kierkegaardOne of my favorite writers, thinkers, philosophers, theologians, psychologists is Soren Kierkegaard. Ever since reading Fear and Trembling when I was 22 he has continued to profoundly shape my life and thinking.

So it is not surprising that in the book Depression and Hope by Howard W. Stone, that it is Kierkegaard that has something to say to us on this issue. Let me quote at length the following passage from the book:

Soren Kierkegaard’s understanding of persons–for our purposes depressed persons–also helps us understand hope. In The Sickness Unto Death, he describes persons as possessors of actuality, freedom, and possibility. All three are a part of the authentic self, and a good relationship of all three is necessary for authentic existence. Actuality refers primarily to the past; it includes our context, our psychological predispositions, and choices we have previously made.

Freedom is what we have in the present. It is a finite freedom, exercised within the limits of our situation and abilities, our givens and past choices. Because of our actualities we cannot simply become whatever we want to be ‘if we try hard enough for it.’ We make choices, and act, from the range of options available to us.

Possibility addresses the future. It is what we can become as we use our freedom. In that respect our possibilities are not predetermined. We are not automatons. We can imagine, and within the givens of life we can become something new. Living as an authentic self, according to Kierkegaard, means looking beyond our immediate necessities or past liabilities. We anticipate the future with the awareness that we are free–however limited–to actualize whom we ought to become as faithful Christians and to take responsibility for shaping that future.

In short, faithful Christian living requires recognition of givens from the past and exercise of finite freedom in the present, so that positive future possibilities can be imagined and brought into existence. Those who are depressed, viewed from Kierkegaards’ understanding of persons, allow their actuality (past) to limit and dominate their possibility (future) by not exercising their finite freedom in the present. So the anguish of depression comes not only from dwelling on negative past but also from the loss of a positive future. Unfortunately, much counseling offered to the depressed focuses on actuality, on the past. It is a grave error. The purpose of the minister giving care to the depressed is to engender a hope that recognizes actuality but also steps directly into the future by exercising freedom in the present, by taking action.

The good news is that there are care and counseling methods that can engender future hope in melancholic individuals. Methods especially useful for enlivening hope include searching for exceptions, reframing, focusing on people’s strengths, and creating future goals as a way to move away from preoccupation with the past (47-48).


  1. How does Kierkegaard’s understanding of people fit into your understanding of people?
  2. Does your theology compliment Kierkegaard’s understanding of people, or contrast with it?
  3. How do you understand both our limits and freedom as people, and our ability those parameters offer to treat depression?

Previous Posts in the Depression, Burnout & Ministry Series
Depression, Burnout & Ministry: Deciding to Get Honest About Our Journeys
Depression, Burnout & Ministry: Anne Jackson Interview, Part 1
Depression, Burnout & Ministry: Anne Jackson Interview, Part2
Depression, Burnout & Ministry: Assessment
Depression, Burnout & Ministry: Christians and Medications
Depression, Burnout & Ministry: Discernment in Pastoral Caregiving

Disclaimer: This blog post is not to be a substitute for professional help or advice. Please consider seeking out professional help if you consider yourself to be at risk for depression.