Ask RC: What is hesed?
There may be no more significant Old Testament description of how God relates to His people than this Hebrew word hesed. I argue that the best translation of this term would be “loyal love.” God loves His people genuinely, immutably, loyally. Both the love and the loyalty are, of course, tightly bound together. That is, just as one cannot love capriciously so one cannot be loyal without love. God is for His people, and will never cease to be for them.
Our calling is to reflect that reality. Our loyalty and our love, grounded in our loyal love toward Him who loved us loyally first, ought to be toward both what it is we believe, and those with whom we believe it. Too often we fail one way or another.
In the broader evangelical world the marketing of the church has taught us to see ourselves as consumers. We each have our own set of what we are looking for in a church. Typically, doctrine is low down on that list. When our church fails to meet our shifting needs we not only change our churches, but often our denominations, and ultimately our theological convictions. We are no more loyal to our church than we are to our soda. Our tastes change, and we change with them. The promise of a more vital youth program, a more entertaining preacher, a more talented praise band, encourages us to wander from fold to fold, like lost sheep.
In the Reformed world we tend to be slightly more loyal to our doctrine. Indeed we define ourselves by our doctrine. We’re committed to the wisdom of Calvin, the precision of the Westminster divines. What we tend to lack, however, is commitment to one another. Our loyalty to propositions, good, sound, biblical propositions, often causes us to lose sight of the good, sound, biblical command that we love one another. We split up our churches, and break our relationships over what we claim are vital theological matters. More often than not they are petty personal differences.
Loyal love remains faithful to both the Word of God and the people of God. Loyal love looks to the church, not as a provider of religious services, but as the body of our Lord, our family. Some translate hesed as covenant love. Here we remember that family is not just emotional connections that can come and go, but family is binding. Family is commitment.