Someone encountered W.C. Fields on his deathbed reading a Bible. When the person asked if he had gotten religion, Fields replied, “I’m looking for a loophole.”
Most of us prefer looking for loopholes to facing hard truths. Not Sören Kierkegaard.
When he writes about Christ, he not only takes Christ’s words at face value, he takes them to heart and applies them to reality no matter how severely they may insult or outrage.
Works of Love is essentially a treatise on Matthew 22:39: “… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The book’s premise is, when Christ commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is commanding us to “love without distinction.”
Note my repetition of “command”. The verse reads, we “shall”, not “should,” love our neighbor.
As the parable of “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) clarifies, our neighbor is whomever we encounter in need. Since all human beings are in need of something, that’s quite a chore.
“The Good Samaritan” also clarifies that the way we are to love is through action.
A couple years ago, Pam left Zöe and me.* I won’t presume to challenge, justify, or even pretend to understand her reasons. But I will note that it’s no cinch trying to do justice to raising a wonderful daughter as a single dad with only a modest income and with two demanding jobs. Sometimes, I was inclined toward resentment. Kierkegaard helped plenty.
Each time Pam showed up, I would remind myself that regardless of any resentment I might feel, I was obligated to act toward her in a loving way. In other words, to treat her with kindness, generosity, and concern.
Hold on, I thought, she did me … Loophole.
Yeah, but if I treat her well, aren’t I condoning … Loophole.
A most unexpected and peculiar revelation came out of this practice. I began to see that resentment fades in light of a call to action. I suppose resentment inspires counter-resentment, which prompts an escalation of resentment, and so on.
But even beyond the interpersonal dynamic, I began to experience a strange release from resentment, a sense of freedom that felt like a gift or blessing.
Score one for the theory that the truth will set us free.
* Here’s a story about Zöe and her mom and dad in lighter times.