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.
“I will give thee rest.” Wonderful! For these words “Come hither to me,” must thus be understood to mean, abide with me, I am that rest, or, to abide with me is rest.
To abide with Christ is rest. Kierkegaard, in this fifth exegesis reflects again on the reality of help-givers in his time. Again using the physician’s example, he reminds his readers that most worldly help is dispensed and then the helper moves on. Like a doctor prescribing a cure, the patient then leaves the doctor’s presence to go and attain and administer the cure.
For Kierkegaard, the notion that the helper IS the help revolutionises our understanding of Christianity. Moving away from the understanding of help as something essentially self-adminstered on a need basis might challenge some church practices. In Kierkegaard’s day of a national church, perhaps persons would interact with it for births, marriages and deaths. Hatch, match and dispatch as some say. Or, during a time of crisis or hardship someone might lean on the church for help. This would be the religious crutch.
But I am getting ahead of myself, speaking of the church. Kierkegaard has not once mentioned the church, his focus is on the person of Jesus and personal interaction with Him. So perhaps there is a tendency to think of God as another helper, another cure to aid with the common life. Like a physician administers the cure to the pox or some such illness, so God is called upon to heal the moral ills of a society and to keep it running smoothly.
No, Kierkegaard seems to react against this. He presents a Jesus who, far from being a busy doctor who prescribes help, is in the same instance the help and the one who gives the help.
But when the Helper is the help, He must remain with the patient all the day long, or the patient with Him. Oh, wonderful! that it is this very Helper who invites all!
One can see where much of the language of contemporary Evangelicalism may have originated. The notion of being close to Jesus? Of being loved by him, loving him? That notion of intimacy? However, I am struggling to understand this truly wonderful narrative in the context of my experience.
Kierkegaard presents a real, tangible, experiential Jesus who offers real help and calls us to real union with himself. I am failing to understand the existential outworking of that notion. Earlier in this post I began to speak of the church. I am tempted to equate the church with the working of Christ. I might even be correct in doing so. But Kierkegaard wants to set Jesus up as a solitary figure on whom all depend for their true help and rest.
This essential truth must precede the expression of it. Jesus must do this work before, for example, the church can reflect it.
Otherwise, Jesus ceases to be a saviour. He ceases to be the one who acts for us, doing that which we cannot do for ourselves. Otherwise he becomes merely an example. Kierkegaard will not allow us to settle there.
No, it seems he expects some real, sensible experience of the manifest work of Jesus to be noticeable in a persons life. He makes Jesus our contemporary, reminding us that all Jesus said and did is spoken to us eternally, not just historically. Yet what can we really expect?
What does, to use Kierkegaard’s language, meeting Jesus really mean? Before I move on with further reflection on Kierkgaard’s Gospel I would like to address this essential issue.
Does he mean the feeling of relief common to many tales of conversion? That is to say, the sense of forgiveness or the ease of guilty feelings?
Or perhaps a sense of comfort derived from the idea that one is not alone in the universe?
Maybe it could be the changes in desire many experience upon conversion to Christianity?
At the moment, I fail to see anything in this exposition of the Gospel beyond a head-trip. If you’ll excuse such a crude term, the best this Gospel can give me in the present, in sensible reality, is a renewed sense of peace and acceptance.
And that is far short of the expectation Kierkegaard places upon Jesus.