One of the coolest words in the Old Testament can’t be easily translated from Hebrew into English. A rough phonetic spelling of it might be “hesed” where the bold letter “h” needs, as my wife so gracefully put it, “a little spit.” It’s not infrequently translated as “loving kindness,” which is about as shrug-worthy as a translation can get. One translator I read suggested “loyalty,” which I like better, although it still sounds pretty bland. I don’t have alternatives to suggest however; it’s difficult to translate.
It’s easier to describe.
My wife and I followed God away from our families to a small town in the middle of nowhere. He gave us a house here and jobs, and he blessed our life together. We were “the happy couple;” that’s how people would describe us where-ever we went because we overflowed with happiness. When God told us to have kids, we did. Pregnancy passed without concern and our daughter was born beautiful. We named her “Gracious,” because the LORD had been gracious to us.
In the two months after her birth, we both lost our jobs. We searched for new ones, but we couldn’t even convince employers to consider us. Then the illnesses started: we would swap illnesses back and forth and be sick for months at a time. Throw in all the stresses of becoming parents, and it was a hard time for us, one that ultimately lasted years.
Every night we prayed that he provide for us, that he give us the wisdom to follow him and the patient faithfulness to wait for him. Every night it got harder. After the first year, one or the other of us would crack a bit under the pressure of it about once a week. We clung to each other and tried to trust God, but we felt like we were running out of time.
After two years we started to panic more frequently, and each episode grew harder to shake. Soon we were exhausted from the effort of trying to comfort each other too, in addition to everything else, and then our panics would coincide. Despair followed.
We still prayed every night, but our prayers waffled between hopeless desperation and resigned repetition. We had stopped believing that anything would change. We were on our own and doomed. We both gave up on God.
Then he provided. I called my parents to tell them that our two year trouble might have ended. My father rejoiced, then said that maybe God had wanted to make sure that we would trust him through the rough patches.
Naturally I felt humiliated. We hadn’t trusted him. If God had been trying to test us, we’d failed. I in particular had failed abysmally. By the end I’d prayed some angry things, planned some desperate things, considered some deplorable things. I’d gotten about as far from faithful as it was possible to get.
Nevertheless, the Lord of Mercy was merciful to me. The author of Grace was gracious still. I failed, but he didn’t. I lost faith, but he was faithful. His commitment never wavered. His love never diminished.
That’s hesed, and it’s who God is. In fact, he had never actually stopped sustaining us. For example, people kept giving us money out of the blue so that our bills never went unpaid. He was faithful the whole time.
I, on the other hand, was the Israelites in the wilderness during the exodus, who heard God’s promises, witnessed his power, then grew terribly afraid in the face of relatively minor obstacles and whined egregiously.
“Nevertheless” is one of the best English words. It’s a terrible definition for “hesed,” but I think the two concepts are related. The “hesed” of God is what drives the “nevertheless” that Christianity offers: I’m weak, sinful, and broken; nevertheless God wants me, loves me, likes me even, and will heal me.