Hiding by Not Discovering
Hiding: “[Love] does not discover sins; but not to discover what still must be there, insofar as it can be discovered—that is hiding.”
Discovery: Reveals sin and increases the multitude of sin.
“To make discoveries even with regard to evil, with regard to sin and the multitude of sins, to be the shrewd, sly, foxy, perhaps more or less corrupt observer who can really make discoveries—this is highly regarded in the world.” It is not that any discovery of sin is bad or itself a sin, but rather the attitude that seeks out sins in others and relishes in their discovery is.
Hiding a multitude of sins does not mean that the sins are not there; they are, but are hidden. And thus forgiveness, which is a form of hiding, while very generous, does not cheapen sin or the offense of sin which requires forgiveness. Discovery is praised in the world, while hiding is not. Example: If you discover that your neighbor is abusing his children and help to put an end to it, good has been done. There are sins which cannot be hidden in this way, which have to be seen. What Kierkegaard is criticizing is an attitude toward other people which seeks purposely to discover the faults of others and revels in such discovery.
Eagerness to explain how something evil was discovered is sagacious worldliness. The one who loves recognizes evil as evil and discerns or judges it as such, but primarily because he recognizes the evil by the means of his knowledge of the good. It is not the knowledge of the evil that allows him to recognize evil, but his intimate familiarity with the good. The one who loves recognizes evil by its contrast with the good.
The one who loves does not discover or reveal evil, or relish in its discovery, even for the purpose of condemning it. The one who loves keeps it hidden and may even fail to see some evil right in front of him. “Yet whether he is laughed at or is not laughed at, whether he is mocked or not mocked, deep down inside we have a respect for him because he, resting in and absorbed in his love, discovers nothing.” The one who loves “expresses the apostolic injunction to be a child in evil.”
Failure to see evil: This is because of his lack of familiarity with evil, and his desire not to discover it. This lack of familiarity produces a certain naivete which is consistent with wisdom.
The one who loves is so absorbed in loving that there are times when he simply fails to see evil the rest of us see.
In contrast to the world, the one who loves is seen as naïve and foolish
The one who loves inadvertently, quite accidentally, never because he himself has sought an opportunity for it, becomes aware of a person’s sin. Obligatory exceptions: legal infractions (i.e. rape) and those whom have been affected must know (i.e. adultery).
We should not worry that silence only covers up sins that are still there, but that we should recognize that not keeping silent in fact increases a multitude of sins. For example, in a large group of tight knit friends who all implicitly love each other. If one lies to me I shouldn’t tell all the other friends who will cause distrust and thus require forgiveness as well, increasing a multitude of sin. By spreading the faults of others, one “corrupts people to become accustomed through rumor or gossip to finding out, inquisitively, frivolously, enviously, perhaps maliciously, about the neighbor’s faults.” In this situation, in order to protect my other friends (after all, I cannot allow them to continue to think someone is trustworthy who is not, unless I desire to be an accomplice should they later be deceived), I likely will have to combine the strategy of silence with the strategy of mitigating explanation. That is, I will have to discover a reason that my lying friend is still generally trustworthy despite his having lied to me.
Rumor and gossip thus contribute to an understanding of and a fascination with evil.
In Kierkegaard’s opinion, there is no criminal as severely depraved as this individual, for no one devoted to the good could be so devoted to spreading the knowledge of evil.
It is always the explanation that makes something what it now becomes. Choose the most lenient explanation possible. Contrast this with choosing the most depraved and worst reason possible. It is viewing others in the most favorable light possible. The search for a mitigating explanation becomes more passionately devoted to hunting the good in every person.
This is the most notable way of hiding the multitude of sins, which actually removes sins from the multitude. When there can be no mitigating explanation, then forgiveness must enter into the equation. Forgiveness ‘removes what cannot be denied to be sin.’
Do we forgive and forget? Forgetting in this highest sense is therefore not the opposite of recollecting but of hoping. Hoping is a way of giving being to something in thought, while to forget is to remove being in thought from something which exists.
For example, forgiving and forgetting an offense is like looking at a picture and then turning one’s back to it. One is aware of the picture; one has seen it. But a turning away from the picture has taken place and the picture is no longer seen.When one turns toward the sinner, when one forgives, one can no longer see the sin; it is behind one’s consciousness.
A Way of Life
Love enables us to see those who have wronged us better than they are. Love enables us to find mitigating explanations for wrongs committed against us which other people would not be able to find. Love enables us to forgive without reservation even when no apology or repentance is forthcoming. Love views forgiveness as an occasion for repentance, not repentance as an occasion for forgiveness (2 Tim. 2.25). Salvifically, forgiveness must precede repentance (God’s grace is the only factor that can enable individual repentance).
A review and application of John B. Howell III’s “Forgiveness and Kierkegaard’s Agapeistic Ethic” in Philosophia Christi 12, 29-45.