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    A man being led by and angel and pulled by a devil

    The Power of a Resolution

    Making a decision is significant – but only if we carry it out in daily life.

    By Søren Kierkegaard

    April 13, 2023

    If it is really so that there is something in life that has or can have such power over a person that it little by little makes him forget everything that is noble and sacred and makes him a slave in the service of the world, of the moment; if it is really so that time has or can gain such power over a person that while it adds days to his life it also every passing day measures the greater distance of his life from the divine, until he, trapped in everydayness and habit, becomes alienated from the eternal and the original, if experience has taught us that this has also happened to someone who once had a strong sense of the presence of the eternal – then it certainly would be beneficial to recommend every means against this and desirable that the recommending be done in an earnest but also winsome way. God be praised, there are many means, just as the dangers are many, and every one of these means is trustworthy and tested. One such means is resolution or coming to a resolution, because resolution joins a person with the eternal, brings the eternal into time for him, jars him out of the drowsiness of uniformity, breaks the spell of habit, cuts off the tedious bickering of troublesome thoughts, and pronounces a benediction upon even the weakest beginning, when it is indeed a beginning. Resolution is a waking up to the eternal … [and] therefore, we praise resolution….

    The devil uses many arts to tempt a human being, and it is always a dangerous assault when the devil, by means of high-minded resolutions, or rather by talk about them and admiration of them, together with the subsequent distaste when a person sees how little he can do, wants to induce him to give up everything. No, we creep before we learn to walk, and to want to fly is always precarious. To be sure, there are great decisions, but even in regard to them the main thing is to activate one’s resolution, lest one become so high-flying in the resolution that one forgets to walk.

    A man being led by and angel and pulled by a devil

    Hugo Simberg, At the Crossroads, watercolor and gouache, 1896.

    It is certainly true that much is already won by making a good beginning, but in the same moment the point is to come into stride at the beginning, because there perhaps is nothing more demoralizing for a person than having a good and glorious beginning promptly stand in his way instead of helping him to go on. It is a proud thing to concentrate all the threatening dangers and terrors in one place, to charge forth where the enemy’s hosts are most numerous; those are proud words that want to make the sun stand still so that twilight may not fall before all the enemies are overcome. On the other hand, it is humble to admit that the struggle, even through no fault of one’s own, drags out so that every day has its evening, and because of one’s fault drags out in such a way that twilight sometimes falls on a defeat. It is humble to admit that even the progress through life of the most honest contender is difficult, that even the person who walks his way with firm steps nevertheless does not walk with a hero’s pace, indeed, that when the evening of life cools the contender after the long day there still is no opportunity for fanfare, since even the person who came closest to the goal does not arrive with the qualifications or the disposition for the rigors of a victory celebration but, weary and worn, desires a grave in which to rest and a blessed departure from here in peace. To be sure, such a person’s life was not unfamiliar with great decisions, but he nevertheless admits that his entire life was a struggle, and in conversation with others he is not tempted to mention proudly the great decisions he has had the honor of helping to make; he is well aware that his telling about the daily struggle would be wearisome to the inquisitive. And yet this was his life, he perhaps experienced the changeableness of life, perhaps that of people, but danger followed him constantly. But as the danger recurred, he renewed his resolution, and in that way he carried through his battle. Although his step was weak, his gait vacillating, at times going backward instead of forward, resolution helped him again, little by little; he still exhorted himself with a beautiful saying, “Do what you can for God, and he will do for you what you cannot do,” until again he came to a resolution, even though his resolution seems to be of humble origin, a cripple compared with that highborn resolution. If making a resolution is understood in this way to be the constant renewal of a crucial resolution (an apparent contradiction akin to reminding someone to act as if this were the last day of his life and then pointing out that a long life lies ahead of him), then it remains fixed that resolution is a saving means. But if this does remain fixed, then it is in turn worthwhile to be aware of the hereditary enemy of resolution, cowardliness, which, tenacious of life as it is, always contemplates cutting off or harming the good understanding of resolution with the eternal, gnawing asunder the charm of resolution, which is easy to carry and becomes heavy only when it is broken.

    Cowardliness prevents a person from doing the good, from accomplishing the truly great and noble to which he has attached himself in a resolution. In the foregoing, we have already directed attention to a kind of superstition that makes a person think that everything is settled by a resolution, which he then is not averse to making, perhaps even in the opinion that through resolutions his life has a superiority that excuses him from being concerned about lesser things. Only on solemn and crucial occasions will he venture everything; lesser things do not occupy him. Alas, but wanting, as it were, merely to dress up in life this way is a glittering delusion. For anyone who allows himself to nourish such ideas about it, the resolution itself becomes a seducer and deceiver instead of a trustworthy guide. It is certainly true and right that the splendor of eternity shines upon the resolution, that in the resolution everything seems decided for eternity, but this is only the first step. Then the resolution changes its clothes and now wants to concern itself specifically with the most everyday matters, and thus in its everyday or, if I may put it this way, in its house clothes the resolution does not appear as divine, but in its innermost nature it is entirely the same. In other words, it is the meaning of resolution for human life that it wants to give it coherence, an even and calm progress. For this, resolution has the winsome faculty of concerning itself with little things, so that one neither disregards them nor is lost in them, so that life goes forward in the resolution, strengthened, refreshed, and invigorated by the resolution.

    Therefore do what you can for God – then God will give you a spirit of power and of love and of self-control.

    From Soren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990) 347–375. Used by permission.

    Contributed By SorenKierkegaard Søren Kierkegaard

    Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and spiritual writer.

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