Coach Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard cautioned believers to stay as far as possible from the Danish clergy, whose religion was “just about as genuine as tea made from a bit of paper which once lay in a drawer beside another bit of paper which had once been used to wrap up a few dried tea leaves from which tea had already been made three times.”

The man didn’t mince words. It might be fair to say that an aspect of his genius was the ability to rant and reason at the same time. Even if I didn’t sense truth in his convictions, I might read his work just to get a rise from his rabid enthusiasm. His words are so charged with emotion that I, a rather careful fellow, get awestruck by his wild indulgence, especially in analogy and metaphor.

Not only does the passion endear him to me, it gives me perspective, so that when he informs us that God requires our perfect obedience, I don’t feel condemned for falling way short but rather feel cheered on, as if a crew of girls in tutus are leaping up and down on the sidelines and a coach is screaming for us to give 110 percent.

A golfing buddy told me that Anika Sorenstam, one of the game’s legends, recommends that golfers approach each game with the intention of shooting 54. For those who don’t play, that means one under par for each hole on a standard course. On a par four hole, it means one drive, one shot onto the green, and one putt.

I don’t know that Anika, or anybody, has ever accomplished this essentially perfect score. But the idea of setting the goal has merit, much like Kierkegaard reporting that God requires us to live, act, and think according to Jesus’ prescriptions and commands.

The author of Zen Golf suggests a strikingly different goal. He reasons that if we are, say, bogey golfers (one over par per hole, on average), we should set our sights on bogeys, in order to relieve the pressure that causes tension and so restricts the freedom of our swing.

I find both suggestions valid, but for golfers with different intentions. Those who would be touring pros, and so are willing to devote their best efforts most every day of their lives, can wisely and legitimately go for birdies. The rest of us are more likely to suffer than to benefit from such a lofty goal.

Kierkegaard maintains that devoting ourselves to seeking God’s will, and obeying what we are given or discern, is the route to fullness of joy. So he cheers us on to that end, while warning that running the race will require our full dedication.

I don’t sense him condemning us bogey Christians, unless we happen, like the Danish clergy, to be leading others along our mediocre way. Rather, he appears to anguish over our failure to seek and win the highest joy. Like a parent who lies awake fretting over his prodigal children.

Ken Kuhlken writes historical crime novels and teaches online at Perelandra College.


    1. Sure. I snatched it from an article in the Christianity Today archives. From: Christian History Corner: St. Mugg’s Wrestling Prophets, Part II: The Weird Little Dane How a struggling soul built a bridge to Christ for those caught in the world’s snares. By Chris Armstrong