Kindness is so in right now. It’s been in for a while actually, especially since Ellen DeGeneres became so huge with her mantra of “Be kind to one another.” Its a great mantra and I love how she uses it. Side note – when I was pregnant with my first child, I’d watch Ellen and sobbed uncontrollably “Coz, she gave them a car! That’s so beautifuuuuuul <sob sob hiccup sob>” (It was the hormones).
Her mantra took off like wildfire because it felt like, in a cold and demanding world, she was the only one saying it. That’s sad. Firstly it’s sad because kindness shouldn’t be such a rarity. For starters, it’s central to the Christian message. And while one might argue that not everyone is Christian, most of our western civilisation is built from Christian principles so it’s sad that it has become such an alien concept in our culture.
In Exodus 34:6-7 God passes in front of Moses “proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love [hesed] and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
The key word in the original Hebrew here is hesed. It means so much more than “love”. It is deeds of devotion, acts of loyalty and favour, mercy, kindness, faithfulness and goodness. God abounds in it.
God wants us to abound in it too. In Micah 6:8 we are told what God requires of us: “To act justly and to love mercy [hesed] and to walk humbly with your God.”
This love and kindness is central to God and to us as Christians. So how has it become forgotten?
Well, this comes to a second reason for sadness – It feels as though kindness (which requires powers of observation, thoughtfulness, willingness and effort) is culturally at war with self interest. It’s sad because it feels as though self interest is winning – and we’re all getting swept up in it. We are human and prone to sin which means we are wired to think of ourselves first. But we are culturally trained too. This means we have to work doubly hard to overcome our natural and learned-behavioural inclinations.
Jesus knew this. In Luke, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. He tells the story of a man beaten, robbed and left for dead and the priest and the Levite leave him – in the war between kindness and self-interest, self-interest wins.
The Samaritan cared for him and Jesus asks which of the men were a true neighbour? The reply is “the one who had mercy [eleos] on him”. The Greek word eleos (because bear in mind the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek) is the word the Greek speaking world used to translate the Old Testament word hesed. So this shows us that the same mercy Jesus speaks of in Luke, is also the hesed of Micah and in God’s character we see described in Exodus.
Read the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. As you do, don’t imagine yourself as the Samaritan. Imagine yourself as the helpless, broken and robbed person who has been left for dead. And imagine God is the Good Samaritan who found you and healed you and saved you and blessed you. So when, in Luke 10:37, Jesus says “go and do likewise”, we are not to do as the Good Samaritan did – we are to do as God does.
This is something that can be a barrier for us. Because that’s pretty huge. So we imagine if we are to give kindness, they are acts of enormous import and grand gestures. We are to bring a homeless person into our homes. We are to spend our weekends volunteering at a shelter. We should give all our money away.
And kindness may well include those kinds of things. But in the war between kindness and self-interest, kindness is more usually a million small things.
Remember how you felt when you needed kindness. When I have been at my lowest, I prayed simply for the kindness of strangers. I wanted someone to look me in the eye and to hear me and to help me see for one moment that I mattered. Sure, I needed money and help, but what I prayed for was simply for strangers to be kind – for the cashier to smile at me, for the person next to me to stoop and help when I dropped my groceries on the floor, for another passenger to hold the door of the bus open as I ran to catch it. That’s the kindness that I needed. Not big grand gestures.
We don’t need to have kindness in and of itself be a barrier for us, because we are fearful of the level of kindness we are able to give. We need to only remember the kindness that is needed. The giving of kindness is only partially about you and what you are able to give. It is also about what situation you are presented with and what is needed by others.
Sometimes we are able to give a lot, on many levels. But sometimes it’s a word, a smile, a touch on the arm and a look in the eye that says “I see you and you matter.”
God sees us and we matter to him. He abounds in this love. We are to abound in it too, but we are not God. We are not expected to give as much or in the same way as God. We are to love hesed. Our acts of kindness are acts of devotion to God, reflecting his love back to him. We are to go and do likewise, having the eleos of God, being observant and seeing people and showing them (in many ways) that they matter. Each of us must think and pray about what that means. But it is central to God’s call for us. It is central to our Christian way of life.
Kindness is not counter-cultural for us. But it is counter-cultural in our world. Show kindness. Show love. Abound in it. See kindness as acts of devotion to God. Shock the world with the kindness we have – that we have because of him.