We are looking at Mark Tietjen’s excellent book, Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians (IVP Academic, 2016) and we’ve come to his last chapter (not to be confused with the conclusion); which is entitled, “The Life of Christian Love.” But love is a big topic, and so we began our conversation by looking at twelve quotes from Kierkegaard on love in our previous post; and today, we conclude our primer by looking at his parable of the two artists.  

Here’s the big question: What is the difference between requiring love of the neighbor and finding something to love in the neighbor (I should mention that I found this parable in Thomas Oden’s book, Parables of Kierkegaard, Princeton University press, 1978).  Here’s the parable. . . .

“Suppose there were two artists, and the one said, ‘I have traveled much and seen much in the world, but I have sought in vain to find a man worthy of painting. I have found no face with such perfection of beauty that I could make up my mind to paint it. In every face I have seen one or another fault.  Therefore, I seek in vain.’ Would this indicate that this artist was a great artist?

“On the other hand, the second artist said, ‘Well, I do not pretend to be a real artist; neither have I traveled in foreign lands. But remaining in the little circle of men who are closest to me, I have not found a face so insignificant or so full of faults that I still could not discern in it a more beautiful side and discover something glorious. Therefore, I am happy in the art I practice. It satisfies me without me making any claim in being an artist.’ Would this not indicate that precisely this one was the artist, one who, by bringing a certain something with him, found then and there what the much-traveled artist did not find anywhere in the world, perhaps because he did not bring a certain something with him! Consequently, the second of the two was the artist.

“Would it not be sad, too, if what is intended to beautify life could only be a curse upon it, so that art, instead of making life beautiful for us, only fastidiously discovers that not one of us is beautiful.  Would it not be sadder still, and still more confusing, if love also should be only a curse because its demand could only make it evident that none of us is worth loving, that all of us are flawed. Shouldn’t the love in us recognize, even in our act of loving, some lovableness in everyone we encounter? And by loving them for that, shouldn’t we be able to actually love all of them.”

And there it is: If we are marked by God’s love, then we should see that everyone we encounter has some quality in them that is lovable and that, by loving them for that goodness as a starting point, we should be able to grow in our love for them and love all of them. But it all starts with how we view the people around us: As unworthy recipients of our love or as flawed subjects that we choose to love anyhow. We end with this quote from Anais Nin: 

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.

Now, we are ready for Tietjen and for Kierkegaard and for love.  See you next week!