Saturday, November 26, 2011

Teaching Me To Love

In 1847 a Danish Christian wrote at length on how we can love in light of what God had revealed to us through Jesus. Soren Kierkegaard, a brilliant philosopher, turned his searching mind and heart towards the truth of love and how it works in our world. Long story short, I found his book, Works of Love in 2004 having spent a few years praying to God that he would teach me how to love.

Today, six and a half years later, I finished Works of Love. A lot of life has happened since then. It would seem that God has been helping me answer my own prayer, thanks to my wife and kids and family and friends and church. And Kierkegaard. I also realize how much more I have to learn about love. Or, what I learned was only the beginning of how to love.

The advantage of reading really old reflections on the works of love is rooted in its disconnection from our post-modern ways of thinking about God and relationships and self. But, 1847 was also among those nascent years of the Enlightenment, our Modern period of thinking. It's odd to read Kierkegaard's critiques on his culture and church - they sound so similar to ours today. What he has to say is relevant to our situations now.

I grew up in a loving home. I have loving parents and brothers and extended family. I have a loving wife and four loving children. I am part of a loving church. I am loved by many friends. There is much love in my life. What does that tell me? That I am an expert in loving? That I have much to teach about love? Or, that God has been helping answer my prayer. And that every opportunity I have to give love is also a revelation of how much more I have to learn.

If love is truly the greatest thing in all the world, then I'd be crazy to settle for a mediocre love. There is much left to understand in this world of how God gives love, of how God gives himself, of how Jesus is our supreme image of love at work in the world. There is so much confusion. So much hurt and rage. There is much discontent about the kind of love that is being offered up these days. How to enter into the most excellent way of love - and let that overflow onto all those connected to my life?

So in the final pages of Kierkegaard's thoughtful Works of Love, here are some disturbing and striving discourses on love:

Christianity's view is: forgiveness is forgiveness; your forgiveness is your forgiveness; your forgiveness of another is your own forgiveness; the forgiveness which you give, you receive, not contrariwise, that you give the forgiveness for which you receive.

It is as if Christianity would say: pray to God humbly and believing in your forgiveness for he really is compassionate in such a way as no human being is; but if you will test how it is with respect to the forgiveness, then observe yourself. If honestly before God you wholeheartedly forgive your enemy (but remember that if you do, God sees it), then you dare hope also for your forgiveness, for it is one and the same.

God forgives you neither more nor less nor otherwise than as you forgive your trespasses. It is only an illusion to imagine that one himself has forgiveness, although one is slack in forgiving others.

It is also conceit to believe in one's own forgiveness when one will not forgive, for how in truth should one believe in forgiveness if his own life is a refutation of the existence of forgiveness!

For, Christianly understood, to love human beings is to love God and to love God is to love human beings; what you do unto men you do unto God, and therefore what you do unto men God does unto you.

If you are embittered towards men who do you wrong, you are really embittered towards God, for ultimately it is still God who permits wrong to be done to you. If, however, you gratefully take the wrongs from God's hand "as a good and perfect gift," you do not become embittered towards men either.

If you will not forgive, you essentially want something else, you want to make God hard-hearted, that he should not forgive, either: how, then should this hard-hearted God forgive you? If you cannot beat the offences of men against you, how should God be able to bear your sins against him?

If you have never been solitary, you have also never discovered that God exists. But if you have been truly solitary, then you also learned that everything you say to and do to other human beings God simply repeats; he repeats it with the intensification of infinity. The word of blessing or judgment which you express concerning someone else, God repeats; he says the same word about you, and this same word is blessing or judgment over you.

Such a person will certainly avoid speaking to God about the wrongs of others towards him, about the speck in his brother's eye, for such a person will rather speak to God only about grace, lest this fateful word of justice lose everything for him through what he himself has called forth, the rigorous like-for-like.

Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, p348-353

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