In one of Søren Kierkegaard’s later works, For Self-Examination, in which he took more direct aim at what he saw as the deficient Christianity of his day, he asks us to consider the following parable.
There was a king who issued a command to all of his subjects. This was a big deal and everyone knew it. They all responded to this serious situation like this:
“A remarkable change comes over them all: they all become interpreters, the officers become authors, every blessed day there comes out an interpretation more learned than the last, more acute, more elegant, more profound, more ingenious, more wonderful, More Charming, and more wonderfully charming.”
If you want a sense of how seriously everyone took the command, just look at the mounting piles of literature exploring the command from all angles. People even began writing reviews and critical pieces on this initial body of literature. Everyone was busy with the king’s command.
“Everything became interpretation—but no one read the royal command with a view to acting in accordance with it.”
Does that sound familiar? They took the command seriously. How so? Not by obeying it, but by writing about it and discussing it.
Keep in mind that Kierkegaard was writing to Danish Christians in the early 1800s. This is a recurring problem for Christians. We take God and his direction for human beings and for his church so seriously that we write books, commentaries, and blogs. Then we start writing books, commentaries, and blogs on those works. Ironically, there are (really helpful!) commentaries on Kierkegaard’s works as well. No one can accuse of us ignoring God’s commands because there’s a huge body of literature in which we work to get. it. right.
Do we imagine that when Jesus told us to love our neighbors he wanted us to write a bunch of books or blog posts about that statement rather than—hear me out—actually loving our actual neighbors? There are many commands in the Bible. But we have a tendency to write, preach, and group-study about them rather than simply obeying them. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t write, preach, or do group studies. It’s simply to ask a more fundamental question: why did God tell us any of this in the first place?“We take God and commands so seriously that we write books, commentaries, and blogs. But is this what it means to take his commands seriously? Do we find ourselves putting his commands into action?”
Kierkegaard finishes the parable by speaking about what the king can and can’t forgive. The king actually turns out to be very gracious. He can probably forgive the fact that people weren’t obeying the command. Even if the people all got together and signed a petition asking the king to be patient with them as they failed to obey the command or even asking him to abolish the command because it was too hard to obey—even then the king could probably forgive them.
But for Kierkegaard, there is an unforgivable sin here: The people decided on their own what it meant to take the command seriously. In other words, when they chose to act as though taking the command seriously meant producing literature and discussion rather than obedience, this was when they went too far.
I’m convicted and challenged by this parable. I need to hear it. Pick any command in Scripture: love your neighbor, weep with those who weep, pray for those who persecute you, preach the gospel, outdo one another in showing love, etc. Maybe we’ll decide to take it seriously. But we also have to allow the king to determine what it means to take it seriously. In Kierkegaard’s parable, you could devote your whole life to the command (by becoming an interpreter or author) and yet never have engaged the command itself. May this not be true of us.
Let’s step outside of the loop of endless commentary and discussion, step away from our apparent need to police each other’s literature on any one of these commands, and take any of these commands that God gives us seriously in the way he desires. By obeying.