To begin any discussion of Works of Love with anything other than Kierkegaard’s own prayer, with which he prefaced the work, would be to neglect his own account of the motivation and the spirit with which he wrote the thoughts contained throughout the rest of the text:
How could love be rightly discussed if You were forgotten, O God of Love, source of all love in heaven and on earth, You who spared nothing but gave all in love, You who are love, so that one who loves is what he is only by being in You! How could love properly be discussed if You were forgotten, You who made manifest what love is, You, our Saviour and Redeemer, who gave Yourself to save all! How could love be rightly discussed if You were forgotten, O Spirit of Love, You who take nothing for Your own but remind us of that sacrifice of love, remind the believer to love as he is loved, and his neighbour as himself! O Eternal Love, You who are everywhere present and never without witness wherever you are called upon, be not without witness in what is said here about love or about the works of love. There are only a few acts which human language specifically and narrowly calls works of love, but heaven is such that no act can be pleasing there unless it is an act of love–sincere in self-renunciation, impelled by love itself, and for this very reason claiming no compensation.
It is significant, I believe, that SK begins his examination of Christian love with an emphasis on a proper view of Love itself–of the persons of the Trinity and of love’s only true and proper source in God. He urges us not to forget this source, hidden though it may be (see Ch. I), for it is only from this deeper spring that any true well of love could form in us, and it is only in constant remembrance of this source that we could ever hope to be capable of becoming aligned properly with the Christian duty to love.
This emphasis is immediately supplemented by a call to recognize that Christianity does not merely demand the works of love that we often recognize as such. To put it another way, works of love are not confined to acts of donating money to charity, holding doors for ladies, maintaining a generally kind disposition, or letting someone else have the last cupcake. Love, however, in its infinite breadth, also does not exclude these acts. Rather, Christianly understood, every act ought to be a work of love.
SK’s Foreword similarly addresses this concept, which he will flesh out in greater detail throughout each chapter of the work:
These are Christian reflections; therefore they are not about love but about the works of love. These are reflections on the works of love–not as if hereby all love’s works were mentioned and described–far from it, nor even as if a single one described were described once and for all–God be praised, far from it! That which in its vast abundance is essentially inexhaustible is also essentially indescribable in its smallest act, simply because essentially it is everywhere wholly present and essentially cannot be described.
Again, SK touches on love’s hiddenness–a main theme in the work’s first chapter. But more immediately relevant to an understanding of the work as a whole is this vastness with which Christian love ought to overwhelm our lives. If SK’s interpretations of Scripture’s call to love are correct, then Christians shall love, and shall love in such a way that this duty influences every act.
There is so much to be said about what that looks like, and just as SK admits his utter inability to provide a comprehensive account of Christian love, so must I admit my inability even to describe Kierkegaard’s account comprehensively, much less to understand all that Scripture commands in respect to love.
But, as the Foreward also instructs, one ought not to do Christianity a disservice, neither by overcomplicating nor by oversimplifying its decrees. And just as SK pleads with God to make fruitful his explorations of this central Christian call, so must I trust to God for clarity as I seek to preserve my thoughts (and no doubt occasionally the thoughts of those astute and humble Christian companions with whom I have been struggling together to understand and practice Christian love and community) on a work that has borne out more significant changes in my life and my mindset than any written work other than Scripture itself.
If you are reading the book or just this blog, or if you have simply also been touched by this beautiful book or the thoughts therein, please feel free to challenge and to supplement my feeble attempts at communicating its contents. 🙂