When I first began reading the Bible, a word that captured my attention was “lovingkindness.” I felt warm inside when I read passages like the following: “I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy” (Hosea 2:19). “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3). “[God] redeems your life from destruction [and] crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:4). “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me” (Psalm 42:8).1
In some modern English translations of the Bible, expressions such as “steadfast love,” “mercy,” and “love” are used in place of “lovingkindness,” but I miss that word. It seems to encapsulate in a single word what God means most to me. It is the translation of the Hebrew word chesed, and it was coined long ago by Miles Coverdale, one of the very first translators of the Bible into English. In the Greek and Latin translations that had preceded Coverdale’s English effort, chesed had been translated as eleos and misericordia respectively, the equivalents of the English word “mercy.”
Mercy is a wonderful thing, and certainly we can all agree that God is merciful, but Coverdale sensed there was a deeper, more nuanced, meaning. That is how we now have that wonderful word, “lovingkindness.” Obviously, later scholars agreed, as the term was carried over into the other early English translations of the Bible such as Tyndale’s and the Authorized or King James Version.
At a time when love is in the air—or at least on our minds—due to Saint Valentine’s Day, I find it appropriate to recall this wonderful love that God has for us. John captured the very essence of God in that wonderful declaration, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but clearly many of the people who wrote books of the Bible who had preceded John by hundreds and even thousands of years had also understood this. Those who knew God deeply knew that He cared for them with lovingkindness.
Some people think of God primarily in the context of His judgments in the Old Testament or as a distant God who is indifferent to the sufferings of humankind. That is a very narrow view that disregards the majority of God’s interaction with humanity. God has always loved us. It is His nature to love. Even if He wanted to not love, He couldn’t help Himself. He can do anything, of course, except go against His own nature. Therefore, He goes on showering us with lovingkindness, and I for one am glad for that!
- Scriptures quoted in this paragraph are from the NKJV.