Anxiety with freedom

by Andrea Elizabeth

Kierkegaard disagrees with the idea that Adam fell because forbidden fruit is more enticing than permitted fruit. That may be a motivation now, but in Adam’s innocent state, he had no concept of evil or even of death to arouse desire or fear for them. Instead it was freedom that awakened anxiety.

When it is assumed that the prohibition awakens the desire, one acquires knowledge instead of ignorance, and in that case Adam must have had a knowledge of freedom, because the desire was to use it. The explanation is therefore subsequent. The prohibition induces in him anxiety, for the prohibition awakens in him freedom’s possibility.

Post-fall, it has been explained that freedom in Christ means that with grace we can choose righteousness over sin. This has been used to contrast the notion that freedom means the ability to choose to disobey, which is what Kierkegaard is pointing out here in a pre-fall context. More neutral language would be, it is the ability to choose among several possibilities. Gnomically we want the best, as did Adam, but then it becomes a matter of deliberation and inspiration, for better or worse.

What passed by innocence as the nothing of anxiety has now entered into Adam, and here again it is a nothing – the anxious possibility of being able. He has no conception of what he is able to do; otherwise – and this is what usually happens – that which comes late, the difference between good and evil, would have to be presupposed. Only the possibility of being able is present as a higher form of ignorance, as a higher expression of anxiety, because in a higher sense it both is and is not, because in a higher sense he both loves it and flees from it.

After the word of prohibition follows the word of judgment: “You shall certainly die.” Naturally, Adam does not know what it means to die. On the other hand, there is nothing to prevent him from having acquired a notion of the terrifying, for even animals can understand the mimic expression and movement in the voice of a speaker without understanding the word. If the prohibition is regarded as awakening the desire, the punishment must also be regarded as awakening the notion of the deterrent. This, however, will only confuse things. In this case, the terror is simply anxiety. Because Adam has not understood what was spoken, there is nothing but the ambiguity of anxiety. The infinite possibility of being able that was awakened by the prohibition now draws closer, because this possibility points to a possibility as its sequence.

In this way, innocence is brought to its uttermost. In anxiety it is related to the forbidden and to the punishment. Innocence is not guilty, yet there is anxiety as though it were lost. (The Concept of Anxiety, p. 44, 45)

This is a sad thing, but it is better than the idea that God was dangling an enticing carrot in front of Adam. In His love, he knew theĀ  consequence of anxiety, but to love means to make free. Anxious freedom in love is more important than peaceful security in lower ignorance. This anxiety is not the goal however. It takes maturity to push through it and to find peaceful facility with the knowledge of good and evil.