Ah! So much is spoken about human need and misery; I try to understand it, have been closely acquainted with not a little of it. So much is spoken about wasting one’s life. But the only life wasted is the life of one who so lived it, decieved by life’s pleasures or sorrows, that he never became decisively, eternally, conscious of himself as spirit, as self, or, what is the same, he never became aware – and gained in the deepest sense the impression – that there is a God there and that ‘he’ himself, his self, exists before this God, which infinite gain is never come by except through despair.
Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death
For Kierkegaard there is a sickness in the human being which is not like a flu, a cancer or a mental disturbance. It is not depression or angst. It is the encounter with, and realisation of, the self as an in/fininte being. This is Kierkegaard’s despair.
The kind of despair of the self as constantly not-quite, always yet never present is held back by the things of our lives, the drama we participate with. It prevents the self from being self, alone. It relentlessly escapes itself. Yet it is precisely this despairing escape from the self through the drama of life that Kierkegaard discerns a path toward God. Through despair, the human being might know itself to be spirit and thus realise that it exists before God and there find itself satisfied.
It is an evangelical aphorism that we all have a God-shaped gap. This idea might have originated with Kierkegaard. At the very least he gives that claim weight and necessity. To know that the self is eternally not alone or abandoned is the sweetest treasure to the despairing man.