Book Review: The Sickness unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard

The Sickness unto Death, like all of Kierkegaard’s works, is as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1849. In fact, it may very well be even more relevant as the downward spiral of Christendom has continued in the century and a half since the death of Kierkegaard. In this work, Kierkegaard identifies the illness of man, “the sickness unto death,” as the state of despair and offers the bitter but effective medicine of the truth of the Christian faith.

Despair, says Kierkegaard, is the state in which the vast majority of men live. Despair is to desire to establish oneself as an unique individual through one’s own efforts and, equally, it is the obverse: to attempt to the best of one’s abilities to blend in and subsume oneself within the mass of one’s society.

The only means by which despair can be overcome is to realize oneself in the presence of God. It is only through seeing oneself as God sees one and conforming oneself to God’s desires for one that a person becomes, in the fullest sense of the word, a self. What Kierkegaard offers here is, really, a brief but intensive summary of the Gospel.

In addition to the perennial applicability of Kierkegaard’s insights on the nature of despair, faith, and selfhood, his comments on the state of the Christian Church are insightful indictments which every Christian should read. I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the most important question a person can ask: “how then should we live?” (Ezekiel 33:10).

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