Kierkegaard and “freedom of choice”

by Kim on April 16, 2009

Christianity teaches that you should choose the one thing needful, but in such a way that there must be no question of any choice. That is, if you fool around a long time, then you are not really choosing the one thing needful. Consequently, the very fact that there is no choice expresses the tremendous passion or intensity with which one chooses. Can there be a more accurate expression for the fact that freedom of choice is only a formal condition of freedom and that emphasizing freedom of choice as such means the sure loss of freedom? The very truth of freedom of choice is that there must be no choice, even though there is a choice.

For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We may imagine the priest and the Levite exercising their freedom of choice - to stop or not to stop to help the guy who’s been mugged: checking their watches (do I have the time?), minding their backs (are the muggers still in the area?), fretting about cultic purity (what if he’s dead?). But the Samaritan - he doesn’t weigh his options, check the pros and cons of giving first aid, he doesn’t choose to stop, he just stops, indeed he has to stop, not from constraint but from compulsion (he could do no other); his practical care is simply the self-expression of his kindness, his compassion is (as we say) second-nature, it’s in his guts (as the Greek esplanchnisthe [v. 33] suggests); he does (as Kierkegaard says) the one thing needful. And he thereby demonstrates that he is more, not less, free than the priest or the Levite.

In contemporary society we are betwiched by the mantra of “choice”. We are told - and we think - that the more options we have, the more free we are. Wrong. And not only with respect to “consumer” choice, a quite vulgar construct, ideologically driven, based on the nihilistic reduction of human beings to isolated wills in pursuit of pleasure or power. Of course having freedom (of choice) is a structural prerequisite for being free, but the truly free person always has fewer, not more, choices to make in his life.

That is why the ultimate model of the free person is not Hercules at the crossroads but Jesus in Gethsemane: obedience to the will of God is perfect freedom.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1

DmL 04.16.09 at 5:31 pm

“betwiched” I like that.

2

DH 04.16.09 at 5:45 pm

Kim, I absolutely love the post here. Great job. I see a relationship with God for Salvation as BOTH God drawing us AND we choosing Him. I love this statement here: ” his practical care is simply the self-expression of his kindness, his compassion is (as we say) second-nature, it’s in his guts..” From the guys heart that began by the choice to follow God was he able to have the “second nature”.

“…obedience to the will of God is perfect freedom.” To me one can either be disobedient to God’s will or not. I will say at the same time that your statement here I love as well from you: “…but the truly free person always has fewer, not more, choices to make in his life.”

So for me both sides in the absolute way are wrong “freedom of choice and no choice”. However, you addressing the “heart”, “from the gut”, etc. really puts into perspective how for those who are unbelievers must put give their entire lives “heart/gut, soul and minds” over to the Lordship of Christ. Many people “choose” to accept Christ but the question should then be asked, is it just a “mental excercise” alone or is it truly from ones “heart/gut”? For Believers, are we doing the will of God solely because God tells us to or are we doing it from our “heart/gut” where we can’t help but do the will of God to be even closer to Him, etc.?

Kim, wonderful post. I know you and I have talked about these things and I haven’t done a good job of explaining these concepts but your post here helped me clarify even more on these concepts.

Here are some wonderful passages that kind of relate to what you said:
“Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” (continuing on to conect to your post) “…and love your neighbor as yourself” aka “Good Samaritan”.

What do you think Kim? Did you like the further insight that was drawn from your post? :) Thanks for letting the Holy Spirit work through you on this post. :)

3

Tim Chesterton 04.17.09 at 4:55 am

Not much to say, but I really need to ponder this one. Thanks, Kim.

4

Monica Baldwin 04.17.09 at 6:27 pm

This is a great post, thank you.
In the monastic refectory, if there is cheese for supper, the choice is ‘take it or leave it’. Or perhaps ‘one slice or two’? After about 12 years of monastic life, I had occasion to live outside the monastery for a week, and went to the supermarket to buy cheese for supper. There were dozens and dozens of varieties, brands, packets… it was dazzling. I was almost unable to choose between them. And I thought to myself, “this is NOT freedom!”

5

Richard 04.18.09 at 10:27 am

>> “In the monastic refectory, if there is cheese for supper, the choice is ‘take it or leave it’.”

That’s exactly the choice I was given at mealtimes by my mother :)

My kids will tell you that a very similar policy operates in the Hall household now.

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