Kierkegaard: Works of Love

Posted: 26th August 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

I recently ordered and received a used copy of Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love on the basis of several recommendations, including these Amazon.com reviews:

_Works of Love_ by Kierkegaard is the most uplifting, encouraging, and hope-restoring book I have ever read. Kierkegaard’s statement that “the greatest act of love anyone can ever achieve is to mourn for someone who is dead” is a statement I have used to guide myself through innumerable existential crises and has given me hope in my darkest hours. The wisdom contained in this book is an essential tool in dealing with the premature and untimely death of a loved one, and restoring your hope and faith in God even in the face of tragedy. Kierkegaard’s sense of empathy and morality is unsurpassed by any other philosopher living or dead, and I will also go so far as to call him a saint.

Here it is. How to apply the love of God, as taught to us by Jesus, in the reality of daily life. No fancy formulas here, no clever platitudes, just the truth. A tremendous reconcilitation of the supposed contradiction between works and faith as the basis of salvation, Kierkegaard shows that in fact the letter to the Galatians explains that the essence of Christianity’s message is faith, working through love. Hence, “Works of Love”. This is Kierkegaards’ magnum opus. Not for the faint of heart nor anyone looking for an easy answer, yet amazingly simple and honest. Completely vindicates Soren Kierkegaard from the charge by narrow traditionalists ( most of whom have never read anything he wrote ) that he was not a genuine Christian, perhaps not even a Christian at all. If you wish to follow Christ, follow Kierkegaard. He is a trustworthy guide.

Kierkegaard recognizes that love is a work, and not merely a state of heart or a chattering point. This notion of work is anathema to “Pop Protestantism,” which was Kierkegaard’s mortal enemy. He commented that the obsession with “grace” had turned Christianity upside-down, and had caused men to try and cheat God out of his religion. This is another way of saying that faith without works is dead.

My wife’s family, and thus mine as well, is facing the impending death of a loved one who is far too young. As cancer consumes and devours her body, I am faced with the echoes of my mother’s death 13 years ago and reminded that our greatest works of love are rooted in the living out of our faith in Christ. I am not an empathetic person by nature and find this part of “working out my salvation” insanely difficult. I don’t know whether I will find consolation or inspiration or something else in Kierkegaard, but hope that his words are not a barren wilderness, but rich soil that bears fruit.

  1. Once upon a time, when I was still able to do such things on account of the powers of my earliest youth, I taught myself enough Danish to slowly follow along the text of Kierkegaard’s works with the aid of a dictionary and a grammar. I’m afraid that a decade later I have forgotten most of it, but Kierkegaard remains an enormously significant influence in my intellectual (and indeed, spiritual) development. I truly hope that you will enjoy visiting with SK, and that you will find the experience to be transformative.

  2. Kevin Sam says:

    ES, my sympathies for family’s time of difficulty and grief are with you. SK said:”The work of love in recollecting one who is dead is thus a work of the most unselfish, the freest, the most faithful love.  Therefore, go out and practice it; recollect the one who is dead and just in this way learn to love the living unselfishly, freely, faithfully…. Recollect the one who is dead; then in addition to the blessing that is inseparable from this work of love you will also have the best guidance for rightly understanding life: that it is our duty to love the people we do not see but also those we do see.” (SK, Works of Love, ed. Hong, 358).

  3. Greg says:

    Man, death to those who are too young is a terrible thing.  Friends at our church just recently lost their 16 month old.  I felt like I couldn’t escape the weight of the fall- never really realized the grace that God gives in relief from that idea. I hope that Kierkegaard can help.

  4. Esteban – thank you, I’ve heard lots about SK, but never read his work. I am looking forward to it.

    Kevin – thank you for the complete quote and for your sympathy – I really do appreciate it.

    Greg – I can’t fathom the death of a baby. I just can’t. “Too young” in this case is my wife’s brother’s wife, a handful or two years older than me, but she’ll leave two boys less than 10 years old. She’s been given no more than a month or two to live… I lost my mom to cancer in 1995, which softens the blow somewhat having been through it, but it still tears you apart.

  5. David Ker says:

    Sorry to hear about this. Kevin Sam’s quote meant something to me as well.