I’ve once again been reflecting and reading through Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. In it, he discusses the duty Christians have to Love one another. This is the greatest commandment, and one which should be elevated above all other instructions.
Kierkegaard spends a great amount of time explaining his discourse on Love. It should be noted that Kierkegaard’s discourse is constantly focused on action – how we should live Love. For Kierkegaard, Christianity is not merely a set of doctrinal claims that must be believed. For one to truly be a Christian, one must live out Christianity like Christ did.
I think Kierkegaard’s discourse is important for our time, as tension in and surrounding Christianity continues to heighten. Pick just one topic of the gauntlet of controversial issues – political affiliation, same-sex marriage, gender equality – and one will rapidly enter a conversation that had dissolved into resentment and division, features inherently inconsistent with a Love that should unite.
The reflection of Love that Kierkegaard undertakes is significant for our time. He says that the call to Love our neighbor implies we are to love everyone in which we are in close proximity. Additionally, he affirms the scriptural endorsement that “love hides a multitude of sins.” When these endorsements are considered in light of Matthew 7:3, ” Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” we must reconsider the manner by which we Love others, and more importantly, judge others. Kierkegaard invokes an analogy of a detective in Works of Love that deserves consideration.
A detective is one charged to find something, a clue or piece of evidence, of wrongdoing. The detective searches out, investigates until something of significance, even if minute, is found. In essence, the detective is one who actively searches for the speck of sawdust in the other, and then uses such speck to bring an indictment against the other.
I’ve heard many sermons invoking Matthew 7:3 and the general moral of the narrative is said to refrain from judging another person’s shortcomings because we have many of our own to reconcile. While this is surely an appropriate interpretation, there lies a deeper meaning often overlooked. When considering that Love hides a multitude of sins, we ought to recognize that our primary action is to Love, not to search for areas of imperfection. Kierkegaard writes, “Let the detectives labour to discover guilt and crime; the rest of us are enjoined to be neither judges nor detectives – God rather has called us to love, consequently, to the hiding of the multitude of sins” (WOL, 272).
Kierkegaard’s interpretation excuses Christians from the unnecessary task of searching out the sins and shortcomings of our neighbors who we are called to Love. The point of Matthew 7:3 seems not only to examine our inner selves for our own sin, but to advise that we ought not to seek out the shortcomings of others. To do so would be to interfere with the duty to follow the joined command, Love God – Love others. As Kierkegaard writes,
The emphasis is not on loving the perfections one sees in a person, but on loving the person one sees, whether or not one sees perfections or imperfections in the person … Christian love grants the beloved all his imperfections and weaknesses and in all his changes remains with him, loving the person it sees (WOL, 169).
Elsewhere, Kierkegaard adds the following profound comment on loving others, “For to be able to love a man in spite of his weaknesses and errors and imperfections is not perfect love; it is rather to be able to find him lovable in spite of and together with his weaknesses and errors and imperfections” (WOL, 156). The distinction between what Love is and is not is subtle here, but it is significant. They key word is with. Christian Love calls for “with-ness.” We see example after example of this in the Gospels of Jesus entering relationship and being with others, and precisely the “other” of society. He goes up to Zaccheus, he stays with the woman at the well, he heals the sick who society flees. Jesus is not loving in spite of imperfections, he is Loving With imperfections.
Perhaps the most beautiful of example of Love and with-ness is Jesus’ friendship with Peter precisely at the moment of Peter’s betrayal. The friendship that existed between these two is deep, and so Peter’s public denial of closeness with Jesus ought to have cut deeply. Yet we see the ability of perfect Love immediately restore this friendship. Kierkegaard writes of Jesus,
Christ’s love for Peter was so boundless that in loving Peter he accomplished loving the person one sees. He did not say, “Peter must change first and become another man before I can love him again.” No, just the opposite, he said, “Peter is Peter, and I love him; love if anything, will help him become a better man.”
Imagine a world in which this Love was commonplace. We like to think that it exists in our churches, and surely we get glimpses of it. Yet our times provide evidence that this is often not the case, especially of those marginalized. What might the world look like if Christ’s model of Loving With was embodied more often. Might there be more unity? Might there be more restoration? Might there be more justice? It seems likely that each of these would be the case, because they are qualities of Love we connect with Christ’s Love. It is this Love we are called to live, for this Love is one that stands with each other in failure and shortcoming. This Love embraces and precludes the exclusion we so often see in religious communities.
It is natural to hold others at arms length when we seek out the speck in others. Such is the case of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. Instead of learning from Christ’s Love, they accuse him of breaking commandments, of disregarding the norms of society. They place their own stipulations above the command to Love, and thereby reject Jesus. In our time, we are quick to criticize the Pharisees, yet it seems like we act more like them than Jesus. Indeed we have instructions on how to live, yet these instructions all fall under the command to Love. When we place our expectations of living on others, we make our conditions greater than Christ’s call to Love. So do not even look for the speck of sawdust. Use that energy to stand in Love With the other.