hesed: goodness, kindness, lovingkindness, loyal love, unending love . . . Your hesed is so deep and wide our words cannot contain it! We cast about for a way to expound love that never runs out, love that overflows with kindness, love that is deeply attached to its own, loyal but active, constantly reproving and teaching so that we can become like You. Like You: loving others with love that is kind, love that forgives, full of mercy, love that treasures the truth and works to bring justice to the forefront; love rooted in grace, goodness and compassion, always speaking out boldly to show the world Your ways! If only . . . ! Could it be? My soul cries out to You for hesed in my heart, in all my actions and my words! I reach, I run toward this goal – I stumble and fall. But You are always there to pick me up, heal my scraped knees, kiss away the tears, hug me – and show me once again (patient and kind that You are) the right path, holding my hand and pulling me along with You toward Your goal: a new world where the air we will breathe will be essence of hesed, a world with no more tears, Your love having made us like You.
Yes! Someday there will be no more tears! In these troubled times we do long for that. Here on earth it is hard to even imagine a place where everyone is kind, honest, loving and trustworthy. But the Word promises us that God himself is love, and that when we are with him he will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The only way that could be the end of sadness is if the whole community were just like him! No more nasty words, betrayals, slander, gossip, hate . . .
Two decades of working in Bible translation forced me to investigate the real meaning of words in the original languages, Greek and Hebrew, in a unique way. And then, what Nyarafolo word or phrase would accurately express those meanings? I worked with a team of native speakers of Nyarafolo, spoken in a small region in northern Côte d’Ivoire. They had previously read or heard the Word only in other languages, just like me.
One of our first huge challenges was figuring out how to express God’s love. I was the Hebrew exegete for the Old Testament, and this kind of work was a first, both for me and for my Nyarafolo co-translator, Moïse. We began with the life of Abraham in Genesis, and it was not long before we encountered the word hesed. When it refers to the love of God, it includes all the senses mentioned in the poem above. No translation has found it easy to define a love that is not fallible but constant, completely trustworthy and eternal, kind and loyal. This love never breaks a promise!
Nyarafolo did not even have a word for love! The most common word used for the love of a spouse, or of children, was a verb best translated as “they please me.” So I asked, “What if you have a child who pleases you, but he becomes rebellious. Does he still please you?” The answer was “no!” That could not express the love of God, who loved our wicked world so much that he gave himself to die for us, to give us eternal life (John 3:16).
The new Nyarafolo believers were beginning to make Christian songs in their language, and my friend Sali composed a hit song about how God’s love flows on and on. The verb “to please,” dɛ́ni, had been changed to a noun by adding a suffix: dɛ́nigɛ. It now expressed “love!” The New Testament translator, Abdoulaye, wrote his master’s thesis on how to translate “love” in Nyarafolo, and when we attended his thesis defense he asked Sali to lead us in singing her song, to celebrate the way his people could now understand that essential concept. For the Scriptures, we added a word meaning “without end” to express hesed: unending love (bànguɔ dɛ́nigɛ).
Love that is unwavering, that can never fade away as so often happens in marriages and other relationships – someday that love will characterize us, too. Meanwhile our goal is to constantly let God change us so that we become more and more like him. And this requires us to “make every effort” to keep growing. Just “believing” is not enough. This is the progression listed for growth in 2 Peter 2:4-8: faith + goodness + knowledge + self-control + perseverance + godliness + mutual affection + love.
This is a high calling. And so worth it!
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 Jn 3:2 NIV)