In his book Training in Christianity, Soren Kierkegaard tells a story of a father introducing the person of Christ to his son. In the story, the father places a picture of the crucified Christ in the middle of a pile of pictures depicting childhood heroes. After flipping through the pictures of heroes such as Napoleon and William Tell, they fall upon the picture of the bloodied Christ. Although told from a third person perspective, it is generally accepted that the Father is Kierkegaard’s own father and the young boy is Kierkegaard. The following is Kierkegaard’s retelling of the event:
The child will not at once nor quite directly understand this picture, and will ask what it means, why he hangs like that on a tree. So you explain to the child that this is a cross, and that to hang on it means to be crucified, and that in that land, crucifixion was not only the most painful death penalty but was also an ignominious mode of execution employed only for the grossest malefactors. What impression will that make upon the child? The child will be in a strange state of mind, he will surely wonder that it could occur to you to put such an ugly picture among all the other lovely ones, the picture of a gross malefactor among all these heroes and glorious figures.
And then the child will ask: “Who is he? What did he do?”
Then tell the child that this crucified man is the Savior of the world. Yet to this he will not be able to attach any clear conceptions; so tell him merely that this crucified man was the most loving person that ever lived.
And what will the impression of this story be upon the child? First and foremost surely this, that he has entirely forgotten the other pictures you have showed him; for now he has got something entirely different to think about. And now the child will be in deepest amazement at the fact that God did nothing to prevent this from being done; or that this was done without God raining down fire from heaven (if not earlier, at least at the last minute) to prevent His death. . . . That was the first impression. But by degrees, the more the child reflected upon the story, the more his passion would be aroused, he would be able to think of nothing but weapons and war—for the child would have decided that when he grew up he would slay all these ungodly men who had dealt thus with the loving One; that was his resolve, forgetting that it was 1,800 years ago that they lived.
Then when the child became a youth he would not have forgotten the impression of childhood, but he would now understand it differently, he would know that it was not possible to carry out what the child ¬—overlooking the 1,800 years—had resolved to do; but nevertheless he would think with the same passion of combating the world in which they crucify love and beg acquittal for the robber.
Then when he become older and mature he would not have forgotten the impression of childhood, but he would understand it differently. He would no longer wish to smite; for, said he, “I should attain to no likeness with Him the humble One, who did not smite even when He Himself was smitten.” No, he wished now only one thing, to suffer in some measure as He suffered in this world.
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