The riddle of life

Daily Reading for September 8 • Nikolai Grundtvig, Bishop and Hymnwriter, 1872 and Søren Kierkegaard, Teacher and Philosopher, 1855

I have been and am still inspired by the natural sciences; and yet I do not think that I shall make them my principal field of study. By virtue of reason and freedom, life has always interested me most, and it has always been my desire to clarify and solve the riddle of life. The forty years in the desert before I could reach the promised land of the sciences seem too costly to me, and the more so as I believe that nature may also be observed from another side, which does not require insight into the secrets of science. It matters not whether I contemplate the whole world in a single flower or listen to the many hints that nature offers about human life; whether I admire those daring designs in the firmament; or whether, upon hearing the sounds of nature in Ceylon, for example, I am reminded of the sounds of the spiritual world; or whether the departure of the migratory birds reminds me of the most profound yearnings of the human heart. . . .

What I really need is to get clear about what I am to do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find my purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth that is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. Of what use would it be to me to discover a so-called objective truth, to work through the philosophical systems so that I could, if asked, make critical judgments about them, could point out the fallacies in each system; . . . of what use would it be to me to be able to formulate the meaning of Christianity, to be able to explain many specific points—if it had no deeper meaning for me and for my life? . . . I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all. This is what my soul thirsts for as the African deserts thirst for water. That is what is lacking, and this is why I am like a man who has collected furniture, rented an apartment, but as yet has not found the beloved to share life’s ups and downs with him.

From the early journal entries (1835) of Søren Kierkegaard, quoted in The Essential Kierkegaard, edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000).

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