A Biblical Analysis of Søren Kierkegaard's Later Theodicy Justification for an Unchangeable and Silent God
Kathy L. McFarland
May 8, 2013
Danish lay theologian and father of existentialism Søren Kierkegaard was a “suffering servant” for the Lord as a young student that sought to resolve how God worked His will through his twisted and fearful life. His persistence in totally immersing himself in Scripture led him to form a theodicy to “reconcile the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect God” with the existence of Christian suffering towards the end of his life that assured his faith with God’s consistency. This paper will examine and scripturally evaluate Søren Kierkegaard’s later theodicy conclusions of an unchangeable and silent God in response to suffering.
BRIEF HISTORY OF KIERKEGAARD’S SORROWFUL YOUNG LIFE
Kierkegaard buried his mother and sister in 1834 and his father in 1838 after their tragic deaths left him vulnerable and shaken by the time he came to the University of Copenhagen. The close relationship with his father prior to his passing was shattered when his father’s sure faith in God seemingly unraveled in his sorrow at losing his wife. And then, in the midst of turmoil, his fiancé, Regine Olsen, ended their thirteen month engagement. His first journal books, Repetition and Fear and Trembling, captured his angst that contributed to his dark personality shaded by his tremendous suffering of so much loss at such a young age. Kierkegaard thought he would die young, as did five of his seven siblings, as God brought judgment upon the second generation of his “cursed” father whose sin against the Holy Spirit was claimed as punishment through the hands of a vengeful God. Author Fishburn attributed his search of scripture and philosophy to the despair of so much tragedy in his life that caused Kierkegaard to distinguish his father’s “melancholy Jewish-type legalism of orthodox theology” from the peace and joy promised believers in the Lord. Thus, the journey began with his immersion into Scripture and philosophy to possibly achieve self-understanding that would one day lead to the development of the philosophy of existentialism. Kierkegaard’s belief expressed in Christian existentialism examined personal encounters with God through the act of faith to be the determinant for the meaning and choices in life made in a meaningless world; this seems foundational to his later theodicy conclusions of an unchanging and silent God.
PRESENTATION OF KIERKEGAARD’S THEODICY
“The Changelessness of God”
Kierkegaard’s idea of a changeless God that will not move to a different path than his original will or change direction of his willed activity through human activities was central to his later belief. Kierkegaard delivered a sermon entitled “The Changelessness of God” to the Citadel Church on May 18, 1851. Authors Martens and Millay classified this short sermon as part of Kierkegaard’s “final attack on Christendom” who offers “a defense of the God who sits silently by and watched true Christianity disappear from Denmark” as believers embraced legalized faith that looked like paganism to Kierkegaard.
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls."
The ideas of the “Father of lights” having “no variableness” and “neither shadow of turning” are the key points that Kierkegaard founded his belief (James 1:17). The omnipotent LORD God, present everywhere in all times, making changes to His Creation according to His will, without ever changing Himself as human activity unfolds is the image of the eternal, changelessness God defended by Kierkegaard. That defense, with James 1:17-21 referenced, pointed believers to be at peace with God and His unchanged truth by being “swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath” if they are to walk in His righteous path and do His will; anything less produces wrath against the holiness of God  (James 1:19).
The Scripture support found in James 1:17-21 seems clearly representative of Kierkegaard’s defense of God’s changelessness. But as his theodicy developed, according to Martens and Millay, he ultimately produced a problematic justification for suffering given as a “good and perfect gift from God.” Accordingly, Kierkegaard did not focus upon the normal Christian defense of God’s love in spite of suffering, but rather points to “peace, prosperity, and piety” as signs that God is not present in those works.
It is through the “gift from God” that Kierkegaard was able to distinguish between the temporal and eternal realms ruled by God, as the Holy Spirit penetrates this world and does the will of the Father. Thus, Kierkegaard rejected any notion that the temporal world had control of God activity, thus rejecting the idea that mankind’s activities can change God. Rather, he insisted that the temporal world had absolutely no meaning, and that it was the eternal world, with Holy Spirit presence contacting mankind in “eschatological penetration” of this world that all matters of God’s movement should be evaluated upon.
It is important to note that Kierkegaard acknowledged God’s presence and his theodicy should not be confused for the “absent or deist” God. The God defended by Kierkegaard created both the eternal and visible world and He holds “all actuality as possibility in his omnipotent hand, at every moment has everything in readiness, changes everything in an instant, the opinions of people, judgments, human loftiness and lowliness; he changes everything – himself unchanged.” This distinction between God changing situations while remaining changeless himself is critical to Kierkegaard’s theodicy; without it, a personal relationship between God and believers would be made difficult and prayer from them to Him ineffective.
It might be problematic for some suffering Christians to think that God sees and plans everything based upon the eternal rather than temporal realm and moves accordingly upon this earth with His unchanging purposes. Kierkegaard spoke of “dialectical inversion of values” that chose the eternal realm and changelessness of God as being the only criteria Christians should use to evaluate suffering that is in reality a gift and blessing by God. Suffering is made a purposeful action given by God to believers; according to Kierkegaard, it is an important requirement for Christianity and without it, there is not true faith.
Suffering Authentic Truth-Witnesses
Kierkegaard believed that to be an authentic Christian requires suffering for Christ, and if suffering does not take place, then there is no evidence of Christianity. He spoke of the supreme authentic truth-witnesses that suffer for Christ as the legitimate marker of true faith, one that was lacking in Bishop Mynster who displayed pretend Christian faith:
"A truth-witness is a person who in poverty witnesses for the truth, in poverty, in lowliness and abasement, is so unappreciated, hated, detested, so mocked, insulted, laughed to scorn-so poor that he perhaps has not always had daily bread but he perceived the daily bread of persecution in abundance every day.…A truth-witness, one of the authentic truth-witnesses, is a person who is flogged, mistreated, dragged from one prison to another, then finally – the last advancement by which he is admitted to the first class in the Christian order of precedence among the authentic truth-witnesses.…" 
Kierkegaard’s truth-witness definition described the highest degree of suffering by a Christian that ends in being “crucified or beheaded or burned or broiled on a grill, his lifeless body thrown away by the assistant executioner into a remote place, unburied.” Accordingly, the highest level of truth-witness is placed at the top of Christian order after death because of his suffering for the truth of God.
The opposite of truth-witness is also described by Kierkegaard:
"Truly, there is something that is more against Christianity and the essence of Christianity than any heresy, any schism, more against it than all heresies and schisms together, and it is this: to play at Christianity. But (entirely, entirely in the same sense as the child plays at being a soldier) it is playing at Christianity: to remove all the dangers (Christianly, witness and danger are equivalent), to replace them with power (to be a danger to others), goods, advantages, abundant enjoyment of even the most select refinements.…"
Authentic witnesses of God’s Truth suffer tremendously, according to Kierkegaard, and God does not intervene. All persecuted Christians that suffer well and endure to the end are truth-witnesses; but, all truth-witnesses are not martyrs according to Kierkegaard’s holy chain summation. And, Kierkegaard vehemently declares that all pastors are incapable of truth-witness status since they benefit greatly from their ministry work through worldly acclaim, payment, and gifts. Kierkegaard believed that the good and perfect gift of suffering should be embraced by true followers of Christ without imploring God to “change one’s temporal situation.” It is the value in eternity that will be applied later for the believer’s suffering that should be embraced in all situations of life. According to Martins and Millay’s evaluation of Kierkegaard’s belief, “faith consists in trusting that any situation, regardless of character, comes from above and is a good gift that is beneficial in eternity.” Thus, the silence of God during times of suffering is a gift bestowed upon believers as they endure to the end when they will receive their eternal reward from God. But, His silence should not be considered that God cannot help which then becomes a sin of despair; rather, that He chooses to remain silent.
Kierkegaard warns believers of the ease in which they can fool the LORD God, and even receive worldly rewards from Him, yet be far removed from Him in a place that should cause trembling and fear:
"Yes, in his sublimity God himself turns the relation in such a way that it is as easy as possible for a human being, if he so wishes, to fool God. That is, he arranges it in such a way that the few he loves and who love him must suffer dreadfully in this world, so everyone can see that they are abandoned by God. The deceivers, on the other hand, make a brilliant career, so everyone can see that God is with them, in which view they themselves are strengthened more and more. So distinguished is God, so far removed is he from making it difficult, so infinitely easy is it to deceive him, that he even himself offers a prize to the one who does it, rewards him with the things of this earth – O man, tremble!"
The theodicy of Kierkegaard identified God as justified in his silence through the enduring suffering of His people that brought intimate relationship with Him for eternity. Through his own suffering, Kierkegaard sought Scriptural reference to support his ideas, especially James 1:17-21. It should be noted that many Christian leaders fail to use Scripture in their defense, both philosophers and theologists, to express the problem of God and suffering with a more intellectual response rather than a focus upon Scripture to resolve this dilemma. Though Kierkegaard’s theodicy seemed harsh, if it erred it erred on the side of humanity and its fallen state that brings suffering in the first place; His defense of God seemed noble and upheld His omnipotence in His relationship with mankind and his goodness as expressed in His Word.
SCRIPTURAL ANALYSIS OF KIERKEGAARD’S THEODICY
The Changelessness of God – The same Scripture used by Kierkegaard to defend God for His changelessness is confirmation that Kierkegaard’s analysis is probably correct. It seems pretty certain that God does not change according to James 1:17-21. But then, when the first Covenant between God and Noah was established in which God formed a bow in the cloud to remember to never send a flood to destroy all flesh, it might be argued that a change in God’s opinion is evident (Genesis 9:8-17). It also is apparent that Abraham is able to save Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, though unable to save the city and its wicked dwellers, by pleading with God to consider the righteous (Genesis 18:23-33). Another argument against the changelessness of God is formed upon the Lord Jesus Christ’s fervent prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when Christ pleaded for the cup of his sorrow just prior to his crucifixion to pass away from him if it was God’s will (Matthew 26:36-44). Though the LORD God did not change His mind, and required the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption and salvation of his followers, the Lord Jesus Christ knew of the possibility of His Father changing His mind even for something so critically important to His plans, or he would not have asked.
If Kierkegaard’s declaration of God’s changelessness is to be fully embraced, then it seems these types of changes in direction or potential considerations must be resolved. It was Kierkegaard’s assumption that God freely changes mankind’s directions, fortunes, opinions, judgments, “human loftiness and lowliness” while He remains unchanged. It is that fine line, where the rule and judgment of God can change circumstances of mankind in all manner of ways to reach His final will to be expressed. But, Kierkegaard’s position is that God’s will, the end-goal for the establishment of His Kingdom remains the same, as does His omnipotent nature that remains sure and unchanging.
Suffering in the Old Testament - There is Scripture support that God allows suffering to come upon His people purposefully. Job questions “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?” as he suffers miserably and longs for death (Job 3:23). Though Job cried for God he is unheard; though he tried to stand up when seized in the mire with grievous afflictions upon his body, God did not notice (Job 30:20). Job gave support to the concept that suffering is visited upon the righteous and the workers of iniquity with the difference for His chosen that “Doth not he see my ways and count my steps…Let me be weighed in even balance, that God may know mine integrity” (Job 31:4). Interestingly, Kierkegaard paid a great deal of attention to the Book of Job, to edify readers through the love of God revealed through the sufferings of Job. But it was not just the love of God revealed; while those of iniquity are punished through their suffering, Job knew that God brings suffering to fully expose the integrity of His people.
The Psalmist declares God’s Word has given him life and hope and comforted him in his affliction, while those against God might suffer; they are without the hope of God as lawbreakers (Psalm 119:49-56). But then the Psalmist prays that God “Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: For I do not forget they law. Plead my cause, and deliver me: Quicken me according to thy word” (Psalm 119:143-154) It gives support that God can change the situation of a suffering believer.
Suffering in the New Testament that qualifies Christian faith – Mark 12:38 confirms that those who receive the salutations of love in the marketplaces, and walk in long clothing and garner respect from the commoners, that receive the highest honors and seats during worship and celebrations do not belong to Christ; rather, it is the poor widow of lowliness that endures suffering by giving all she can in faith that exemplifies the faith walk toward Christ. Christ has spoken clear warning of affliction, killing, hatred, offence, betrayal, false prophet trickery, iniquity, and removal of loved ones in a Christian’s life, with promises that those that will endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:9-14). 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that even the temptations brought through abominable idolaters that bring suffering to Christians will be escapable with the bearing of burdens made easy. Romans 2:7 promises that those who patiently continue to do well in their walk and works with Christ to one day receive glory, honor, immortality and eternal life. And, Paul reminds believers that though suffering comes to Christians, the temporary pain is not worthy of comparison to the great glory that will one day be revealed to them (Romans 8:18). Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit will help suffering Christians with their infirmities and guide their prayers to God as they seek relief (Romans 8:26).
Kierkegaard’s belief that the good and perfect gift of suffering should be embraced by true followers of Christ without imploring God to “change one’s temporal situation” contradicted our Lord Jesus Christ’s response when he faced the greatest of sufferings as he prepared to be stripped naked, beat, and hung upon a tree in shame and excruciating death, for the salvation of his followers. He prayed to His Father fervently in the greatest sorrows to “let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:38). Christians should have Christ’s example foremost in their lives; if sorrowful prayer seeking relief from suffering is initiated by Christ, then Christians should follow that example and not fear Kierkegaard’s analysis that it is somehow against God to ask for a change in your temporal situation.
Kierkegaard correctly analyzed the changelessness of God, and appropriately differentiated between the possibilities of change for humanity and the unchanging nature of the LORD God. It seems beneficial to Christians, especially those that are suffering, to understand that God is the same God that He has been throughout the creation. The consistency of the LORD God that is unchanged gives hope to Christians that their endurance of suffering will eventually bring them to an eternal life of no pain in Christ’s presence forever.
In final analysis, Kierkegaard’s theodicy allowed him to support both the changelessness of God and His silence during times of suffering, as Christians must endure and persevere unto the end. That there are great character and soul building moments in the times of suffering is beneficial to Christians and their relationships with God. While it seems impossible to declare that all Christians must suffer to show legitimate faith, there is some grain of truth in this conclusion; for if Christians reject the world, and look to the coming Kingdom of God, they will usually suffer as a consequence through the attacks of those that hate God and His People (Matthew 10:22).
But, Kierkegaard crossed the line in his philosophy by declaring an “all or nothing” approach, when the Gospel of Christ is neither deficient nor excessive in its presentation. It is the Gospel of moderation that allows Christians to garner strength and surety of faith through Christ’s teachings, and in most cases suffer moderately only that which they can endure, or in times of persecution suffer severely that which they are given supernatural strength to persevere, until their resurrection into life eternal. Either case, the changeless and sometimes seemingly silent LORD God, is ever present and always ready to provide, support, uphold, free, and love the followers of Christ as they do His unchanging will that promises to one day lead to the joyous day when the Kingdom of God is at hand.
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Kierkegaard, Søren. The Journals of Kierkegaard. New York: Harper Torchbook, 1958.
________. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna Hong. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
________. The Moment and Late Writings - "the Changelessness of God". Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.
________. The Moment and Late Writings - Newspaper Articles (1854-1855) "There the Matter Rests". Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.
________. The Moment and Late Writings - the Moment No. 1 - "Was Bishop Mynster a 'Truth Witness'?". Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.
________. The Moment and Late Writings - the Moment No. 5 - "Beware of Those Who Like to Go About in Long Robes!" (Mark 12:38; Luke 20:46). Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.
________. The Moment and Late Writings - the Moment No. 8 - "Tremble - Because in One Sense It Is So Infinitely Easy to Fool God!". Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.
Martens, Paul, and Tom Millay. "'The Changelessness of God' as Kierkegaard's Final Theodicy: God and the Gift of Suffering." International Journal of Systematic Theology 13, no. 2 (2011): 170-189.
McWilliams, Warren. "Only the Triune God Can Help: The Relation of the Trinity to Theodicy." Perspectives in Religious Studies 33, no. 3 (2006): 345-359.
Polk, Timothy. "Kierkegaard and the Book of Job: Theodicy or Doxology?" Word & World 31, no. 4 (2011): 409-416.
Surin, Kenneth. "Theodicy." Harvard Theological Review 76, no. 2 (1983): 225-247.
Tilley, Terrence W. "The Use and Abuse of Theodicy." Horizons 11, no. 2 (1984): 304-319.
 Janet Forsythe Fishburn, "Soeren Kierkegaard, Exegete," Interpretation 39, no. 3 (1985): 236.
 Kenneth Surin, "Theodicy," Harvard Theological Review 76, no. 2 (1983): 225.
 Fishburn: 236.
 ibid., 229.
 ibid., 230.
 Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Kierkegaard (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1958), 14.
 Fishburn: 233.
 ibid., 229.
 Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 234-235.
 Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - "the Changelessness of God" (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 263-281.
 ibid., Preface, 267.
 Paul Martens and Tom Millay, "'The Changelessness of God' as Kierkegaard's Final Theodicy: God and the Gift of Suffering," International Journal of Systematic Theology 13, no. 2 (2011): 170.
 Ibid., 177.
 ibid., 171.
 Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - "the Changelessness of God", 268.
 Martens and Millay: 269.
 Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - "the Changelessness of God", 271.
 ibid., 273.
 Martens and Millay: 170.
 ibid., 175.
 ibid., 178.
 ibid., 179.
 Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - "the Changelessness of God", 271.
 Martens and Millay: 170.
 ibid., 173.
 Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - the Moment No. 1 - "Was Bishop Mynster a 'Truth Witness'?" (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 7.
 ibid., 5.
 ibid., 6.
 Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, trans., Howard V. Hong and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 37.
 Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - Newspaper Articles (1854-1855) "There the Matter Rests" (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 9.
 Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - the Moment No. 5 - "Beware of Those Who Like to Go About in Long Robes!" (Mark 12:38; Luke 20:46) (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 197.
 Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, 37.
 Martens and Millay: 183-184.
 Craig M. Gay, "Plurality, Ambiguity, and Despair in Contemporary Theology," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36, no. 2 (1993): 225.
 Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - the Moment No. 8 - "Tremble - Because in One Sense It Is So Infinitely Easy to Fool God!" (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 197.
 Martens and Millay: 171.
 Warren McWilliams, "Only the Triune God Can Help: The Relation of the Trinity to Theodicy," Perspectives in Religious Studies 33, no. 3 (2006): 348.
 Terrence W. Tilley, "The Use and Abuse of Theodicy," Horizons 11, no. 2 (1984): 304.
 Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings - "the Changelessness of God", 271.
 Timothy Polk, "Kierkegaard and the Book of Job: Theodicy or Doxology?," Word & World 31, no. 4 (2011): 413.