The fourth characteristic that God emphasizes about himself is that he is “abounding in lovingkindness.”
If you’ll compare the different ways that last word is translated, you find that it has a broad range of meaning and significant theological depth—
- KJV “goodness”
- NASB “lovingkindness”
- ESV “steadfast love”
- NIV “love”
- GW “always faithful”
In other passages it’s rendered widely: kindness, mercy, devotion, favor, loyalty.
Abraham’s servant says that God has “not forsaken his lovingkindness” to Abraham by revealing a wife for Isaac (Gen 24.27). What does that mean? God had promised Abraham an abundant offspring and had miraculously provided a son, Isaac. For the offspring to multiply, Isaac’s going to need a wife, which God has provided. This is more than simple kindness; it’s keeping a promise. It’s being faithful to the relationship that God himself has instituted with Abraham.
A generation later, Jacob says that his prosperity, after his having left home hurriedly and penniless, is evidence of God’s lovingkindness (Gen 32.10). Again, God is honoring his relational commitment to Abraham’s line.
On the far shore of the Red Sea, Moses sings that God has “led the people whom you have redeemed” through the sea “in your lovingkindness” (Ex 15.13).
So what does this word mean?
It speaks of being faithful to an existing relationship, of being loyal to a covenant.
It’s the couple who have loved and cared for one another without pause and without question through 63 years of marriage. It’s the soldier who steps forward to volunteer for a critical mission that will almost certainly result in both a strategic advance for his nation’s cause and his own death. It’s the pastor who serves the same little flock with little pay for his entire working life, arriving at the emergency room at 3 am in his pajamas to minister with his presence to suddenly childless parents.
It’s loyal, covenant-based love. No matter what.
We all want that, don’t we?
We want long-lasting and joyous marriages. We want elected officials to act for our benefit with no thought of their own. We want neighbors who will call the cops if something doesn’t look quite right. We want passing drivers to stop and ask if we need some help with the steaming engine, just because we’re all in this together.
But our experience poisons our hopes, because we’ve seen too many apparently happy marriages turn out to be secretly horrific, and politicians fit all too easily into the stereotype, and friends abandon us when we could no longer benefit them, and helpful strangers turn out to be predators.
We’re not loyal to our relationships. We’re not.
But God is.
He has made promises to you and me.
- He will be with us (Mt 28.20).
- He will hear our cries—and answer them (Jer 33.3).
- He will direct our steps (Pr 16.9).
- He will provide our needs (Mt 6.30).
- He will complete his work in us (Php 1.6).
- He will receive us unto himself (Jn 14.3).
- … and many, many more.
He has bound himself to us in a loving, covenant relationship—a marriage—and he will be faithfully committed to that relationship, come what may.
This is infinitely serious business. He’s all in.
He can’t act in any other way.
And what of us?
We, too, are in relationships.
- Those of us who are married have lifelong commitments to our spouses.
- Those of us who are parents have lifelong commitments to our children, and their children, and theirs.
- Those of us who are believers are in covenant relationship with the other members of our local churches—even the members we don’t like.
- For that matter, we’re bound in one body with all believers, of all theological stripes and all cultures and all generations.
- We’re bound in constitutional covenant with all the citizens of our own nation, regardless of party or accent or region.
- We’re bound in natural covenant relationship with all creatures in the image of God—humans—regardless of ethnicity or sinfulness.
God takes his relationships seriously, and he’s loyal to those in relationship with him. He acts in their best interest, even when he acts in wrath.
We should too.