Can We Love Unconditionally?
All of us are on Journeys, regardless of whether the journey is characterized by self or love. The Hebrews thought of a life of Love not just as a state but as a path of righteousness-a direction. One of the Hebrew words for ‘love’ is hesed (חסד, pronounced kheh-sed”), which is a difficult word to translate into English. That is because there is a range of meanings for hesed. Many biblical words such as mercy, compassion, love, grace, and faithfulness relate to the Hebrew word hesed, but none of these completely summarize the concept. Hesed is not merely an emotion or feeling but involves action on behalf of someone who is in need. Hesed describes a sense of love and loyalty that inspires merciful and compassionate behavior toward another person.
The prophet Isaiah wrote,
“Though the mountains be shaken, and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken”. (Isaiah 54:10)
Hesed, found some 250 times in the Old Testament, expresses an essential part of God’s character. When God appeared to Moses to give the Law a second time, He described Himself as “abounding in” or “filled with” hesed, which is translated as “love and faithfulness,” “unfailing love,” “faithful love,” “steadfast love,” and “loyal love,” depending on the Bible version (Exodus 34:6–7). The core idea of this term communicates loyalty or faithfulness within a relationship. Thus, hesed is closely related to God’s covenant with His people, Israel. As it relates to the concept of love, hesed expresses God’s faithfulness to His people. ( n Exodus 20:6), God says that He lavishes His hesed “for a thousand generations” on those who love Him and obey His commands. This trustworthy, ever-enduring, loyal aspect of God’s covenantal love resonates throughout the Old Testament (Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4; Jeremiah 32:18)
Hesed is “wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty–in short, acts of devotion and loving-kindness that go beyond the requirements of duty,” elaborates Bible scholar Darrell L. Bock.
Hesed love is the opposite of the spirit of our age, which says we act on our feelings, not our commitments. We then create an idol out of feelings and become enslaved to them. In our "in tune with our feelings era" that to be true to myself, to be authentic, I must act on my feelings. But the opposite is true. To be authentic means I maintain trust through thick and thin. Hesed love says, act on your commitments and your feelings will follow. Hesed love does not command recognition or equality. It is uneven.
This committed love lies at the heart of Christianity. Hesed love is the determination to do good for someone no matter the response. It is a will to love when every fiber of your being screams RUN! RUN!
Can we love this way? God gives us numerous examples in the Bible, one of my favorites is below.
In the book of Ruth, we meet Naomi in nothing less than a bleak situation. She is living in a foreign land and has lost not only her husband but her two sons as well. While she has two beloved daughters-in-law, Oprah and Ruth, she makes the difficult decision to leave the life she and her family have established in Moab.
Orpah considers this, and with a heavy heart agrees to stay in Moab. Ruth however remains with Naomi. And she even further solidifies her bond with Naomi, with her now famous declaration:
“Do not urge me to leave you or return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Ruth hesed Naomi.
In human relationships, hesed implies loving our neighbor, not merely in terms of warm emotional feelings but in acts of love and service that we owe to the other person simply because he is part of the community. And by the way, Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan shows that we’re obliged to extend this kind of love to all, as we have an opportunity—not just other believers.
But we can only love like this, with hesed loving-kindness, when we know, at the core of our being, that this is how God loves us. As 1 John chapter 4 verse 19 says, “We love because he first loved us.”
You hear that sense of the word also in verses such as Micah chapter 6 verse 8:
what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [hesed], and to walk humbly with your God?
Having entered a covenant relationship with His people, God binds Himself to act toward them with hesed, and He is utterly faithful to His self-commitment. To put it another way, our hope that God will love us to the uttermost, and forever, is not founded on our ability to keep His commands but rather it’s founded on God’s ability to keep being God.
And Christ went to the cross because of His hesed. His loyalty to His people, His kindness and mercy toward them, was so unshakable that He endured the very worst that we could devise for Him, so that we could be clothed in His perfect hesed faithfulness, and be credited with it as if we have lived out his perfect life of hesed ourselves.
And he departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find him.
If you have trusted in Christ alone, turning from sin to faith in Him, then you can be sure that the Lord’s goodness and hesed will follow you all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.