How Can I Know Right from Wrong?

Kierkegaard’s stance is that it is only by studiously ignoring God that we can remain in ignorance of what is morally wrong.

But when God subjects us to a spiritual “trial”,He presents us with a moral dilemma which we have to solve ourselves. We have to decide whether to obey God or whether to obey our conscience. Kierkegaard illustrates this with the Biblical story of Abraham whom God ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac.

In a situation like that, there is no sure way of knowing which course of action is the right one. Both courses of action are sinful. God asks us to do one thing which is regarded as morally wrong by our peers, and society expects us to do the opposite. Disobeying God is a sin, but doing what He asks would also be a sin.

We have to guess therefore what God really wants us to do. The difficulty is that it probably involves rejecting God at the point of decision.

This way of looking at the moral dilemma entails perceiving God as capable of deception and as almost playing a game with us. Except it is deadly serious.

So how do we know when God is just testing us and when He isn’t? Surely God’s true wish must be the loving course of action. However in the heat of the spiritual trial it isn’t clear which this is, as witness Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac.

I think that our position in these trials is like that of a child bully, whose father says “Go on then, hit ME” meant as a “paradoxical injunction”. We are just as bewildered as the little child and unsure what to do. Only in retrospect do we see that our father was trying to teach us a lesson.

Of course life isn’t all spiritual trials, but the choice between right and wrong always presents us with a dilemma between two different authorities. Often we don’t realise we have done wrong until afterwards, and so it is a process of trial and error.