Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Kierkegaard & Gospel for the Poor

Christ was not making a historical observation when he declared: The gospel is preached to the poor. The accent is on the gospel, that the gospel is for the poor. Here the word "poor" does not simply mean poverty but all who suffer, are unfortunate, wretched, wronged, oppressed, crippled, lame, leprous, demonic.

The gospel is preached to them, that is, the gospel is for them. The gospel is good news for them. What good news? Not: money, health, status, and so on - no, this is not Christianity.

No, for the poor the gospel is the good news because to be unfortunate in this world is a sign of God's nearness. So it was originally; this is the gospel of the New Testament. It is preached for the "poor," and it is preached by the poor who, if they in other respects were not suffering, would eventually suffer by proclaiming the gospel; since suffering is inseparable from following Christ, from telling the truth.

But soon there came a change. When preaching the gospel became a livelihood, even a lush livelihood, then the gospel became good news for the rich and for the mighty. For how else was the preacher to acquire and secure rank and dignity unless Christianity secured the best for all? Christianity thus ceased to be glad tidings for those who suffer, a message of hope that transfigures suffering into joy, but a guarantee for the enjoyment of life intensified and secured by the hope of eternity.

The gospel no longer benefits the poor essentially. In fact, Christianity has now even become a downright injustice to those who suffer (although we are not always conscious of this, and certainly unwilling to admit it). Today the gospel is preached to the rich, the powerful, who have discovered it to be advantageous. We are right back again to the very state original Christianity wanted to oppose!

The rich and powerful not only get to keep everything, but their success becomes the mark of their piety, the sign of their relationship with God. And this prompts the old atrocity again - namely, the idea that the unfortunate, the poor are to blame for their condition; that it is because they are not pious enough, are not true Christians, that they are poor, whereas the rich have not only pleasure but piety as well. This is supposed to be Christianity. Compare it with the New Testament, and you will see that this is as far from that as possible.
~ Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations, ed. by C. Moore

Note: Kierkegaard was a Christian in Denmark, writing and railing against the entrenched national religion of Christianity during the 1840's and 50's. He was (is) a brilliant thinker, theologian, philosopher, and agitator. Here we are in America an ocean and a century and a half away, and yet the provocations are still convicting.

No comments: