Come Hither! Kierkegaard's Gospel #1

Come hither to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, I will give you rest.

Over the next few days I’m going to be exploring Søren Kierkegaard’s exposition of the above verse as he writes in the opening chapter of his book Training in Christianity. While perhaps I wouldn’t read scripture in the same way he does, I have enjoyed his exploration of the call of Christ and the Gospel. Kierkegaard breaks down the verse and writes a short exposition after each point, and that is the pattern I plan to follow in these posts.

“Come hither!” There is nothing wonderful in the fact that when one is in danger and in need of help, perhaps of speedy, instant help, he shouts, “Come hither!” Neither is it wonderful that a quack shouts out “Come hither! I heal all diseases.” Ah, in the instance of the quack there is only too much truth in the falsehood that the physician has need of the sick man. “Come hither, all ye that can pay for healing at an exorbitant price–or at least for physic. Here is medicine for everybody…who can pay. Come hither, come hither!”

For the contemporary Brit it might be something of a difficult cultural leap to imagine a society without free access to healthcare for all. However this is the world Kierkegaard inhabits in the 19th century. True, it was a world of rapid scientific discovery and development, crawling out of the dark ages of traditional remedies and folk healing, yet these things came at a price. Without a recognised standard, one might suppose a physician could act dishonestly for his own profit.

Of course, Big Pharma today would never do such a thing.

No, the tragic reality is that much of the help we seek is dispensed to us, ultimately, by self interested corporations and individuals whose first loyalty is to the bottom line, not the flat liner on the hospital bed.

Kierkegaard goes on to reflect on a familiar circumstance to many of us: That those who are truly of any good are always the hardest to find and gain access to. Perhaps if we want any real help we must wait for it and constantly plead our case. When by chance DO final gain an audience, we must cough up a vast fee.

Then, as now, we experience a world where true help is hard to come by and difficult to access. Our experience tells us that help is never on the way, that healing comes at a high price and our hopes are tied to the egos, whims and goals of personalities far larger than our own.

It is in this instance we hear Christ calling, and as Kierkegaard puts it:

He Himself that goes about calling them, almost beseeching them, says, “Come hither!”… He does not wait for people to come to Him, but He comes of His own accord, uncalled for–for He indeed it is that calls them, that offers help–and what help!

One of the dominant chords one hears in Kierkegaard’s voice is that of the idea of contemporaneousness. That is to say, that we know Jesus here and now and walk with Him just as the first disciples did. So when we hear Jesus say “Come hither”, we do not merely reflect back on his invitation to a distant and dead generation, but hear it as OUR invitation and indeed encounter Jesus as he comes to us, issuing forth his call.

It is challenging to bring this narrative into the realm of sensible, experiential reality. Indeed one could criticise this language of being vague and leaving little excluded from what counts and Christ’s saving help. I am confident, still, that the answer will present itself as we continue reading.

This opening exposition warms me still. I know myself to be helpless. I know I do not live up to the love I am obliged the share with my neighbour and I am painfully conscious of my own shortfalls in my personality and maturity. Most of all, I cannot shake the conviction of a morally aware Other, whose piercing gaze I so fear.

Kierkegaard’s Gospel might be the remedy to my conflict, to my great sickness.

Oh! Wonderful, wonderful! That the one who has help to give is the one who says, “Come hither!” What love is this!

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