Believing Away What is Seen

Excerpts from a mesmerizing passage of the discourse “Love Hides a Multitude of Sins” in Kierkegaard’s Works of Love:

“Just as one by faith believes the unseen into what is seen, so the one who loves by forgiveness believes away what is seen. Both are faith. Blessed is the believer, he believes what he cannot see; blessed is the one who loves, he believes away that which he indeed can see!

. . . We do not say this as if a person should become self-important by having in his power the ability to forgive another—far from it, because this also is unloving. Indeed, there is a way of forgiving that discernibly and conspicuously increases the guilt instead of diminishing it. Only love has—yes, it seems so jesting, but let us say it this way—only love has sufficient dexterity to take away the sin by means of forgiveness. If I encumber forgiveness (that is, I am reluctant to forgive or make myself important by being able to forgive), no miracle happens. But when love forgives, the miracle of faith happens . . . that what is seen is, by being forgiven, not seen.

. . . Do not say, ‘But the multitude of sins still is actually just as great whether or not the sin is forgiven, because forgiveness neither subtracts nor adds.’ Rather answer the question: Does not the one who unlovingly denies forgiveness increase the multitude of sins—and not only because his irreconcilability becomes one more sin, which it indeed is and to that extent ought to be taken into account? Yet we shall not emphasize this now. But is there not a secret relationship between sin and forgiveness? When a sin is not forgiven, it requires punishment, it cries to people or to God for punishment, but when a sin cries for punishment, it looks entirely different, much greater than when the same sin is forgiven. Is this merely an optical illusion? No, it is actually so. To use an inadequate metaphor, it is no optical illusion that the wound that looked so appalling looks much less appalling the moment the physician has washed and taken care of it, and yet it is the same wound. What, then, does the one do who denies forgiveness? He enlarges the sin, makes it seem greater. Furthermore, forgiveness deprives the sin of life, but to deny forgiveness provides the sin with sustenance. Therefore even if no new sin was added, if the same sin continues the multitude of sins is enlarged. If a sin continues, a new sin is actually added, because sin grows through sin; that a sin continues is a new sin. And this new sin you could have prevented by forgiving in love and taking away the old sin, just as does the one who loves, who hides a multitude of sins.”

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