God is Hesed (And that’s good for you and me)

hesedI don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes I’m reading scripture, and a phrase or a word seems to leap off the page. This happened to me this morning as I was reading Psalm 5.

Psalm 5:7 (ESV)

7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.

I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.

I suppose this caught my attention because lately I’ve been wrestling with several of the seeming paradoxes we find in the Christian faith. How do grace and holiness work together? How does being a servant make me great in the kingdom? Why is surrendering all to Jesus for greater eternal reward so dang hard?

And this one…

What is the balance (or is there?) between approaching God boldly through grace, and having the appropriate sense of reverence and awe?

Psalm 5:7 grabbed me this morning, and I thought I would muse on it a little.  David -the poet that he is –  does theology so differently than most of us modern people. He writes theology the way it feels.  This is not to say that he is merely sentimental, but that his theology moves him spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. His theology is not just matter of mental attestation, but it impacts how he lives and responds to God. Theology that stays at the affirmation level without reaching application level is not true belief. In the Christian’s life, we live what we truly believe. If we aren’t living it, we don’t really believe it.

David first understood something very important about God: God has hesed towards those who follow him. This Hebrew term doesn’t have a direct English equivalent, and is translated in several different ways. “Steadfast love,” “unfailing love,” “loving kindness,” “loyal love,” and “multitude of your mercy” are all ways translators have rendered the word. The idea is that God has a particular kind of love for his people. This love is long-lasting, kind, and patient. It is not a love that is easily shaken, or requires our perfect obedience for its own endurance. It is a perfect parental kind of love: always watching, always teaching, always caring. It is a love that is the essence of God when scripture says that God is love. God is hesed.

It is the kindness of God’s love that causes David to revel. It is easily understood that we are generally kind to those who have something we want, or we show kindness toward those who could do us harm. It is another matter to show kindness to those whom we know are inferior to us. Those who are weaker than us do not demand that we show them hesed. How could they demand such a thing? We can’t demand God’s hesed. That’s just silly. And yet, God freely gives us his hesed. Freely and without constraint.

David knows that he will enter God’s house for worship, and he knows he will do it only because God patiently and kindly makes that possible. We have no right to demand God’s attention, or to charge into his presence, yet we are told that we do in fact have bold access to the Father through Jesus.

Ephesians 3:11–13 (ESV)

11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

Yet this boldness we see in psalms of David and the writings of Paul are also seasoned with another Old Testament idea: fear. The Old Testament concept of fear is really expressed by several different words each having a slightly different meaning. In this verse we see the word yir’a (יִרְאָה). In this verse, with the object of fear being God, the emphasis is on reverence and awe.

David enters into worship with confidence knowing that God has shown, and will continue to show, loving kindness to him, and he enters knowing full well that God deserves his humble respect and obedience. He bows down. I don’t think he bows just because of God’s greatness, but also because of his love.

The love of God given to us – when we really and truly understand it – does not lead us to abuse that love and that grace, but it serves to humble us and drive us to greater reverence, awe, and obedience. God’s grace and love does not make him a push over. It doesn’t make him weak, and it doesn’t make us more prone to sin. That I am truly free from the Law, means that I am truly free through Christ to see what David saw. I can see God as the loving Father, whose love toward those who humbly repent knows no bounds. That knowledge leads us to live in peace with God, others, and ourselves. That knowledge allows us to enter God’s presence with confidence that He wants us there, and we can truly worship him in all His hesed.