“Worldly wisdom is of the opinion that love is a relationship between persons; Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between: a person—God—a person, that is, that God is the middle term.” (Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love.)
(All quotes from Kierkegaard’s work are taken from Hong and Hong’s Kierkegaard’s Writings, Volume 16; Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)
In this fourth part of the series, I am hard pressed to insert my own comments. Kierkegaard’s points are so well expressed that I would detract more than contribute. So, this part will be heavy on quotes. The introductory quote I started with is a concept that many Christians have already heard before. It may not have been stated exactly the same way but we have heard it taught.
Most often, we learn it when we are taught about Paul’s admonition not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever, especially in the covenant of marriage. It makes sense. As a Christian we claim that love of God (the first commandment) is the most important thing in our lives. That implies that all the decisions we make for our lives and for our family’s life are evaluated in terms of whether or not they would be pleasing to God. It makes sense that in this regard both partners in a marriage should be in complete agreement. Otherwise, one of the two would be sacrificing their beliefs for the other; and as SK will point out, that is a non-starter for a Christian.
The key in Kierkegaard’s discussion now is to point out that just because Christians use the word “love” and the world uses the word “love”, they do not mean the same thing… even though both sides can require love to meet the highest standard of devotion… even to the sacrificing of all for the beloved.
The difference lies in what it is you are willing to sacrifice.
“However beautiful a relationship of love has been between two people or among many, however complete all their desire and all their bliss have been for themselves in mutual sacrifice and devotion, even though everyone has praised this relationship—if God and the relationship with God have been omitted, then this, in the Christian sense, has not been love but a mutually enchanting defraudation of love.”
If God is not in the equation, for the Christian, it is not love. Then what is love? This next quote is my absolute favorite Kierkegaard quote. I earnestly wish that I can live by it every day of my life:
“To love God is to love oneself truly, to help another person to love God is to love another person, to be helped by another person to love God is to be loved.”
Because this definition of love is so radically different from what the world understands as love, a collision between the two is inevitable. Think about it: When you love someone, you automatically (even if subconsciously) want them to feel that love. But who judges what constitutes love, the lover or the beloved?
“Worldly wisdom certainly is not of the opinion that the person who loves is himself to decide arbitrarily what he wants to understand by love. Love is indeed devotion and sacrifice, and therefore the world thinks that the object of love (whether it be a beloved or friend or loved ones or a social club or the contemporaries, what for the sake of brevity we will hereafter call “the beloved”) is to determine whether devotion and sacrifice have been shown, and whether the devotion and sacrifice shown are love. Thus it depends on whether the people who are to judge know how to judge correctly.”
And here is the rub…
“If, namely, the object of love, the judge, does not by himself before God have a true idea of what it is to love oneself—that it is to love God—then neither does the beloved have a true idea of what it is to be loved by another person, that it is to be helped to love God. But when that is the case, the beloved will regard a false kind of devotion and sacrifice as true love and will regard true love as lovelessness.”
When love looks like hate
The astute reader must have been expecting we would eventually get to this verse:
Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and shall not hate his own father and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple…
Kierkegaard too will get there presently.
“The judgment is this: is it actually love, in the divine sense, to show a devotion such as the object of love demanded? Next, is it love, in the divine sense, on the part of the object of love to demand such devotion?
“Every person is God’s bond servant; therefore he dare not belong to anyone in love unless in the same love he belongs to God and dare not possess anyone in love unless the other and he himself belong to God in this love—a person dare not belong to another as if that other person were everything to him; a person dare not allow another to belong to him as if he were everything to that other.”
This whole conversation hinges on the question, what is true love? And Kierkegaard’s answer is the basis of this series: Love is only True if it is that which fulfills the Law. Therefore, God’s requirements, indeed His Presence cannot be ignored.
“If there was between two or among several a relationship of love so happy and perfect that the poet was bound to exult in it, indeed, so blissful that someone who was not a poet would have to become one out of wonder and joy over this sight—this is by no means the end of the matter.
“Now Christianity steps forward and asks about the relationship to God, whether each individual is first related to God and then whether the relationship of love is related to God. If this is not the case, then Christianity, which certainly is the protector of love or because it is that, in God’s name will not hesitate to split up this relationship until the lovers are willing to understand this.”
And this is where the rubber meets the road: what action do I take? Is it love to spare the one you love the Truth? To spare the one you love any pain?
“And if only one party understands it, then Christianity, which certainly is the protector of love, will not hesitate to lead him out into the horror of a collision such as no poet dreams of or has ventured to portray. Just as little as a poet can involve himself with the Christian requirement to love one’s enemy, just as little, or if possible even less, can he involve himself with the Christian requirement: out of love and in love to hate the beloved.”
But just like the human world and God have different definitions of what love is, so are the definitions of hate different…
“To such a high point, to such madness, humanly speaking, Christianity can press the requirement if love is to be the fulfilling of the Law. Therefore, it teaches that the Christian must, if it is required, be able to hate father and mother and sister and the beloved…”
But don’t let the world flippantly claim this makes Christianity intolerant. Because as soon as the world says that, it proves it does not understand the difference in categories between a human being’s desires and an Infinite God’s perfect understanding of (and love for) the children He created.
“—in the sense, I wonder, that he should actually hate them? Oh, far be this abomination from Christianity! But certainly it is in the sense that love, faithful and true love, divinely understood, must be regarded by the loved ones, the nearest and dearest ones, the contemporaries, as hate, because these refuse to understand what it is to love oneself, that it is to love God, and that to be loved is to be helped by another person to love God, whether or not the actual result is that the loving one submits to being hated.”
And that is the bottom line. A world that rejects God as the definer of Truth, Love, Justice, Righteousness, is a world that cannot possibly comprehend that loving God above all things is the Oxygen of the soul. To breathe anything else is to slowly, and surely, poison myself. But if I am addicted to that poison and you refuse to give it to me… do you think I will call that action love?
“See, worldly wisdom has a long list of various expressions for sacrifice and devotion. I wonder if among them this is also found: out of love to hate the beloved, out of love to hate the beloved and to that extent oneself, out of love to hate the contemporaries and to that extent one’s own life? See, worldly wisdom knows many and extremely diverse instances of unhappy love.
“I wonder if among all these you find the suffering of having to seem to hate the beloved, of having to have hate as the final and sole expression of one’s love, or of having to be hated by the beloved as a reward for one’s love because there is the infinite difference of Christian truth between what the one and what the other understand by love?”
Get thee behind me, Satan…
“—the world before the time of Christianity never saw that in loving there was the possibility of a collision between two conceptions between which there was a difference of eternity, between the divine conception and the merely human conception. But if there is such a collision, then, in the divine sense, it is indeed love to hold fast to the true conception, eternity’s conception, to love by virtue of it, whereas the person or persons loved must regard this as hate if they have the merely human conception.”
The ultimate extreme of this collision of loves is the life of Jesus of Nazareth:
“In the divine sense, he was Love; he loved by virtue of the divine conception of what love is, loved the whole human race. Out of love he did not dare to give up this conception, because that would mean to deceive the human race. For this reason his whole life was a horrible collision with the merely human conception of what love is.
“It was the ungodly world that crucified him; but even the disciples did not understand him and continually seemed to be trying to win him over to their conception of what love is, so that he even had to say to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’”
Do you remember that passage? Jesus has just made his closest disciples realize He is going to Jerusalem and on purpose will allow himself to be captured and killed. Peter, his closest friend pulls him aside and tells him, “No, this will never happen to you.”
Isn’t that what you would expect your closest friend to do? To warn you when you are going to do something stupid? To stop you from destroying yourself? Isn’t this what we (humanly) would call love?
“The unfathomable suffering of this terrible collision: that the most honest and most faithful disciple, when he, not only well-intentioned, no, but burning with love, wishes to give the best advice, wishes only to express how deeply he loves the master, that the disciple, because his conception of love is false, speaks in such a way that the master must say to him: You do not know it, but to me your words sound as if it were Satan who was speaking!”
Jesus knew what He came to do. He knew His mission; a mission given to Him by the Father for the sake of Love for all humanity. He could let nothing get in His way… least of all a misunderstanding of what Love really means.
I wish this didn’t have to be said…
But in the world today it looks like we must: Notice that in all this discussion about the requirement that I be true to God’s definition of Love – even if that clashes with the definition of love held by people dear to me – nowhere has Jesus given me the license to hate, or even to hurt those people.
No, the requirement is that I speak the Truth, and that I love in Truth. If it is interpreted as hate, then I will suffer. That is fine; perfectly fine… why not? Jesus, who only Loved perfectly, suffered infinitely more than I will ever do.
It bears repeating this way: It is not my job to make life difficult or miserable for those who do not understand God’s Love. That’s not what Jesus came to do.
People sometimes go to these verses:
Matthew 18:15-17 But if thy brother sin against thee, go, reprove him between thee and him alone. If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he do not hear [thee], take with thee one or two besides, that every matter may stand upon the word of two witnesses or of three. But if he will not listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if also he will not listen to the assembly, let him be to thee as one of the nations and a tax-gatherer.
And so, we might use these verses to justify our actions in the name of “tough love”. But we have to be very careful with how we interpret Scripture. Pastor Jan Van Amerongen of Mountain Park Church explained this passage by simply noting: Who is speaking here? Isn’t it Jesus? Ok, how did Jesus treat Gentiles (the nations) and tax-gatherers?
Hmmm… maybe we should ask the Roman Centurion whose slave he healed with a word… Or ask Matthew Levi, or Zacchaeus…
Our calling is to bring the lost sheep back into Jesus’ fold; not to cast them out. It is to teach them how to love God. That is how we love them.