely is profound in Christianity is that Christ is both our atoner and our judge, not that one is our atoner and another our judge, for then we would nevertheless come to be judged, but that the atoner and the judge are the same.
― The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard

Editor's Note: A version of this story was originally published in November, 2014.

Top Comments

Kristian Stensland

5

Kristian Stensland commented…

Christian existentialism is a theo-philosophical movement which takes an existentialist approach to Christian theology. - The Sickness Unto Death, is a book written by Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard in 1849 under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus. A work of Christian existentialism. - In The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard personifies an attitude with the average citizen (spissborger). This is an individual who is unconsciously fleeing from the opportunity to live an authentic life. This average citizen often appears as "morally superior" to others, but really this is an unreflected individual. The individual are being swallowed up by social norms and others expectations, without even being aware of this. The result is that the individual becomes alienated, both from himselves and the society. - An individual's values must be the result of an "existential awareness". The important thing is to preserve the independence and responsibility in interacting with other people, and it's precisely this ability the character never did develop. - A synthesis of individual freedom and existential integrity, however, can only be reached when the individual have seen through all the deception of society. Should someone discover their freedom in relation to others, the realization must begin from scratch, as an expanding opportunity that blows away one's definition of self. A realization of this can only come into existence, through the establishment of another center for an individual's values, identity, the self, our freedom, etc. For Kierkegaard it is God (Christianity), but then released from a variety of religious and secular beliefs related to him - that opens the self from inside and establishes a different center for the individual's identity, values, the self and our freedom. - Kierkegaard didn't believe in finding the perfect "system". To the "system" as the solution to everything. Because any system is based on rational principles, and subjectivity is not rational. A person who has fulfilled the unconditional self-examination, Kierkegaard requires, have reached the limit for how far the intellectual sense can lead us. – This change puts everything in proper relation to man.- Spiritually, it means that God brings Christians to new life from a previous state of subjection to the decay of death (Ephesians 2:2). (Regeneration).

Eric Hyde

3

Eric Hyde commented…

Kierkegaard himself would mock me for saying this, but I've read nearly everything the man ever wrote. To this day "Purity of Heart" is easily the most challenging book of them all. I highly recommend it for anyone who dares call themselves Christian.

5 Comments

Doug Barr

22

Doug Barr commented…

This religious/philosophical giant just had a bigger shovel with which he tried to fill the void. http://www.thelastwhy.ca/poems/2011/6/29/dalai-lama-pope-et-al.html

Kristian Stensland

5

Kristian Stensland commented…

Christian existentialism is a theo-philosophical movement which takes an existentialist approach to Christian theology. - The Sickness Unto Death, is a book written by Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard in 1849 under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus. A work of Christian existentialism. - In The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard personifies an attitude with the average citizen (spissborger). This is an individual who is unconsciously fleeing from the opportunity to live an authentic life. This average citizen often appears as "morally superior" to others, but really this is an unreflected individual. The individual are being swallowed up by social norms and others expectations, without even being aware of this. The result is that the individual becomes alienated, both from himselves and the society. - An individual's values must be the result of an "existential awareness". The important thing is to preserve the independence and responsibility in interacting with other people, and it's precisely this ability the character never did develop. - A synthesis of individual freedom and existential integrity, however, can only be reached when the individual have seen through all the deception of society. Should someone discover their freedom in relation to others, the realization must begin from scratch, as an expanding opportunity that blows away one's definition of self. A realization of this can only come into existence, through the establishment of another center for an individual's values, identity, the self, our freedom, etc. For Kierkegaard it is God (Christianity), but then released from a variety of religious and secular beliefs related to him - that opens the self from inside and establishes a different center for the individual's identity, values, the self and our freedom. - Kierkegaard didn't believe in finding the perfect "system". To the "system" as the solution to everything. Because any system is based on rational principles, and subjectivity is not rational. A person who has fulfilled the unconditional self-examination, Kierkegaard requires, have reached the limit for how far the intellectual sense can lead us. – This change puts everything in proper relation to man.- Spiritually, it means that God brings Christians to new life from a previous state of subjection to the decay of death (Ephesians 2:2). (Regeneration).

Eric Hyde

3

Eric Hyde commented…

Kierkegaard himself would mock me for saying this, but I've read nearly everything the man ever wrote. To this day "Purity of Heart" is easily the most challenging book of them all. I highly recommend it for anyone who dares call themselves Christian.

josh mcquaid

2

josh mcquaid commented…

"Let others complain that our age is wicked; my complaint is that it is wretched, for it lacks passion. Men's thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace; they themselves are pitiable like lace-makers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful. For a worm it might be regarded as a sin to harbor such thoughts, but not for a being made in the image of God. Even their lusts are dull and sluggish, their passions sleepy. They do their duty, these shop-keeping souls, but they clip the coin a trifle. ... They think that even if the Lord keeps a careful set of books, they may still cheat Him a little. Out upon them! This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and Shakespeare. Those who speak there are at least human beings: they hate; they love; they murder their enemies, and curse their descendants throughout all generations; they sin."

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Peter Ogwal

4

Peter Ogwal commented…

On Observing Scripture
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.
― Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Matthew 5:30

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