The Sickness Unto Death, Part I


Get ready folks, a new series is coming!  In the coming weeks / months, I’ll be working through Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death.  So, get your copy now!

Of those books that “changed my life,” this one always tops the list.  I remember being assigned a type of book-review assignment of it for a class in Existentialism while in graduate school.  I started reading the book, pencil in hand, taking copious notes for my paper.  After about 15 minutes, I put my pencil down and read through the book in awe.  As is often the case when reading Kierkegaard, you start out investigating some topic, and end up confronting yourself.  As Jean Paul Sartre said of him,

“Reading Kierkegaard, I climb back as far as myself. I want to catch hold of him, and it is myself I catch.”

Kierkegaard’s explanation of sin connected with the individual’s struggle to know who they are changed the way I understand both sin and myself.

In order to orient ourselves to this particular text (and why you should read it with me), let’s begin by looking briefly at Kierkegaard’s short Preface to the book.  There are two basic themes laid out here.  First the relationship between what we might call “books of scholarship” and “works of spirituality.” Kierkegaard says that some people might complain that this book is too “scholarly” or “rigorous” given his subtitle: “A Christian Psychologial Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening.” Here, “upbuilding” is a literal translation of the Danish, “edifying” may also be a close English equivalence.

Kierkegaard’s response is simply that this book is not for everybody.  The scope and concepts contained in TSUD may go beyond what some people can understand.  One must first have the character of “upbuilding” (i.e., Christian).  And if you are looking for a Hallmark-esque feel-goodery devotional, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

While the content of this book might be difficult, it’s goal is, in fact, “to upbuild” and “to awaken” the reader.  Awaken the reader to what?  To what is means to be human.  Who am I am? What is my purpose? And to analyze these answers with regard to what Kierkegaard considers the quintessential fact of human experience: despair.  “Despair” is the sickness of humanity and this text is a diagnoses of that sickness.  The cure, while hinted at in this text (i.e., “to die unto the world”) is explored in greater detail in his book, Practice in Christianity.

Do you want to “be yourself”? To discover what you truly “are”?  That is the central topic of TSUD.  As Kierkegaard puts it,

“to venture wholly to become oneself, an individual human being, this specific individual human being, alone before God, alone in this prodigious strenuousness and this prodigious responsibility” (5)

I hope you will join me on this journey through a truly “upbuilding” text.

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