I am thankful for the midwives who helped us bring our children into the world. They didn’t create our kids or magically pull them out of thin air. They coached my wife and me as my wife took deep breaths and pushed them into the world while I held my breath, praying to Jesus all the way.
So many people today look at Jesus as a midwife, not God incarnate. Even those who view him as an incarnation don’t view him as the one and only incarnation of God. None of this is new. Søren Kierkegaard observed this trend in his own day. Kierkegaard spoke of this trend as “the Socratic view,” which he witnessed in aspects of Hegelian thought. On this account, Jesus is a midwife, like Socrates, helping humanity bring forth what has always been there within it, albeit implicitly, namely, its own participation in the divine nature. I shared Kierkegaard’s argument on this subject today in my theology class. You should have seen the looks on people’s faces, as they were giving birth to thought.
Kierkegaard says of “the Socratic view” that “Every human being is himself the midpoint, and the whole world focuses only on him because his self-knowledge is God-knowledge.” From this Socratic perspective, as Kierkegaard reflects upon it, knowledge of the eternal is latent within humanity, needing to be awakened from its dormant state. On the Platonic view, reflected in Socrates, eternal truth lies within the human self, whose soul is eternal and which was eternally cognizant of the eternal forms prior to (but not since) birth.
In contrast to this perspective, Kierkegaard claims that we must look beyond ourselves for truth, for within ourselves we will only discover “untruth,” “for the learner is indeed untruth.” In contrast to the midwife who serves as an occasion for the awakening of truth or really untruth within ourselves, and not truth itself, Kierkegaard writes of the teacher who is not simply a teacher, but who is “the god himself.” This teacher reveals truth and provides the basis for understanding, transforming the student in the process. The teacher—Jesus—is for Kierkegaard “savior,” “deliverer,” “reconciler,” “judge.” This Jesus is the sole wisdom of God, but foolishness to the Greeks and their descendants. As much as I like midwives, Jesus is no midwife. The biblical Jesus is the Savior of the world.
This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.
Søren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), p. 11.
Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, p. 14.
Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, p. 15.
Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, pp. 17-18.