The observer cannot hold back—he stoops down to a particular lily; he takes the first one he comes to— ‘I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of them.’* He examines it closely, and if his mind was restless—as restless, alas, as a human mind can be—and if his heart beats violently—as, alas, a human heart can—he becomes altogether calm just in order to look at this lily. The more closely he looks, the more he wonders at its loveliness and its ingenious formation; it is true only of the products of human skill that on closer inspection one discovers defects and imperfections; it is true that if you sharpen your vision with an artfully ground glass you see the coarse threads in even the most delicate human tapestry. Ah, it seems as if the human being to his own humiliation has made the discovery of which he is so proud: when he discovered how to grind glass artfully so that it magnifies the object, he discovered by means of the magnifying glass that even the finest human work is coarse and imperfect. But the discovery that humiliated the human being honored God, because by means of the magnifying glass no one has ever discovered that the lily became less lovely, less ingenious; on the contrary, it proved the lily to be more and more lovely, more and more ingenious. Indeed, the discovery honored God, as every discovery is bound to do, because it holds true only of a human artist that the one who knows him intimately, close up and in ordinary life, sees that he is not so great after all; of the artist who weaves the carpet of the field and produces the beauty of the lilies, it holds true that the wonder increases the closer one comes, that the distance of adoration and worship increases the closer one comes to him.
* Jesus, from Matthew 6.29. Kierkegaard prefaces his discourse by quoting verses 24-34.
** Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, Part Two: “What We Learn from the Lilies in the Field and from the Birds of the Air.” Translated by Hong and Hong.