“What is Required in Order to Derive True Benediction From Beholding Oneself in the Mirror of the Word?
“First of all, what is required is that thou must not look at the mirror, not behold the mirror, but must see thyself in the mirror.”
At this point, Kierkegaard is getting to what the Word is supposed to do to one when it is read: specifically, what does this passage in James say the Word is supposed to do when it is read. He explains this by referring to “reading and reading”:
Thus the lover [who had received a letter] had made a distinction between reading and reading, between reading the dictionary and reading the letter from the lady love.
This means that when we read the Word, we must not treat the Word as the object and we the subject in control: rather, the Word is the subject and we are the object being examined. — This is not bare subjectivity of meaning — this does not mean that there are thousand “meanings” in the text and thus all ‘readings’ are equally valid. It would be easy to understand Kierkegaard as advocating some sort of hyper-reader-response theory:
So the lover made a distinction, as regards this letter from his beloved, between reading and reading; moreover, he understood how to read in such a way that, if there was a desire contained in the letter, one ought to begin at once to fulfill it, without wasting a second.
Think now of God’s Word. When thou readest God’s Word eruditely — we do not disparage erudition, far from it — but remember that when thou does read God’s Word eruditely, with a dictionary & c., thou are not reading God’s Word …
There are words on the page, that is true. But the reading does not stop at understanding the words: the words are there to do something to the reader. The one who reads the lover’s letter is not merely engaged in an intellectual exercise; the reading is undergone to change the reader.
There is a “point” to reading the Word:
And if there is a desire, a commandment, an order, then (remember the lover!), then be off at once to do accordingly.
To which one may object, but what of all the obscure and difficult passages. Kierkegaard answers brilliantly: well there are many things you do understand. Tell you what: do all the things which you in fact can understand, and after you have done all that let us consider the obscure passages.
This gets to a matter of Hebrews 5:14. There is a correlation between our ability to uderstand the Word and our obedience to the Word. Our correspondence in life to the Word, our correspondence in affection transforms our ability to understand:
14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Each of these three affect the other. Kierkegaard is explaining that if we read merely for cognition, we have not read the Word. It is not inert knowledge which one seeks, but transformation. And James 1:22 explains that one transformation which must take place is that the Word must illuminate and expose the reader: the reader is being examined and seen when the Word is rightly read.
How then is this done? What does it look like in practice?