There’s a Hebrew word that describes a certain kind of love, that can’t be easily translated into English. The word is hesed. It’s described as a kind of loyal, steadfast, compassionate love. It’s sometimes translated as ‘kindness’, ‘loving-kindness’ or ‘mercy’.
One of the more well-known stories in the Bible that captures the essence of hesed is the story of Ruth. This story is one of loss, change, alienation, hard work, risk-taking and trusting in God’s provision. When you next read the book of Ruth, look out for hesed. You may see it translated as ‘kindness’ in your Bible, but regardless of the word used you may be able to spot it in the action. You can see it in the way Ruth shows loyalty and support to her mother-in-law following the death of both their husbands. You see it in the unexpected level of compassion and kindness shown by Boaz towards Ruth when she begins working in his harvest field. And you see it in Ruth’s decisions about marriage and her future, choosing a path that will provide security and comfort not only for herself, but for her mother-in-law as well.
In the story of Ruth we have a first glimpse, a small taste, into the kind of compassionate love that will be shown to all of us by one of Ruth’s descendants. Jesus’ sacrificial love for us is hesed in its fullest form: steadfast, merciful, compassionate, kind.
We too can practise this kind of love in our own lives. How? By looking to the needs of others and responding with love in action. Hesed is not a trivial thing. Hesed is more than an A-frame hug and a high-pitched “love youuuu!”. It’s more than a heart emoji. It’s more than an Instagram post praising someone’s charm. While those expressions aren’t wrong, they are not the full picture of what hesed love looks like. When we show generosity to someone without expecting anything in return; that is hesed. When we extend grace and mercy to someone no matter how much they have hurt us; that is hesed. When we make a sacrifice to see someone else thrive; that is hesed.
Hesed love is not something you feel; it’s something you do. This is freeing: we can practise hesed regardless of our mood. But it may be countercultural too. In a culture where ‘follow your heart’ can be interpreted as ‘go with your feelings’, it may come across as odd to show love to someone even when you’re not ‘feeling it’. And showing generosity and compassion to people who may not ever reciprocate it, or even say thank you? How absurd! But this is the beautiful absurdity of God’s love for us isn’t it; that He loves us regardless of what we can offer Him back.
So how can you practise hesed this week? How can you live out this love with skin on? It may not be easy. But it’s what God is like, and we want to reflect that. Because remember, showing hesed isn’t just about people seeing how loving we can be. In showing hesed to others, we are making God’s love visible too.