A renegade philosopher who spent most of his life at odds with the church, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) insisted that every person must find his own way to God.
Let me tell a story. Somewhere in the Orient there lived a poor old couple. They possessed nothing but poverty. Naturally, anxiety about the future increased as they grew older. They did not assail heaven with their prayers, for they were too pious for that; but nevertheless they continually cried to heaven for help.
Then it happened one morning that the wife, going out to the oven, found a precious stone of great size upon the hearth. She immediately showed the stone to her husband, who saw at once that they were well supplied for the rest of their life. A bright future for this old couple – what joy! Yet, God-fearing as they were, and content with little, they resolved that since they had enough to live upon for another day, they would sell the jewel not that day, but the following. And then a new life would begin.
That night the woman dreamed that she was transported to paradise. An angel took her around and showed her all the glories an oriental imagination could invent. Then the angel led her into a hall where there were long rows of armchairs adorned with pearls and precious stones, which, the angel explained, were for the devout. Finally the angel showed her the chair that was intended for her. Looking more closely, the woman saw a large jewel was missing from the back of the seat. She asked the angel how that had come about.
Now be alert, here comes the story! The angel answered, “That was the precious stone you found on the hearth. You received it in advance, and so it cannot be inserted again.”
In the morning the woman related the dream to her husband. She felt they should hold on to the stone for a few years longer rather than let the precious stone be absent throughout eternity. And her devout husband agreed. So, that evening they laid the stone back on the hearth and prayed to God that he would take it back. In the morning, sure enough, it was gone. Where it had gone the old couple knew: it was now in its right place.
Oh, remember this well! You may perhaps be cunning enough to avoid suffering and adversity in this life, you may perhaps be clever enough to evade ruin and ridicule and instead enjoy all the earth’s goods, and you may perhaps be fooled into the vain delusion that you are on the right path just because you have won worldly benefits, but beware, you will have an eternity in which to repent! An eternity in which to repent, that you failed to invest your life upon that which lasts: to love God in truth, come what may, with the consequence that in this life you will suffer under the hands of men.
Therefore do not deceive yourself! Of all deceivers fear most yourself! Even if it were possible in relation to the eternal to take something in advance, you would yet be deceiving yourself by taking something in advance – and gain an eternity in which to repent.
This article is an excerpt from Provocations.