Kierkegaard on the Raising of Lazarus

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is one of my favorite Christian thinkers. He has a beautiful Johannine Christology.

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading reminded me of one of my favorite Kierkegaard reflections. It is on the raising of Lazarus and comes from the beginning of The Sickness Unto Death.

‘This sickness is not unto death’ (John 11.4). But still Lazarus died. Upon the disciples misunderstanding him when he later added: ‘Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep’ (11.11), Christ told them bluntly: ‘Lazarus is dead’ (11.4). So Lazarus is dead, and yet this sickness was not unto death; he was dead, and still this sickness is not unto death. We know, of course, that Christ was thinking of the miracle which, ‘if [they] wouldest believe’, was to let contemporaries see ‘the glory of God’ (11.40), that miracle through which he awoke Lazarus from the dead; so ‘this sickness’ was not merely ‘not unto death’, but, as Christ had foretold, ‘for the glory of God, that the son of God might be glorified thereby’ (11.4). Ah!, but even had Christ not awoken Lazarus, is it not still true that this sickness, death itself, is not unto death? When Christ steps froward to the grave and in a loud voice cries out, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ (11.43), it is plain enough that this sickness is not unto death. Yet, even if Christ had not said that, doesn’t simply the fact that He who is ‘the resurrection and the life’ (11.25) steps forward to the grave mean that this sickness is not unto death? That Christ exists – doesn’t that mean that this sickness is not unto death? And what good would it have done Lazarus to be awoken from the dead if in the end he must die anyway? What good would it have done Lazarus if He did not exist, He who is the resurrection and the life for every person who believes in Him? No, it is not because Lazarus was awoken from the dead; that is not why we can say this sickness is not unto death. It is because He exists; that is why this sickness is not unto death. (p.37)

Kierkegaard suggests that the raising of Lazarus, like a sacrament, is a sign that points to a spiritual reality. It is a visible sign of an invisible grace. The raising of Lazarus merely confirms what is already true: that Christ is the resurrection and the life. It is like the breaking of the bread at Emmaus or the empty tomb. All three signs reveal the real presence of Christ. They are all Eucharistic encounters.

I will probably never experience an earth-shattering miracle, but Kierkegaard reminds me in his meditation on the raising of Lazarus that Christ is always the resurrection and the life.

 

Reference: Kierkegaard, Søren. The Sickness Unto Death. Trans. Alastair Hannay. London: Penguin Books, 2004. Print.

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