Leaves and fruit

Last Tuesday, I mentioned in my blog one of some striking pictures that the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard uses at the beginning of his book Works of Love published in 1847.  He speaks of the ‘hidden life’ of love within us as being in the ‘inward depths, unfathomable, and still has an unfathomable relationship with the whole of existence’.  I spoke then of his image of the lake, but said I would talk of his use of the leaves and fruit on a tree for another time, so let me outline it now.

Kierkegaard begins his thought with the text from the First Letter of John chapter 3 verse 18. which runs, “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth.”  What is lying behind this in Kierkegaard’s mind is the teaching of Jesus: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit.”

What Kierkegaard goes on to say is this:

“The tree is known by its fruits; to be sure, the tree is also known by its leaves, but the fruit is still its essential mark.”

Then he picks it apart in this way:

“How can we better compare [this] love in words and speech than with the leaves of the tree; for words and expressions and the inventions of speech can also be a mark of love, but they are uncertain.  The same words in one person’s mouth can be very significant and reliable, in another’s mouth as the vague whisper of leaves….”

This seems to me to be a very helpful distinction, and keeps us (at the same time) wary of, and grateful for, the importance of words and their impact, but also of the need to discern what is true.  In one of the probably lesser read appointed lessons for today, 1 Peter 1: 17-23, the Apostle speaks of us, “loving one another earnestly from the heart.”   He writes these words amidst verses in which he brings his readers to think about what is lasting, and of depth and is imperishable; and what things are futile, and passing, and which are weighed in silver and gold.  

In these days, in which it seems many people are re-assessing their priorities and seeking the common good and the sources of sustained life and hope, and as Christians dwell upon Christ’s resurrection and the new life that the disciples were embracing, our minds are set in happy places and our prayers maintained even with our restricted opportunities to meet and worship together.

John Mann