My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! — Psalm 108.1
“The heat of spontaneous love is so dangerous—no matter how great its passion—that it can very quickly become a poisonous fever,” warns Søren Kierkegaard. How many of us, still today, walk around wounded by the words or actions of someone who said they “loved” us. We know, through experience, that love rooted in sentimentality or self-interest risks running dry over the course of time or evaporating in the heat of struggle.
The enduring love referred to in the Scriptures is not a matter of deepening emotions, but embracing what Kierkegaard refers to as the “duty,” or work, of loving:
Only when it is a duty to love, only then is love eternally secured; secured against the ravages of change, eternally and happily secured against despair. However joyous, happy, indescribably confident, instinctive and inclinational, spontaneous and emotional love may be—it still needs to establish itself more securely, in the strength of duty. Only in the security of the eternal is all anxiety cast out.
For in spontaneous love, however confident it be, there still resides an anxiety, a dread over the possibility of change. Yet in the you shall, it is forever decided; one’s love is forever secure. Every other love can be changed into something else.
The prayer of Psalm 108, “my heart is steadfast,” is not the result of “being a better Christian” or the fruit of willpower. A steadfast heart has made a thousand sacrifices—siphoning passion and energy away from everything which would pollute its commitment to God.
Kierkegaard anchors his perspective in the Torah’s command to love; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” concluding:
“You shall love,” this command from God, takes all the unsoundness away and preserves for eternity what is sound. You must heed to the eternal’s you shall. This alone will preserve you. This alone will keep your love alive.
There, where the merely human wants to storm forth, the command still holds. Just when the merely human would lose courage, the command strengthens. Just when the merely human would become tired and clever, the command flames up and gives wisdom.
The command consumes and burns out what is unsound and impure in your love, but through it you shall be able to kindle it again, even when, humanly considered, all has been lost.