read about the story of abraham and isaac: genesis 22.1-19
but abraham had faith, and had faith for this life. yes, had his faith only been for a future life it would indeed have been easier to cast everything aside in order to hasten out of this world to which he did not belong. but abraham’s faith was not of that kind, if there is such, for a faith like that is not really faith but only its remotest possibility, a faith that has some inkling of its object at the very edge of the field of vision but remains separated from it by a yawning abyss to which despair plays its pranks. but it was for this life that abraham believed, he believed he would become old in his land, honoured among his people, blessed in his kin, eternally remembered in isaac, the dearest in his life, whom he embraced with a love for which it was but a poor expression to say that he faithfully fulfilled the father’s duty to love the son, as indeed the summons put it: ‘the son whom thou lovest.’ Jacob had twelve sons and he love one; abraham had just one, the son he loved.
but abraham had faith and did not doubt. he believed the ridiculous. if abraham had doubted – then he would have done something else, something great and glorious; for how could abraham have done other than what is great and glorious? he would have marched out to the mountain in moriah, chopped the firewood, set light to the fire, drawn the knife – he would have cried out to god: “do not scorn this sacrifice, it is not the best i posses, that i well know; for what is an old man compared with the child of promise, but it is the best i can give. let isaac never come to know, that he may comfort himself in his young years.’ he would have been admired in the world and his name never forgotten; but it is one thing to be admired, another to be a guiding star that saves the anguished.
to go beyond hegel, that is a miracle, but to go beyond abraham is the simplest of all. i for my part have devoted considerable time to understanding the hegelian philosophy, believe also that i have more or less understood it, am rash enough to believe that at those points where, despite the trouble taken, i cannot understand it, the reason is that hegel himself hasn’t been altogether clear. all this i do easily, naturally, without it causing me any mental strain. but when i have to think about abraham i am virtually annihilated. i am all the time aware of the monstrous paradox that is the content of abraham’s life. i am constantly repulsed, and my thought, for all its passion, is unable to enter into it, cannot come one hairbreadth further. i strain every muscle to catch sight of it, but the same instant i become paralysed.
i cannot close my eyes and hurl myself trustingly into the absurd, for me it is impossible, but i do not praise myself on that account. i am convinced that god is love; this thought has for me a pristine lyrical validity. when it is present to me i am unspeakably happy, when it is absent i yearn for it more intensely than the lover for the beloved; but i do not have faith; this courage i lack.
the dialectic of faith is the most refined and most remarkable of all dialectics, it has an elevation that i can form a conception of but no more.
deeper natures never forget themselves and never become something other than they were. so the knight [of faith] will remember everything; but the memory is precisely the pain, and yet in is infinite resignation he is reconciled with existence.
i can see then that it requires strength and energy and freedom of spirit to make the infinite movement of resignation; i can also see that it can be done. the next step dumbfounds me, my brain reels; for having made the movement of resignation, now on the strength of the absurd to get everything, to get one’s desire, whole, in full, that requires more-than-human powers, it is a marvel. . . . resignation does not require faith, for what i win in resignation is my eternal consciousness, and that is a purely philosophical movement, which i venture upon when necessary. . . . through faith i don’t renounce anything, on the contrary in faith i receive everything, exactly in the way it is said that one whose faith is like a mustard seed can move mountains. it takes a purely human courage to renounce the whole of temorality in order to win eternity, but i do indeed win it and cannot in all eternity renounce that, for that would be a self-contradiction; but it takes a paradoxical and humble courage then to grasp the whole of temporality on the strength of the absurd, and that courage is the courage of faith. through faith abraham did not renounce his claim on isaac, through his faith he received isaac.
some understand the story of abraham in another way. they praise god’s mercy for giving him isaac once again, the whole thing was just a trial. a trial – that can say a lot or a little, yet the whole thing is as quickly done with as said. one mounts a winged horse, that very instant one is on the mountain in moriah, the same instant one sees the ram. one forgets that abraham rode on an ass, which can keep up no more than a leisurely pace, that he had a three-day journey, that he needed time to chop the firewood, bind isaac, and sharpen the knife. and yet one praise abraham! . . . so let us either forget all about abraham or learn how to be horrified at the monstrous paradox which is the significance of his life.