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Loving-Kindness and Grace
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Loving-kindness and Grace


In my first year at Iliff School of Theology I was introduced to a concept that was immediately compelling to me. It was the concept of chesed, an attribute of God that is usually translated as “loving-kindness” but also as “mercy” and “goodness.” It is described as having a strong and steadfast quality.


Chesed is not compassion (as Isaiah 54:8 and 54:10 clearly show), nor is it simple kindness, such as the random acts we are encouraged to perform (anonymously if possible) for the benefit of others. In fact, those random acts, in their very anonymity, could not be chesed.


Chesed arises from the existence of a covenantal relationship. Undying loyalty is a part of chesed.  This may be why so few people in the Bible are described as being people imbued with the quality of loving-kindness. It is interesting to note that two of the only three women to be listed as ancestors of Jesus have chesed as an integral part of their stories, and neither of those women were Israelites.


Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. When Joshua’s spies were in danger of being caught, Rahab hid them on the roof of her house of ill repute. In return, she asked them to enter into a covenant of chesed with her. While the juicier parts of her story are well known, fewer people know that Joshua kept his covenant with Rahab. She married one of his generals, and bore a son named Boaz. Boaz, a faithful Jew, would marry the other non-Jewish woman who is described as having chesed as an integral part of her character: Ruth.


Chesed is perhaps best described as God's persistent, unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy towards all humanity. It cannot be earned or deserved. It is God’s steadfast recognition of God’s covenant with the beings God created and endowed with an eternal soul.

It seems to me that chesed is the equivalent of the Christian concept of grace: undeserved yet steadfastly offered, moving for our good, constantly at work in ways we do not understand. Always assuming the best of us, and so always wooing us to be our better selves. Constantly illuminating the ways we can become our better selves, and then providing the strength and inspiration we need to do exactly that.

As I see the turmoil in American churches today, I realize we have lost the sense of chesed or loving-kindness that exists only in a covenantal community. We are so focused on being welcoming that we have ignored the very quality that ensures welcome.


And for human beings, loving-kindness requires discipline and intention. We are not God, who can allow this quality to flow effortlessly. We must master our lesser selves if we are to open the spigots of God’s chesed. Perhaps this is why all our efforts to be hospitable and welcoming so often have mixed results.


To be truly welcoming, we who follow Christ must learn how to cultivate loving-kindness. And that will require not only greater self-awareness, but the spiritual disciplines and tools to master our inner selves.


Pastor Vivian, Executive Pastor

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