it all comes back to ...hesed
For years now, I’ve been drawn to the word hesed. God’s faithfulness. A word, scholars say, that cannot really be described by one English word. Benevolence, loving kindness, mercy, steadfast love . . . I’ve heard pastors and speakers sum all of it up to God’s faithful love.
Faithful love regardless of my actions.
Faithful love in all situations.
Faithful love enduring through all seasons of life.
Faithful love to me and all those around me—non-discriminating.
Faithful love as a foundation of His character.
I’m sure I could come up with more descriptions, but every time I hear the word hesed, or even have the thought occur to me, I expel a deep, peaceful sigh. God, who calls Himself my Father, is faithful.
I see this picture throughout the Old Testament. I remember as a young Bible reader in my 20’s— saved only for a few years—reading through the One Year Bible. As I began to catch a glimpse of the overall story between God and His people, I was forever captured. My longtime friend and surrogate brother, Mike, would never fail to laugh as I would describe the Bible as God’s love story, a romantic drama.
God’s faithfulness, His hesed, draws out my hopefulness. I can hope because He is faithful.
Years ago, my former pastor, an avid Cleveland Indians fan, would often remark in March, “The Indians are in first place!” And then he would speculate whether or not they would make the playoffs. If you follow MLB at all, you know this is an outside hope at best. But one spring, he compared this to life in a way that has stayed with me ever since. He remarked that he realized that he had a choice to hope or not hope in the Indians. The safe path surely was to not hope. Track record, team roster, and other such things all would lead you to guard your heart against another losing season. But that spring, my pastor decided to hope anyway. To not guard his heart and to dare to dream about a winning season for the Indians.
Did this leave him open to disappointment? Yes.
Did this seem ridiculous, even foolish to most? Yes.
While this scenario makes me smile, it still causes to to stop in my tracks as I ponder it. Where is God calling me to hope? For whom is He asking me to exercise hope? What relationship does He ask me to not guard my heart in, but to hope for change and reconciliation?
So often, I choose the safe path, the guarded path. I discount His hesed in and around me.
Does God’s faithfulness mean that things work out the way that I desire? Not always. But it does mean that I can trust Him with the process. I can trust Him in the mess of things. I often see people, events, and situations as “finished,” when we are all in process, all on a path. And as I grow in my understanding of God’s faithful love towards me and on my behalf, I am challenged to exercise this same faithfulness back towards others.
Isn’t all my growing in Christlikeness to make me more loving? And this growing to love better ultimately is worked out in relationships with others.So it seems that God’s hesed, His faithful love, should change the way that we relate to each other. It should characterize our relationships, our homes, and our friendships.
We often focus on faithfulness in marriage. And certainly God wants me to be completely faithful to my husband Shawn. But what about my friendships? What about the rest of my family? What about those who’ve chosen to be “family” with me despite no blood connection?
This is where the real power lies. (Or as my young friends would say, “This is money!”) Wesley Hill, in his book Spiritual Friendship, talks about commitments to friends that run deep, as deep as our marriage commitments. This idea was fleshed out in my life for years as my husband and I shared a house with a younger, single woman who happened to be a celibate, gay Christian. We would often reflect how rich life was when our definition of family was enlarged. We had ample opportunity to practice the command in Ephesians 5 to submit to one another and see how this fleshed out in practical situations as we shared a house together.
Certainly Christ desires me to be faithful to my husband. But what kind of faithful love are we to extend to others? In our society and even in churches, the idea of committed friendships is a little weird. (OK, it’s a lot weird.) But it hasn’t been this way throughout church history. In Spiritual Friendship, I read stories of deep commitments in friendships that determined living arrangements, locales, and future decisions. I want friendships like this in my life.
Today, unfortunately, we often reserve that only for marriage. And that is a huge loss to us all.
What if our church communities really lived out the verse from Psalm 68:6 that says, “God plants the lonely in families”? What if we looked to be faithful to those that God has placed in our lives regardless of blood connections, regardless of marriage vows? Wouldn’t that be an incredible witness to the world around us?
I believe that would breed hope, and that hope would point back to God’s faithfulness in and around us.
Jesus asks in Luke 6:32, if I love only those who love me what good is that? Anyone can do that. So if I am only faithful to those who are faithful back to me,is that enough? Is that God’s desire? Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. We should not be doormats, we should have good boundaries in relationships, and we should not suffer abuse.
Psalm 15:4 challenges me to keep my oaths even when it hurts. That definitely seems to be the example God sets with His hesed.
Perhaps you are wondering if this outlook has more to do with temperament than character. After all, I am usually the “glass is ⅞ full person,” and perhaps that makes hope come more easily. But I would challenge that idea. I believe the kind of hope that God is calling me to is an “eyes open” to the pain and hard around me kind of hope. This is the hope referred to in Romans 5, the hope in God bringing life to the things that were dead. The hope that seems foolish, given the situation. And having a sunny temperament doesn’t mean I can completely withstand the onslaught of hopelessness in the world around me.
This has been a “hopeless” season for me in many ways. But as I have sought to slow down and sit in the Lord’s faithful love, His hesed, I have felt Him challenge my feelings of hopelessness. I have felt Him draw me to pray in faith. To fast in faith. To not give up.
In a world of divorce, abuse, broken relationships, anger issues, and casual commitments, living with hesed and hope, looks different. We can offer this back to God as a spiritual sacrifice if we allow Him to plant and cultivate deep seeds of hope and hesed into our hearts.