Would you like to hear of a real-life nightmare that I lived once upon a time? At my last job in third-party logistics, I was tracking some hyper-critical shipments for BMW. For context, I need you to know how little I feel interested, invested, or capable in that industry. You should also know how seriously some folks in that business take what they do.
One day, all of the higher-ups converged on my desk and needed to know where a particular truck was. It was of utmost importance to our client. Somehow, these shipments had slipped through the cracks and the responsible team was unable to find them. I was asked to sit in my boss’s boss’s boss’s office with my laptop while we were on a conference call with the heads of every department involved, along with representatives from our client and all eyes were inexplicably on me to fix the problem. I needed to pull some rabbit out of a magic hat I had never been given. I had never been so terrified, felt so alone, or found myself in a more helpless position in my life. I was being held accountable for processes that were not mine, mistakes that didn’t come from my hands, and fixes that I could not have possibly dreamt up.
Don’t ask me how the experience ended because I must have blacked out for the majority of it.
Do you feel my tension? Likely, not to the degree I am feeling it as I sit at my desk, recalling that horrible day. But I ask you, have you ever felt alone? Fearfully alone? Intimidated by something that had you so desperately hoping for an authority figure to show up and help you out? I think we all have had moments in our lives where we have been responsible in some way for something we felt completely unprepared for and there was no one around to be our support. It’s not a good feeling, is it?
This has me thinking about the word, ‘hesed.’ It’s one of those Hebrew words we often remember from a sermon or study, isn’t it? So many words are peripheral and might give some depth to what is being spoken about in a passage, but they don’t always carry massive amounts of weight. ‘Hesed’ is in a different category. One that signifies the character of God and can dramatically shift our understanding of the world in which we live and the God who created it.
Of course, it should be acknowledged that this word has, historically, been a tough one to translate (in its 250 some-odd usages in the Old Testament). The closest attempts have revolved around the concepts of “mercy,” “kindness,” “goodness,” “faithfulness,” “loyalty,” or even compound words like “steadfast love,” “loyal love,” and “loving-kindness.” It takes shape within existing covenantal relationships in which two people, or a person and God, love with both emotion and acts of love and service.
Every act of hesed by a human being extends outward because of the experience of the character and love of God to ourselves, first. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Once we have become recipients of His faithfulness, our eyes are opened to the need within every human being to experience this kind of love.
It becomes our mission in the world to present this Gospel truth – that He died for us even while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He uses our love for our neighbors, like Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), as a tool to show the value of each human being made in His image.
We see this beautifully displayed in the book of Ruth. Naomi was a member of God’s chosen people. And yet, her sons married from among the Gentiles of Moab. This seems wrong in the face of the commands that God gave, specifically, to ancient Israel to withhold from the nations in order to avoid impure idolatry. This story is beautiful, however, not because it holds Israel up as the only group of acceptable people, but because it extends God’s redemption to the people of the world who would respond to His offer of His love.
Even as Naomi’s husband and sons die, one of her daughters-in-law leaves at her bidding to return to her people (Ruth 1:10-14a). Ruth, on the other hand, clings to her. In the midst of Naomi’s bitterness and pain at having lost everything external which gave her value in those ancient times (1:20), Ruth remains.
In an act of beautiful self-denial, Ruth tells her mother-in-law, “Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me”(1:16-17). This act of faithful lovingkindness (or hesed) stalls Naomi’s heartbreak and shows her the hope that comes straight from the character of God.
It’s true – when we show that kind of love to others around us, it’s only an infinitely small taste of the hesed that He shows us. It’s a mere drop in the entire bucket of what God offers His people. And yet, when we take part in this kind of act, our own hearts are being ministered to in this truth. Even more, we minister to others in powerful ways through the testimony of the Church before a watching world. A world that feels as hopeless as I felt that horrible day at my last job. A world that is built, even within our sin, to need the faithful protection of our Authority who delivers us from our deepest fears.
Who, in your circles, Christian or otherwise, need to experience a love that extends from the heart of God? Who is reeling from hopelessness, loneliness, heartache, fear, shame, guilt, or any kind of trauma that needs to see that their Creator seeks to draw them to Himself, in both comfort and restoration with their heavenly Father? This mission of the Church is a beautiful one. It nourishes us and it sends us out to do the nourishing. What a beautiful purpose in which to be invested in.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff