Despair As Spiritual Death Have you ever wondered about despair or how you end up in despair or perhaps what causes your despair? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines despair as “an utter loss of hope”. In this paper I will be exploring the definition of despair according to Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard was a 19th century philosopher, theologian, and religious author. In addition to this he was also a Christian existentialist. To prove and iterate his points Kierkegaard wrote a book call The Sickness unto Death, in which he spoke about his definition of despair, and how it was our very own sickness.
So now let’s see how despair is the sickness unto death, how it is transforms into sin and lastly how it may be overcome through faith. Now in order to understand what Kierkegaard is saying you have to first understand what he means by man or human. To Kierkegaard, man is sprit and spirit is the self. Spirit is a relation that relates itself to itself. Relation is the activity that causes us to relate ourselves to ourselves. It is a relation because it is a synthesis of opposites of which we are formed from.
The opposites include infinite and finite, eternal and temporal, and freedom and necessity. This activity of relation is constant and continuous. To further understand what Kierkegaard is saying you also have to understand what he means by despair. Despair is a sickness of the self and can take on three forms: not being conscious of having a self (spirit), not willing to be oneself in despair, and willing to be oneself in despair. In despair, the self is misrelating itself to itself and God. And the more conscious we become of this misrelation, the deeper we sink in despair.
Despair is out of God’s hands and is a result of our own self relation. Despair is a purely spiritual sickness, and only occurs within our spirits. It is also know as a spiritual death, in the sense that the spirit longs to die but cannot do so because spirit is infinite and eternal. In essence it is the dying of a spirit that cannot die and it is continuous because as I stated before the activity of relation is continuous. To further understand Kierkegaard’s take on despair you have to understand what the forms of despair represent.
When someone is said to be not conscious of oneself, or not conscious of having a self, it is thinking that you are not in despair. This can be regarded as ignorance because as an activity of the spirit despair is an ongoing thing and cannot be escaped. Not willing to be oneself in despair, is to know that you are in despair, but look to the outside world as the source of your despair (weakness). And lastly willing to be oneself in despair is when one understands the weakness of despair over the outside world, and is therefore more conscious of their own weakness.
Because of this consciousness, you are now deeper in despair, but also closer to salvation. Additional to outlining what despair is, Kierkegaard also talks about how despair is transformed into sin. This occurs after we will ourselves to be in despair, after understanding the weakness of despair over the outside world and become more conscious. However, when we are actually in despair, and at the same time have conception of God, despair is now transformed into sin. “Sin is before God or with conception of God, in despair not to will to be oneself or to will oneself”.
With this statement, Kierkegaard reinforced the notion of despair as sin. What it means when broken down, is while in despair, willing or not, once you are in despair, and find yourself in conception of God, despair is now turned into sin. Of course there must be a way to overcome this sin, which Kierkegaard addresses in the Sickness unto Death. To Kierkegaard, the opposite of sin is faith. While in sin, you are in despair and have some conception of God. In order to overcome sin, one must take the “leap of faith” in which now you completely believe in God as a possibility through faith.
With this “leap of faith”, you now bring yourself out of sin. Now while bringing yourself out of sin, you also bring yourself out of despair through faith. To stay out of sin one must always stay in faith. It can never be just a “get out of jail card”. Because once again being in despair is a misrelation of the self to itself which is continuous, which means that despair is continuous. So if you are able to get out of despair through faith, it must be continuous, if it is not, then you will find yourself in despair again.
In taking the “leap of faith”, and overcoming sin and despair, you bring yourself closer to God. So in some ways despair could be viewed as a positive that because of this aspect. With regards to sin, many could disagree with Kierkegaard and use a definition of sin that was given by the famous philosopher Socrates. To Socrates, sin is rooted in ignorance. This would go on to say that you would sin, and through ignorance would not know that you are sinning. However what Kierkegaard says is that sin is rooted in willingness.
Because as I went through, sin is willing to be oneself in despair and also having conception of God. So Kierkegaard would argue that sin is NOT rooted in knowing or knowledge but it is rooted in willingness. Because if you will be to be despair, and simultaneously will to have conception of God, that just proves how sin is rooted in willingness. As a Christian myself, I have to say that I do believe highly in what Kierkegaard is saying. You cannot have despair in life and expect to get through it or through life without God.
If one is in despair, they are in despair over themselves and the wrong doings they have done to themselves to end up in despair. We end up in despair because we live life in error. So we cannot look to the world or externally as the source of despair, we must look upon ourselves. However we cannot be in despair and also have conception of God. I strongly second Kierkegaard’s notion of sin with regards to despair. We cannot have despair and still believe in God. One of the fundamental beliefs in Christianity is that no problem is too big for God and that through faith in Him all our sorrows are no more.
So to say that you are in despair and that you also believe in God is wrong because if you believe in God then you must believe that you are no longer in despair because through Him your battle with despair is won. Furthermore, whilst in despair you must always realize that despair is yours to be fixed. You must right your wrongs to overcome the sin and despair, and bring yourself closer to God and salvation. Kierkegaard really did explain himself well, and caused me to further understand how and why despair is the sickness unto death, but also how to steer myself away from it.
Despair is inevitable and throughout life we must always go through it. Understanding that it is an inward activity is what is key. While in despair one must always look to themselves as the reason for their own despair, because despair is of the spirit and not of the world. One must always remember to be cautious of sin, however if you end up in sin, be efficient when trying to get out of it. So now can you tell me, is your despair sin? ———————–  Web. 9 Dec 2011. .  Kierkegaard, Soren Sickness unto Death page 77.