Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Love Hides the Multiplicity of Sins

This chapter begins,

The temporal has three times and therefore essentially never is completely nor is completely in any one of the periods; the eternal is. A temporal object can have a multiplicity of varied characteristics; in a certain sense it can be said to have them simultaneously, insofar as in these definite characteristics it is that which it is. But reduplication in itself never has temporal object; as the temporal disappears in time, so also it exists only in its characteristics. If, on the other hand, the eternal is in a man, the eternal reduplicates itself in him in such way that every moment it is in him it is in him in a double mode: in an outward direction and in an inward direction back into itself, but in such a way that it is one and the same, for otherwise it is not reduplication.
The eternal is not known by its characteristics but is its characteristics.
So it is with love.

What love does it is and what it is it does.
As it goes beyond itself (in an outward direction) it is in itself (in an inward direction), simultaneously.
So it says that the lover creates confidence in the other but in so doing he simultaneously creates confidence in himself.
Note the reduplication here: what the lover does, he is or he becomes; what he gives, he is or, more accurately, this he acquires. . . . In this way love is always reduplicated in itself. This also holds when it is stated that love hides the multiplicity of sins.
Now like most things in life when you pay attention to them you find out that there is more and more to them; a greater and greater multiplicity. It is the same way with sin. The multiplicity of sins can become greater and greater. But the one who does not discover this multiplicity, though it may be found, ends up hiding the multiplicity. Our world prizes those who discover, it is a mark of intelligence and ability and so it goes with without saying that "the lover, who discovers nothing, makes a very poor showing in the eyes of the world." We think it is advanced to know the intricacies of evil that lurks even in the purest guise. We maintain our stature as critical and rigorous people by offering, casually, a unique and unexpected example of the corrupted nature of society.
The lover though has, in a sense, a narrowing of vision, "he sees only very little." He does not even discover the mockery that is hurled at him. The lover is like a child placed, for a short time, in den of thieves. The child returns and recounts her time noting all sorts of detail. And yet if one did not know where she was they would also not know that she was among thieves.
What has the child left out; what has the child not discovered? It is the evil. Yet the child's narrative of what he has seen and heard is entirely factual.
(As an aside this quotation is reminder of contemporary approaches to narrative therapy in which the dominant or subjugating narrative is objectified and exposed so that an already present, not created, narrative can be recovered.)
SK creates a relational dynamic in the understanding of evil.
At the basis of all understanding lies first of all an understanding between him who is to understand that which is to be understood. Therefore an understanding of evil (however much one tries to make himself and others think that one can keep himself entirely pure, that there is a pure understanding of evil) nevertheless involves and understanding with evil.
To understand evil is to have a relational understanding with evil. And if one travels further down this road the multiplicity of sins only increases to the point that he discovers sin where he knows it does not exist. Earlier SK uses the example of a natural scientist who with increased technology and research is limitless in discovery. It could be said here that it is the technology of evil that discovers evil and this to the point that person becomes himself the technology.
SK returns to the child who takes delight in peek-a-boo. But the lover is one who in plain site cannot see something as though it is hidden. In this way the "lover, who is worthy of honour is, as it were, deranged."
But there are times when the individual cannot avoid seeing the sin. In this case the lover hides it "in silence, in a mitigating explanation, in forgiveness." The argument is that in this case the sin remains. But SK's point is that in speaking the sin the lover increases the multiplicity of sins. In this way the lover can do her part by decreasing the multiplicity. The section seems to be speaking comparatively. SK's real concern at the start of this movement is the gossip who revels in knowing and spreading the sin of other.
SK then shifts to the second part of the statement that the lover holds silent in a mitigating explanation. Explanation is that which defines. But explanation is not absolute, variation always exists; explanation is a choice. And so the lover has the choose to hold the most mitigating explanation. Here imagination comes into play. SK asks whether we could not grow with increasing joy and passion in the task of uncovering good intention as much as we revel in those who break down the witness to expose their guilt. It is easy to criticize this position and it is a little weaker than other accounts but it is always set in the context of eternity. We fear that if people don't know their faults then they will continue in them and abuse or mistreat others but for all those who understand eternity or eternally no one is able to fool or deceive the lover and so the task is to create more lovers (read perhaps 'individual') not expose more sinners.
SK concludes acknowledging that silence does not actually take away from the multiplicity and mitigating explanations may remove some things misunderstood to be sin. But there will remain that which we remains which we cannot ignore. SK shifts the conversation towards things seen and unseen.
Forgiveness takes the forgiven sin away. This is a remarkable thought, as it is the thought of faith; for faith always relates itself to what is not seen. I believe that the seen came into being on the basis of that which cannot be seen. . . . The unseen is in this that forgiveness takes away that which nevertheless is; the unseen is in this that what is seen nevertheless is not seen, for when it is seen, its not being seen is manifestly unseen. The lover sees the sin which he forgives, but he believes that forgiveness takes it away. . . . Just as one by faith believes the unseen in the seen, so the lover by forgiveness believes the seen away. Both are faith. Blessed is the man of faith; he believes what he cannot see. Blessed is the lover; he believes away what nevertheless he can see!
But the question is still raised whether any real difference occurs in forgiveness. SK responds by saying that in one direction after forgiveness the wound of sin may be the same but it is now cleaned and dressed (it will heal). Though without forgiveness sin grows on sin and the wound grows and spreads. This is helpful in that there is no magic here though there is faith. Something decisive in the order of things has happened though in that very moment the wound may be exactly the same.
Finally SK turns to love as being able to prevent sin from coming into being. Though the sinful person may be indeed sin against love in rage or bitterness, "yet in the long run sin cannot hold out against love." There is no greater restraint and no greater rehabilitation for sin than love. Here again, though SK does not use the image, Christ is the pattern. Theology is the basis for this position. I have experienced many times when a loving disposition stifled the actuality of sin. But there are times when love cannot be endured or accepted by another and one can be injured even to death. And this is Christ. But again in the long run sin cannot hold out against love. Sin leads to death but love overcomes the grave.
This chapter came across as the most practical for me.
1. Learn to live as one (the child) who simply does not see sin.
2. When you see sin do not spread it and explain it in the most gracious manner.
3. Forgive sin, though it changes nothing and everything in the moment.

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