Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Kierkegaard: Thoughts of love

The reality of love

The more superior
one person is to another whom he loves, the more he will feel tempted, humanly speaking, to draw the other up to himself. Divinely speaking, however, the more he will feel moved to come down to him. This is the logic of love. Strange that people have not seen this in Christianity.

By this we can see that love has overcome the world – that it repays evil with good.

It is still the greatest, the roomiest part of the world, although spatially the smallest, this kingdom of love in which we can all be landholders without the need of one person’s property crowding another’s. Yes, rather it extends another’s holdings. On the other hand, in the kingdom of anger and hate – how small it is in its egotistic isolation and how great the space it demands – the whole world is not spacious enough; this kingdom has no room for others.

You talk about wanting to find comfort in Christ. All right, then try this: at the very moment you yourself are suffering most of all, simply think about comforting others, for this is what he did. The task is not to seek consolation – but to be consolation.

People despair about being lonely and therefore get married. But is this love? I should say it is self-love.

“He who sees his brother in need, yet shuts his heart” – yes, at the same time he shuts God out. Love to God and love to neighbor are like two doors that open simultaneously. It is impossible to open the one without opening the other, and impossible to shut the one without also shutting the other.

The distinguishing characteristic of Christian love is that it contains this apparent contradiction – that to love is duty. And yet it is only this kind of love that discovers the neighbor.

The love that has undergone the transformation of the eternal by becoming duty has won continuity; it is sterling silver.

To be busy, to be divided and scattered, to occupy yourself is far from love. Christian love is whole and collected in its every expression, and yet it is sheer action. Consequently it is just as far from inaction as it is from busyness. It never becomes engrossed in anything beforehand and never gives a promise in place of action. It never draws satisfaction from imagining that it has finished, nor does it ever loiter delighting in itself. It is no secret, private mysterious feeling…nor a soul-mood which fondly knows no laws, wants to know none, or wants to have its own law and hearkens only to singing. It is pure action and its every deed is holy, for it is the fulfilling of the law.

Justice avenges itself – love is avenged.

When a fisherman has caught a fish in his net and wishes to keep it alive, what must he do? He must immediately put it in water; otherwise it becomes exhausted and dies after a time. And why must he put it in water? Because water is the fish’s element, and everything that is kept alive must be kept in its element. And what about love? Love’s element is infinitude, inexhaustibility, immeasurability. If you wish to keep your love, you must take care that it remains in its element. Otherwise, it droops and dies – not after a time, but at once, which itself is a sign of its perfection, that it can live only in its element – the infinite.

When sin in a person is encompassed by love, sin is out of its element. It is like a besieged city with all communications cut off. True, sin may use love as an occasion (for what can’t a corrupt person use for corruption!). The sinner can become embittered by love, and rage against it. Yet, in the long run sin cannot hold out against love.

What can take love out of its element? As soon as love concentrates upon itself, as soon as it is an object for itself. Imagine an arrow flying. Imagine that for a second it got a notion of wanting to concentrate on itself, perhaps to see how far it had come, or how high over the earth it skimmed, or how its course was related to that of another arrow. In that very moment the arrow would fall to the earth.

Love is a revolution, the most profound of all but the most blessed! With love, too, there comes confusion. But in this life-giving confusion there is no distinction between mine and yours. Remarkable! There are a you and an I and yet no mine and yours! For without you and I there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love. This is why love is the fundamental revolution. The deeper the revolution, the more the distinction between mine and yours disappears, and the more perfect is the love. Love’s perfection consists essentially in the depth of the revolution.

Love is perhaps best described as an infinite debt: when a person is gripped by love, he feels like he is in infinite debt. Usually one says that the person who receives love comes into debt by being loved. Similarly we say that children are in love’s debt to their parents, because their parents have loved them first and the children’s love is only a part-payment on the debt or a repayment. This is true, to be sure. Nevertheless, such talk is all too reminiscent of a bookkeeping relationship – a bill is submitted and it must be paid; love is shown to us, and it must be repaid with love.

We should not, then, speak about one’s coming into debt by receiving love. No, it is the one who loves who is in debt. Because he is aware of being gripped by love, he perceives this as being in infinite debt. Remarkable! To be sure, by giving money one does not come into debt; it is rather the recipient who becomes indebted. But when love gives, the one who loves comes into infinite debt. What a beautiful, holy modesty love takes along as a companion!

Consider creation for a moment. With what infinite love God surrounds the great variety which has life and being! Remember the beauty of the fields! There is no, not any, discrimination in love – yet what a variety among the flowers! Even the slightest, most insignificant, the most plain-looking, the poor little flower overlooked even by its closest neighbors, the one you can hardly find without looking carefully, it is as if this, too, had said to love: let me be something with its own distinctive, individual characteristic, but far more beautiful than what the poor little flower had ever dared hope for. What love! First of all, love makes no distinction. Second, which is like the first, it makes infinite distinctions in loving the differences. Wondrous love!

Perfect love is to love the one who made you unhappy.

Unhappiness is not to love without being loved, but to be loved when one does not love.

Suppose that the victim, whom the merciful Samaritan took care of, died in his hands. Then suppose the Samaritan had to report it to the police, and the police had said: Of course we must keep you under arrest for the time being. What then? His contemporaries would have laughed at him for being so stupid as to let himself get into such a scrape. They would think he was crazy. Behold, these are the wages of mercy.

The true consoler is one who suffers and for whom it becomes a consolation to comfort another who is suffering.

Oh our Loving Father, help us remember that it is not where we breathe, but where we love, that we live!

If we were honest, many of us would want to upbraid Christ for putting a man like Judas in charge of the bag. Was it not “irresponsible” of him, seeing Judas had a tendency to pilfering? But we should rather say, “What faith and love on Christ’s part!” For the best means of saving such a man as Judas is to show unconditional confidence in him. If that does not help him, then what will?

What is it that makes a person unwavering, more unwavering than a rock; what is it that makes him soft, softer than wax? It is love.
What is it that cannot be taken but itself takes all? It is love.
What is it that cannot be given but itself gives all? It is love.
What is it that remains when everything falls away? It is love.
What is it that does not cease when the vision ends? It is love.
What is it that sheds light when the dark saying ends? It is love.
What is it that gives blessing to the abundance of the gift? It is love.
What is it that makes the widow’s gift an abundance? It is love.
What is it that turns the words of the simple person into wisdom? It is love.
What is it that is never changed even though everything is changed? It is love;
And that alone is love, that which never becomes something else.



Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, Compiled and Edited by Charles E. Moore. Reprinted from Copyright 2002 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.

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