Kierkegaard on Despair

I’m attempting to read through The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard.  The Sickness isn’t so easy, but it is provocative.

“So to be sick unto death is, not to be able to die – yet not as though there were no hope of life; no the hopelessness in this case is that even the last hope, death, is not available.  When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life; but when one becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful danger, one hopes for death.  So when the danger is so great that death has become one’s hope, despair is the disconsolatedness of not being able to die.”

“The fact that despair does not consume him [the despairing man] is so far from being any comfort to the despairing man that it is precisely the opposite, this comfort is precisely the torment, it is precisely this that keeps the gnawing pain alive and keeps life in the pain.  This precisely is the reason why he despairs – not to say despaired – because he cannot consume himself, cannot get rid of himself, cannot become nothing.  This is the potentiated formula for despair, the rising of the fever in the sickness of the self.”

I realize there is an enormous amount of depth/breadth to Kierkegaard’s reflections here, but even on the surface they are heavy.  Though I’m still working on this all, right now it makes me think of the wicked in Revelation 6.15-17 who call for the earth to swallow them up as they dread the appearance of the One on the throne and the Lamb’s wrath (cf. Jer 8.3, Hos 10.8, Luke 23.30, etc).  The despair of hell is not being able to escape it; it is an eternal death where death does not die.  This terror makes us all the more thankful for the One who defeated death by death and, in C. S. Lewis’ terms, made it “work backwards.”

Above quotes taken from Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death trans. Walter Lowrie (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954), 151.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

6 thoughts on “Kierkegaard on Despair”

  1. My comment was more than just trying to be cute. There was something wrong (imbalanced) with SK. He wasn’t called the melancholy Dane for nothing. His brilliance acted as a multiplier on his clinical bent toward the negative.


  2. Thanks men. “Melancholy” is right, Bruce. Demian: it is a sort of “good hurt” in a weird way, you’re right.



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