What is the relationship between God and the universal morality? What should our relationship be to universal morality (the universal)? What should our relationship be to God? How does this relate to the teleological suspension of the ethical? What does Kierkegaard mean when he says that the individual has transcended the universal? How is this related to Abraham? What does this say about human nature?
The relationship between God and the universal morality, or the universal, in Kierkegaard’s book “Fear and Trembling” is one of tension at times. The will of God, if I understand it correctly, is part of the universal, or the ethical, but God’s will can rise above the ethical as in the case of God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Our relationship to God should be such that we reconcile with the universal and “abrogate (or abolish) our particularity (or individuality) so as to become the universal” (62, parenthesis mine). “Whenever having entered the universal, the single individual feels an urge to assert his particularity, he is in a state of temptation, from which he can extricate himself only by surrendering his particularity to the universal in repentance” (62). This is the telos, or purpose, of humanity, to align oneself with God.
Once an individual has entered the universal, he or she “now sets himself (or herself) apart as the particular above the universal” (63). I believe that this means he or she can become an example of faith like Abraham. In raising the knife to sacrifice his son, Abraham entered into the “teleological suspension of the ethical” by obeying God over set ethics. He could be called a murderer, as Kierkegaard said, but instead he was a man of faith because he obeyed God instead of doing what was ethical in his situation. “In (Abraham’s) action he overstepped the ethical altogether, and had a higher telos outside it, in relation to which he suspended it” (69).
Abraham transcended the universal by not doing what was ethical, in this case not sacrificing Isaac was a temptation for him to not do what God required, and instead doing God’s will, or his duty (69 – 70). The rightness of his act, according to Kierkegaard will be judged by the outcome (73). Abraham became a hero “by virtue of the fact that he began” (74) not because he knew the outcome.
It takes faith for a person to step outside the universal in order to do God’s will. For those who do this, they are considered extraordinary in light of human nature because the natural tendency of human nature is to assert its own individuality. If it were not so, Adam and Eve would not have plunged the entire human race into this mess of sin and self-aggrandizement. Does this mean that individuality is wrong? When it goes against God’s will, yes. But individuality when it concerns our own uniqueness and personality is not wrong. Our unique traits are to be used for God’s glory. Kierkegaard wrote that in God’s kingdom a person “should not push himself shamelessly forward and thrust upon them his kinship with them, he should feel happy every time he bows before them, but be frank and confident and always something more than a cleaning woman” (75). As Christians, our confidence should be as children and friends of the King, rather than feeling like we were a lowly servant.