International Conference on Suffering, Prague, Czech Republic

Healing suffering with suffering; Kierkegaard’s view on the suffering
aspects of life and the role of Love in decreasing the suffering of life
Faezeh Moeinikorbekandi, MA in Philosophy of Religion, Allameh Tbatabayi University
The Problem
One of the most important features of human life is “Suffering” and another
one is Love. Human bear a lot of sufferings in his life which are sometimes
avoidable and sometimes unavoidable; and to deal with these sufferings he
resorts to love. A group of religious thinkers suppose that onl one thing help
humankind in this condition! i.e. Love.
"n this view! the #rue Love of $od is the essence of religious %aith. As a
matter of fact! everone who does not have such Love hold that as an unreal
believer. Soren &ierkegaard belongs to this trend. However! love itself increases
human suffering which make the situation much more painful and complicated.
#he method of &ierkegaard for reconciling theses two important aspects of
human life and his definition of their relation is a considerable matter.
The suffering aspects of life
Suffering as a feature of the worldl life is a universal inseparable and
sub'ective e(perience in human being.
*an suffers when he deals with an
unchangeable or immutable fate. #herefore! suffering is the result of the
contradiction between human+s desires and free will in one hand! and the real
world on the other hand.

#he unpleasant situations produce two different kinds of sufferings! i.e.
phsical and spiritual! which should be distinguish due to their essential
differences. #here are other similar phenomena to suffering such as pain!
discomfort! distress! anguish! etc. #he recent concepts belong to bod and are
phsical reaction of nervous sstem! while suffering is a sub'ective impression
of unpleasant situation. So! due to its sub'ective feature one can+t resort to
medicines and treatments to cure it.
*eanwhile! suffering defers from “.vil”. .vil is a more general concepts that
can be classifies into three tpes but all sorts of it cause inner impressions that
suffer human kind. .arth/uakes! floods! death! povert! etc. are the e(amples of
natural evil. Secondl! moral evil is the attribute of human immoral acts such as
in'ustice! cheating! stealing! pride! etc. which does necessaril make unpleasant
impressions for people. Lastl! metaphsical evil is the feature of worldl life
and which is inescapable at an condition.
"n general! &ierkegaard believes that human suffering is the feature of
e(istential situations of anguish! hopelessness! loneliness and the silence.
#herefore! suffering e(ists in all e(istential stages of human life. However! the
essence and concept of it changes in each stage; depending on what stage of life
take into consideration! a different definition of pain and suffering will form.
Suffering is the milestone of &ierkegaard+s thoughts. He goes beond the
usual notion of theologians that assumes the spiritual pain of humanit as the
result of the original sin or the sins of people. He not onl re'ects suffering as
the punishment of sins or obstacle of transcendence but also considers it an
essential element of human e(istence! a part of religious practice and the
. &ilpatrick! #.0. 1)2345.“Suffering”! .ncclopedia of 6eligion and .thics! .6.! 7ames Hastings 1.d.5! 89
(ii! .dinburg9 t:t. clark! ! p.).
. Although! one can speak about pain and suffering for animals in their natural conditions but in this essa
we go through suffering as a human phenomena.
. Hick! 7ohn. 1,4)45. .vil and the $od of Love. London9 ;algrave *acmillan! pp.,2,!,2-.
necessar means of transcendence. "n his view! the e(perience of suffering
teaches human how to follow 7esus and conse/uentl these faithful endeavors
will bring about eternal happiness. As he describes! suffering is the essential
feature of <hristianit in the religious stage and the pavement of “individual”
for reaching the transcendence.
According to &ierkegaard suffering is tied with human responsibilit and
individualit. Since no one can bear the others+ suffering! it is individual in
itself. *eanwhile! b bearing suffers of our personal lives! instead of placing it
on the others! we can be true follower of the <hrist.
#o be responsible to the
hardness of our life and even in a higher level to bear the others suffering is the
ethical aspect of the <hrist.
However! the first essential feature of suffering is
its inevitabilit due to which no one can get rid of the suffering completel.
Suffering as a spiritual pain of humanit is a part of life which can be changed
from one form to another but cannot be omitted. "n the other word! human
suffering can be classified into two parts of evitable and inevitable.
*eanwhile! man has different suffering impressions which roots in the
e(istential stage of that painful feeling. 6egarding the stages of suffering!
&ierkegaard distinguishes between three stages of aesthetical! ethical and
religious suffering.
Humankind seeks for “pleasure” in his “aesthetic stage” of life the important
principle in this stage. As 7ean Andre ?ahl emphasi@es in this e(istential stage!
man lives in the present time and seeks his desires. 0ut &ierkegaard believes
thirst for pleasure is endless which leads him to the sense of hopelessness and
emptiness; this is what he calls it as !ikness "nto #eath. #his is the significant
suffering in this stage. $enerall! the more pleasure he takes! the more difficult
he can escape from suffering. "n this stage man lacks consciousness and
metaphsical engagements. Human keeps going round a circle from two ma'or
senses of “passionateness” 1thirst5 and “repletion” 1satiation5. &ierkegaard
believes that the "ron of this situation brings man to a critical point which is to
decide whether to remain in this stage or to pass beond this stage and enter the
ne(t stage.
. &ierkegaard! Soren. 1)22-5. #he $ospel of Suffering! ;art - of Ap building Biscourses in 8arious Spirits.
Howard 8. Hong and .dna H. Hong 1.d. : #rans.5! pp. ,,4C,,=.
. $ospel *attheus! ,39 ))C,4.
"n the “ethical stage” everone faces with the obligations; observing the
obligations is a must and there is no e(ception.
*ost of the suffering affirmed
in the 0ible belongs to this stage. #he suffering here is the conse/uence of
giving precedence to the others rather than mself. Bue to the an ultimate aim
of the individual! i.e. the other! bearing the suffer became acceptable or even
#he suffering in this stage is neither negative E contrar to the last stage E nor
desired but it is the bCproduct of the individual+s ethical choice. #he ethical
actor lives in suffering and pain since he alwas stands in front of hard choices.
Fo matter the choice is! heGshe will suffer. According to &ierkegaard! in this
stage the Hmoral champion+ has doubt in his choice! i.e. $ither%or. He faces with
parado(ical situations causing e(treme suffering. As an e(ample! in one side the
individuals+ belongings sit and in the other side his responsibilit towards the
Hothers+. "n &ierkegaard+s view if one chooses according to the moral
principles! he would lose his own belongings. "f not! he will suffer of immoral
behavior. #he Hmoral champion+ does his responsibilit with a broken heart.
this stage! moral man has moral ideals that let him scarif his pleasure in favor
of the moral ideals. #herefore! the most basic suffering of the moral human is
his concern about the reali@ation of the moral ideals.
Like the last stage! the moral stage has also consists of avoidable and
unavoidable suffering. &ierkegaard stress that those who change the
circumstances in a wa to avoid suffering are “brave” since the resist suffering
b their courageous. However! at the time of inescapable sufferings man should
be “patient”. He emphasi@es that patient is more meritorious characteristic
because it is the response of the moral champion to the basic feature of worldl
#he third stage! “religious stage” is to somehow a snthesis of the last
&ierkegaard sas that suffering is essential element of the religious
stage. Suffering for religious man is the same as pleasure for aesthetic and
. &ellenberger! 7. 1)22I5. &ierkegaard and Fiet@sche; %aith and .ternal Acceptance! ;algrave *acmillan!
."bid and &ierkegaard! SJren 1)2=)5. %ear and #rembling! #ranslated! ?alter Lowrie1#rans.5! pp.,2C-I.
. Anderson! Susan Leigh 1)2225. On &ierkegaard! ;ublished9 <engage Learning ! pp.D4!D).
happiness for ethical man. Suffering is essential for religious man. 0ut pleasure
and prosperit are not essentiall for aesthetic and ethical man.
#he ultimate suffering in this stage is “doubt”. Although the religious man
obes $od! he is alwas in doubt whether a given order is a canonical dut
assigned b $od or not. So the alwas live in doubt and suffer of this lack of
knowledge. Since! the religious man concerns mostl about his faith the doubt
which aims his certaint! leads to the ultimate suffering for him in this stage.
However! this suffering merits the real believer the eternal happiness.
"n the religious stage there are two champions; the are the champion of
submissiveness to the divine will and the champion of faith. #he champion of
submissiveness surrenders everthing beond the divine will to reach to serenit
and tran/uilit. However! the reel champion according to &ierkegaard is
"brahim who not onl devoted his son but also was delightful and happ of
obeing $od.
#he feeling of contentment and happiness is because of the
pro(imit of the champion of faith to $od and those who have not the real faith
can onl tolerate the suffering of this stage and be submissive to $od. "n
contrar to the champion of submissiveness! here the faithful person does not
en'o serenit and tran/uilit! but he alwas lives in a state of gorgeous fear and
suffering. "n this stage! the suffering ascends but thanks to the truthful faith of
the champion it will be also delightful. #he champion of faith suffers do his
fear! hopelessness! loneliness and silence in facing with his everlasting doubt
but he is happ due to pro(imit to $od.
The suffering of love
"n &ierkegaard+s view the onl remed for suffering is “Love”. Love as a
strong affection for the other arising out of kinship or personal ties! is one of the
third Bivine 8irtues in <hristianit. 0ut the parado(ical part of &ierkegaard+s
idea is that all three tpes of love! i.e. love to the self! to the other! and to $od!
are sources of suffering.
"n the aesthetic stage! love is a source of life; however! the beloved is
sub'ected to infinit and death. As far as! the real love should root in the eternal
. %erguson! Harvie1)22>5. *elanchol and the <riti/ue of *odernit! Soren &ierkegaard! S 6eligious
;hilosoph; 6utledge9 London and Few Kork! p. )D=.
. &ierkegaard! %ear and #rembling! last part.
Since in the real love the lover should go beond his desires and devote
himself to his lover! the love in the ethical stage is more precious but the
devotion is the source of suffering.
#he ultimate and transcendental love is the
Love to $od faithfull because not onl it is not selfish but also the beloved is
eternal and infinite. Since! the nature of love is essentiall different in this stage
we should have pure Love which can be possible b worshiping $od as a true
faithful believer and purifing the heart. ;urification of the heart will be
possible onl b the Love to $od.
#he ideal tpe of Love was the spiritual Love of "brahim that made him to
devote his son and all his belongings to $od. #hen he appro(imated to $od and
changed to the perfect man. #his position is far beond human understanding.
However the tragic point is that Love to $od makes suffering and even it
reaches to its e(treme in this stage. 7esus born in pain and died in suffering.
#he true faith to $od re/uires the believer suffering which was a part of the
7esus+ life and death. According to &ierkegaard love is a source of life in all
e(istential stages but it is tied with suffering. *eanwhile! through Love man can
reach to salvation
and deal with suffering happil and delightfull.

Healing the suffering with suffering
Fow how shall human diminish or even reduce the sufferingL <an Love of
$od heal the suffering and the tragic aspects of lifeL 0asicall! can Love make
them tolerable or meaningful in lifeL
%rom &ierkegaard+s view! the onl proper wa to help man dealing with
suffering in the life passes through the religious stage. He believes that the
. &ierkegaard! Soren1)2D,5. works of love! Howard and .dna Hong1#rans.5! Few Kork! p. -)).
. "bid! p.I
. "bid! p. )>4.
. A &ierkegaard 6eader1)2325. 6oger ;ool and Henrik stangeup1.ds.5! London! p.)D-.
. $ospel of 7ohn! -9)D.
. $reen 0ereg! Kudit &ornberg1,4425. .ncclopedia of Love in world religious! 8olume ).
. &ierkegaard! Soren 1)22D5. ;apers and 7ournals! a selection! Alastair Hanna1#rans.! "ntro. and Fotes5;
.ngland! ASA9 ;enguin 0ooks Ltd! p. )4).
believer is certainl a lover; actuall the most pure Lover. As a religious
thinker! &ierkegaard believes %aith is the most important reaction toward
human+s pain and suffering and meanwhile! the real faith will come with Love.
#his Lovel %aith makes the suffering of life tolerable and delightful. However!
this remed is painful in itself; Love is suffering. "n the religious stage! we
reach to Love especiall Love of god as the cure for the main suffering of
human life but the new problem is the suffering essence of Love.
"n &ierkegaard+s idea this suffering is not bad in itself because it is the road
of salvation and this feature makes it sensible and meaningful. A real and true
<hristian loves suffering b infinite and transcendent Love as he assumes it as
the prere/uisite of salvation.
&ierkegaard believes Saint ;aul+s remark that
whoever loves! believes the whole of it.
"t seems according to &ierkegaard we cannot diminish suffering of life but
we can relish it b giving new meaning to it.
. &ierkegaard! #he $ospel of Suffering! p. -)-.
. %irst .pistle to the <orinthians! )-9I! 3.