Give thanks to the LORD, for God is good,
and their loyal love endures!
Sometimes, things get lost in translation. In this case, that’s literally true. There’s this word which shows up repeatedly in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures – in Hebrew, it’s חֶסֶד. In Greek, ἀγάπη. These words aren’t exact equivalents, but they’re a whole lot closer to one another than to our usual English translation of them as “love.”
If you attend enough church services, you will at some point hear a sermon about one or both of these words, and how they describe an extra special kind of love – it’s selfless, it’s chosen, it’s the best kind of love there is. We know it’s the best kind of love there is, because it’s the kind of love God has for humans, and God is definitely the best at loving.
Unfortunately, our fixation on the word ‘love’ to translate these words is very limiting. When the English word ‘love’ is used, most who hear it think of an emotion. A feeling. A general sense of caring for or about someone or something. We say things like “no one can choose where they will love.” We talk about “falling” in love, as if it’s something we come upon by mistake, unbidden – and possibly unwanted.
What these two words are describing is not that kind of love. It’s not something that comes and goes. It’s not an uncontrolled feeling, but rather intentional action. It’s not quite a choice either, though. In the original languages, these words were used to describe the actions of a husband toward his wife, and a father toward his children. A man’s wife would be chosen for him by others. He may never grow to like her, let alone feel ‘love’ for her. And yet, he was expected to provide for all of her needs. Likewise, he may never have anything in common with his children, or bear any special affection for them. And yet, he was to raise them well, care for them, help them to become successful members of society, and leave a legacy they could be proud of. He was to do these things, because he entered into a covenant that said he would, and he was to be a man of his word.
This love, then, is the outcome of covenant. When the Psalmist says “God’s loyal love endures forever,” it’s not just a nice sentiment, that the God of the universe has generally positive feelings toward humanity. That alone would be great, but the love of God is much deeper than that. The forever-enduring love of God is a promise that God will uphold every divine covenant, and will do so without wavering: The covenant to care for us; the covenant to be with us always; the covenant to seek a good future for us; the covenant to save us; the covenant to prepare a place for us; the covenant to bring about justice; the covenant to give us peace. Because God’s loyal love is eternal and unwavering, we can count on each of these promises, and more.
What covenants have you made? How do you exhibit your loyal love?