Let’s talk about love. More than that, let’s have a quiz about love or at least about song titles that contain the word, “love.” As you can see, I have removed a key word or two from these popular titles. Your task is to simply to fill in the blank(s). Here’s a sample question: Elton John: “____ ___ ____ the love tonight?” (I know! Giving you the artist is a big hint!). If you said, “Can You Feel,” you are ready to take the quiz. If you said something else, skip the quiz and go directly (but sadly) to the actual post. Let’s begin.
- Queen: “_______ _____ ____ Called Love”
- The Beatles: “All _____ _____ ____ Love”
- The Everly Brothers: “_____, ____ Love”
- Adele: “Send My Love (____ ____ ____ ____)”
- Taylor Swift: “Love _______”
- Bon Jovi: “You Give Love ___ ____ ____”
- Foreigner: “I Want ____ ____ What Love ___”
- Lady Gaga: “______ Love”
- The Black Eyed Peas: “______ ____ the Love”
- Beyoncé: “_______ In Love”
- Barry White: “_____ _____ ____ of Your Love”
- Demi Lovato: “I Love _____”
- The Doors: “Love Her ____”
- Selena Gomez: “______ _____ Love”
- Ed Sheeran: “_____ ___ Love”
Here’s something I am sure you already know. I really love Mark Tietjen’s, “Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians” (IVP Academic, 2016). It is a great read, and it makes Kierkegaard’s ideas clear and succinct. So far, we’ve talked about all sorts of topics, including philosophy, Jesus, the human self, pastors, parables and our Christian witness. And now, we come to the last chapter of the book which is entitled, “The Life of Christian Love.”
Now, here’s something I bet you didn’t know (besides missing words in song titles): Kierkegaard wrote a 400-plus-page-book solely on the topic of love which he aptly entitled, Works of Love. Several of the quotes we used two weeks ago in our post were taken from this work, including this one:
“With respect to love, we speak continually about perfection and the perfect person. With respect to love, Christianity also speaks continually about perfection and the perfect person. Alas, but we men talk about finding the perfect person in order to love him. Christianity speaks about being the perfect person who limitlessly loves the person he sees.”
It is clear that love was far more than simply a footnote in Kierkegaard’s theology. The truth is that it was an essential component. For Kierkegaard, there is no Christianity without loving God and loving our neighbor. But that may raise more questions than it answers. For instance, consider the problem of hypocrisy. Now remember, not all hypocrisy is the same. There is the hypocrisy where the person knows very well what he is doing. He is intentionally deceiving his marks, but they know nothing of his deception. For him, it is all an act. For them, they are being conned. Then, there is the hypocrisy where the actual person has no idea he is guilty of anything, let alone hypocrisy. But while he may be self-deceived into thinking he is righteous and good, everyone else can see right through him. He is two-faced; and in everyone else’s opinion, he rarely practices what he preaches. Then, there is a third type. If our first type is knowingly undertaken by a con artist, and our second is unknowingly performed by a self-deceived scoundrel, then the third form of hypocrisy happens where everyone believes that the person is an upright guy who is only trying to do good. But when good deeds are done with selfish and egotistical motives, we are guilty of hypocrisy. If I feed the poor only to win the local humanitarian of the year award, then I have done nothing virtuous whatsoever. We might even say that, in this case, my righteousness is nothing but filthy rags. In short, our motives matter; and if we do something, even if we do something really good, but our motives are tainted with selfishness, self-centeredness and greed, then we are guilty of hypocrisy. So, you can intentionally deceive people and be a hypocrite. You can say one thing and do another and be a hypocrite. Or you can do good things with bad motives and be a hypocrite. In short, there are lots of ways you can be a hypocrite.
And what does all of this have to do with Kierkegaard? If God commands us to love him and love our neighbor (Mt. 22:37-40), and if this twin command is the defining mark of Christian ethics (and without which one cannot rightfully claim to be a Christ follower), and if the mark of true Christianity is not simply in knowing about these commands, but in actually doing them, then how can we escape the charge of hypocrisy? If God commands me to love my enemy, I know that is something I do not want to do; and so to do it, I become a hypocrite. I am acting like a loving person, but I know I am not (example number one above). And if I don’t want to be loving, but feel compelled to do so because it is God’s command, then I am also a hypocrite (I am loving for the wrong reason, example number three above). And if love, to be true love, it must be freely given, then anytime it is commanded, it is not true love; and again I am a hypocrite (I am simply going through the motions that I do not, in my heart of hearts, want to go through, again, example number one above). And if I acknowledge God’s call on us to love him and to love our neighbors, but don’t do it, I am also a hypocrite (example number two above,) even though it seems impossible to do so. And if I act lovingly to most people, but refuse to love this one person because they are extremely annoying, then again, I am a hypocrite. There seems to be no escape. If I obey God’s command, I end up a hypocrite; and if I don’t obey God’s command, I end up a hypocrite. But maybe a well-intentioned hypocrite is better than a disciple who refuses to follow the most important of the king’s commands. But then again, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. I fear there is no way out.
Kierkegaard had a similar concern. And so, he argued for five ways of looking at love that, he believed, circumvented the charge of hypocrisy.
First, he believed that the concept of loving one’s neighbor is radically different from the world’s conception of love. Tietjen writes:
“We might call this Kierkegaard’s ‘uniqueness thesis’ insofar as he believes (1) the Christian view of love is unique, is ‘one of a kind’; and therefore (2), it could not arise in any human heart. The implication is that the very idea of Christian love, not to mention its embodiment in our lives, is always of divine origin.”
And if only God can produce his love in me, then whenever I love my neighbor, it is not me, it’s God at work through me. And God at work through me is not a hypocritical act.
Second, Kierkegaard argues that since God created us in his image and since God dwells in trinity, since God dwells in relationship, so we must also be deeply relational creatures. In fact, our ultimate fulfilment of our humanity can only be found in resting in a relationship with God (think Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”) and with others. Tietjen writes:
“Kierkegaard believes with Scripture that the task of becoming the self that God created one to become is impossible in a social vacuum. We are not created to be islands, and so we cannot flourish in our own self-enclosed worlds. The process of individual human flourishing includes flourishing relationships with others: if I have not love, I have nothing.”
But here’s the problem. Instead of choosing to love God, instead of choosing to love others, we choose to pursue our own selfish objectives. And when we pursue things like career, money, power, or fame, we fall way short of God’s design for us and will fail to flourish. None of these things reproduce the image of God in us. But since I am predisposed to pursue these things and since I do not naturally or joyfully love others people (even though they also are made in God’s image and cry out for relationships to flourish), God must command me to love them. And while that seems patently wrong (How can God command me to love others without me becoming a hypocrite in the process? And how can being forced to love someone even be considered genuine love?), Kierkegaard would disagree.
See, Kierkegaard would like to argue (third) that Christian love does not consist in our feeling loving toward another person (that is a modern idea), but in our acting loving toward another person. Christian love is not a feeling for someone; it is an action bestowed on someone. Sure, there must be emotions involved, but Jesus’ command is not, first of all, a call to feel a certain way toward my neighbor, but to act a certain way. And we are back to my favorite Kierkegaard quote from two weeks ago:
“Men think that it is impossible for a human being to love his enemies, for enemies are hardly able to endure the sight of one another. Well, then, shut your eyes—and your enemy looks just like your neighbor.”
And while that sounds wrong—that we should divorce our actions from our feelings—Kierkegaard, following Aristotle, believes that, by acting properly, over time the emotional side will catch up. By doing right, we will eventually feel right so that one day, our love will be comprised of both proper action and emotion.
Fourth, Kierkegaard will go on and suggest that the love command is only provisional. Yes, Jesus commands us to love. John 13:34 makes this clear. There we read: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” But that command morphs into a proposal by the time we get to 1 John 4:7: “Beloved, let us love one another.” Tietjen again:
“For the mature Christian who less and less seeks his or her own gain over others’ and whose character is more and more rooted in love, the command to love becomes unnecessary because the self’s desires and will have been transformed.”
Think of it this way. We “force” our children when they are very young to say thank you; but when they are older, they embrace the principle behind the command because they understand what it means to be thankful. As a result, they no longer need to be commanded. Paul commands husbands to love their wives, but shortly after we got married, I no longer needed Paul’s command. Everything in me wanted me to love her. So it is with God’s command to us. Perhaps, we will start with the command, but that slowly fades into the background as we grow in love, in faith and in Christ.
Last, when we first choose to love someone, we do so because there is something that attracts us to them. There is something in them that draws us to them, something that is attractive to us. It is at this point that Kierkegaard makes another awkward claim. He writes:
“Christianity certainly knows far better than any poet what love is and what it means to love. For this very reason it also knows what perhaps escapes the poets, that the love they celebrate is secretly self-love.”
I love my wife because there is something in her that resembles me or gratifies me in some way. It is this idea that led Aristotle to define the “friend” as “the other I.” But there is something else here. Not only am I drawn to those I love, but I am also attracted to who I am when I am with them. Suffice it to say, when I am with them, I feel a certain way about myself that makes me feel great. It sounds strange to say, but it is true: when I am with my family, I feel so good about myself, so happy within myself, and so overjoyed in that moment that I become fully myself with them. But that is human love. Christian love is different.
If human love sees the friend as the “other I,” Christian love perceives the friend as the “first you.” And Christ calls me to put “you” first (that’s the essence of love). And when I do not “love” you to make me happy or to get something from you, then I am free to see you for who you really are. Again, when I see you only through the lens of the “other I,” I can fall into a kind of narcissism that only seeks to get my needs and desires met. But when I see you as the “first you,” then I can bestow upon you dignity and honor and respect because I no longer see you through what I want in this relationship, but on who you are in God. Tietjen goes on:
“Christian love then seems paradoxical: on the one hand one loves the neighbor based on his or her similarity to ourselves (the ‘other I.’). Yet, on the other hand, one loves the neighbor in light of all of his or her uniqueness and differences—distinct traits that need not suit me or my preferences. Neighbor love replaces self-love with self-denial, thereby allowing the neighbor to become the self he or she was created to become.”
Just like above where the command started us off on the right foot so that we could grow out of it, so it is here. We start off seeing our neighbor in light of what attracts us to them—our similarities and shared experiences—and we are drawn to them because they are an “other I.” But Christian love calls us to go beyond the neighbor as the “other I,” and see them as the “first you,” a person created by God who is very different from me, who I am to love, not because they are like me, but because they are different and because God has made them different.
Is love that God produces in us hypocritical? No. Is following in the way of love when we are just learning how to love hypocritical? I don’t think so. If love is more of an action than an emotion and if the goal is to blend both the action and the emotion together by constantly practicing the act of loving our neighbor, then can love be hypocritical? No. We may not love perfectly, but our goal is always to grow in love. Is a command that is designed to set us off on the right course with hopes that it soon will become unnecessary and obsolete hypocritical? Absolutely not. And is love all about seeing people not only as the “other I,” but also as the “first you” hypocritical—in other words, is love all about denying ourselves and giving ourselves first to you for your sake—does that reek of hypocrisy? Not at all. And in loving like this, if we discover that we relish loving others because it fills us with gratitude and joy and goodness, is that hypocritical? I can’t see how. So, not only is love not boastful or proud or self-seeking, it is also not hypocritical. Kierkegaard said it this way:
“The commandment is that you shall love, but when you understand life and yourself, then it is as if you should not need to be commanded, because to love human beings is still the only thing worth living for; without this life you really do not live.”
En Garde with Kierkegaard
At the end of every post in this series, I want to drive home a few points by asking a few questions and giving you at least one great Kierkegaard quote to ponder.
- Are you a hypocrite? Give an explanation of your answer.
- Which of the three types of hypocrisy are you most susceptible to committing? Why do you think this is?
- In your opinion, is love an action, an emotion or a choice? Why?
- To follow Jesus’ command, do you have to love everyone as your neighbor or just be moving in that direction? Is it the actual work that you do or is it the thought that counts?
- Since God has always dwelt together in relationship within the Trinity, how should we view other people in our world? How should this theology shape our marriages? Our families? Our friendships? Our acquaintances?
- Is Christian love different from regular love? How so?
- How can you become more loving towards the people God puts in your path this week?
And two quotes to ponder:
“The best defense against hypocrisy is love.”
“If mistrust can actually see something as less than it is, then love also can see something as greater than it is.”
More love next week! But before I go, here are the quiz answers. Feel the love!
- Queen: “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
- The Beatles: “All You Need is Love”
- The Everly Brothers: Bye, Bye Love”
- Adele: “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”
- Taylor Swift: “Love Story”
- Bon Jovi: “You Give Love a Bad Name”
- Foreigner: “I Want to Know What Love Is”
- Lady Gaga: “Stupid Love”
- The Black Eyed Peas: “Where Is the Love”
- Beyoncé: “Crazy in Love”
- Barry White: “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love”
- Demi Lovato: “I Love Me”
- The Doors: “Love Her Madly”
- Selena Gomez: “Same Old Love”
- Ed Sheeran: “Give Me Love”
If you got better than 7, you’re better than me!