D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Sixth Period: The Attack Upon Christendom (1854-55)

The Changelessness Of God

  • The Changelessness of God: A Discourse
  • Guds Uforanderlighed. En Tale
  • 1855
  • KW23, SKS14, SV14

Note: Page numbers are keyed to Walter Lowrie's translation The Unchangeableness of God, in For Self-Examination, 1941.

Most of Kierkegaard's direct religious writings are called "discourses", as is this work. (See Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses for an overview of Kierkegaard's religious discourses). They are for upbuilding, but are "without authority". As in the description on "The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle" (see Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays), the apostle was in relation to the absolute, whereas he, a mere man (though certainly a genius), spoke with, and possessed, no authority—merely sagacity. Kierkegaard's unique plan of attack through his pseudonymous authorship had been to "wound from behind", which was part of his "godly deception". His philosophical works were meant to insinuate themselves into men's minds. His upbuilding discourses, on the other hand, accompanied the pseudonymous works, and formed a contrast to them by being direct and religious. They were, however—and are still—often neglected in favor of the philosophical works. This was a disappointment to Kierkegaard. For more on this see Kierkegaard's Authorial Method.

Kierkegaard used the same dedication as in his upbuilding discourses from 1843 and following:

To the late Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard formerly a clothing merchant here in the city, my father, these discourses are dedicated.

This work, though called a religious discourse, was actually a sermon that Kierkegaard preached in the Church of the Citadel on May 18, 1851. It's preface is dated May 5, 1854, Kierkegaard's forty-first birthday. It was published in August 1855, during the height of Kierkegaard's attack on Christendom, just two months before his death, between installments 7 and 8 of The Moment. The text used is James 1.17, a favorite verse of his: "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow".

This discourse shows that Kierkegaard had not taken leave of his senses, as some had claimed, since he obviously assented to the lucid, calm and devotional style of the sermon. He was under no compulsion to publish the work. It is evidence that he had not lost the ability to see the importance of an upbuilding discourse. It also served the purpose, as H. Johnson notes, of demonstrating that Kierkegaard's attack was from within the church, as a believer—a fact that many have failed to notice, especially since his anti-ecclesiastical tracts were translated later in places where readers had not been exposed to the rest of his writings. Kierkegaard, in fact, always considered his upbuilding discourses to be even more important than his philosophical writings.

As evidence that Kierkegaard was not interested in speculative knowledge in religious matters, his favorite book of the New Testament appeared to be James. It has the weakest christology of any New Testament book, mentioning Christ only twice, yet it is the most practical of books, since it outlines the Christian walk. Moreover, The Letter of James contains that great passage on faith versus doublemindedness, which is the focus of "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing", (see Upbuilding Discourses In Various Spirits). On the other hand, if God is immutable, he must objectively exist. However, when Kierkegaard stresses subjective knowledge, he does not say that there is nothing objective, but rather that we, as subjective individuals, cannot approach anything objectively since thinking and being are distinct. Moreover, subjective knowledge is engaged by faith in the face of the absurd. For more on this see Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

In the Changelessness of God he encourages us to rest in the constancy of God. But not solely to rest, since the constancy of God means that he never forgets and that we are to be judged for things we do and say. Though we may forget what we have done, God is forever mindful. The discourse is thus meant both to edify and admonish.

How depressing and wearisome to the spirit that all things are corruptible, that men are changeable, you, my hearer, and I! How sad that change is so often for the worse!... [But] the text speaks of the opposite, of the changelessness of God. The spirit of the text is unmixed joy and gladness. ...no change touches Him, not even the shadow of a change; in unaltered clearness He, the father of lights, remains eternally unchanged.... With us men it is not so.... This thought is terrifying, all fear and trembling (p. 228ff.).

Kierkegaard squares his theology with historical interpretation. God is immutable and impassible. All passages in Scripture where God seems affected or suffers change, are anthropomorphic and anthropopathic references for the sake of interpretation. But in God's actual being, he is changeless. Kierkegaard admonished his reader that God is unrelenting with regard to our sin, in that he never forgets any act we perform, due to his changelessness. He cannot be bribed nor persuaded to change his decisions, nor is there evolution in God's nature. This causes fear for the unrepentant.

If then your will is not in harmony with His will, consider that you will never be able to evade Him. Be grateful to Him if through the use of mildness or of severity He teaches you to bring your will into agreement with His—how fearful if He makes no move to arrest your course, how fearful if in the case of any human being that it comes to pass that he almost defiantly relies upon the notion that God does not exist, or upon His having changed, or even upon His being too great to take note of what we call trifles! (p. 235).

On the other hand, Kierkegaard encourages us to rejoice in God's changelessness.

But then it is also true that there is rest and happiness in this thought. It is really true that when, wearied with all this human inconstancy, this temporal and earthly immutability, and wearied of your own inconstancy, you might wish to find a place where rest may be found for your weary head, your weary thoughts, your weary spirit, so that you might find rest and find complete repose: Oh, in the changelessness of God there is rest! (p. 237f.).

The final image in this discourse is of a traveler in the desert who comes upon a spring, which is unchangeable in its pleasant coolness. The spring is constant. In the desert heat it is cool. In the cold it appears warm. It is refreshing in its constancy. Even if years later it has dried up, it cannot be denied that its value lay in its constancy. How much more is God to be praised for his changelessness.

It is not so with well-springs of earth, for they are to be found only in special places. And besides—overwhelming security!—Thou dost not remain, like the spring, in a single place, but Thou dost follow the traveller on his way.... And whenever any human being comes to Thee, of whatever age, at whatever time of day, in whatever state: if he comes in sincerity he always finds Thy love equally warm, like the spring's unchanged coolness, O Thou who art changeless! Amen! (p. 240).