Scripture uses one particular word to describe the distinctiveness of God’s character: the Hebrew word hesed; a concept so rich in meaning that it doesn’t translate well into any single English word or phrase. The many dimensions of hesed are often expressed as lovingkindness, covenant faithfulness, steadfast love; an everlasting love beyond words.
Bible Gateway interviewed Michael Card (@Michael_Card) about his book, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness (IVP Books, 2018).
What is the meaning of the title?
Michael Card: The original title was “Undefinable,” which simply described the fact that there is no single word that defines hesed. The title committee came up with “Inexpressible,” which points to the same idea. Hesed is simply too big a concept to be fully expressed; that’s why in the subtitle we called it a “mystery.”
What is the definition you give to the word hesed?
Michael Card: Having said that it’s undefinable, my stab at putting words to hesed is “when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” It’s still woefully inadequate.
What do you mean when you write, “The Bible puts words to what is beyond words”?
Michael Card: The Bible is totally unique. People are fond of comparing it to Shakespeare but the truth is no other book is living in the sense that the Word of God is living. One way of looking at it is that the Bible is spiritually understood; that is, the Holy Spirit allows us to understand Scripture. Only because of this relationship between the words of Scripture and the Spirit can the Bible put words to what is beyond words. Through words the Spirit speaks what is beyond the words themselves. You experience this every time you understand a verse—you thought you understood—in a wholly deeper way.
How often is the word used in the Bible; how does its use describe God; and is its frequency an indication of the unity of the Bible?
Michael Card: The word appears about 250 times in the Hebrew Bible. Three or four of those are references to people actually named Hesed. The rest are used to describe God (he himself uses the word twice when defining himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6 and following), to describe a relationship between two people (often David is one of those people), or to describe something praiseworthy in God (usually in the psalms) and woefully fragile and lacking in humans (usually in the prophets).
I’m not sure its frequency speaks of biblical unity as much as the consistent depth of its meaning throughout all the Scripture.
Briefly explain your chapter about the monumental nature of kindness.
Michael Card: That chapter is based on Micah 6:8 which speaks of “doing justice and loving hesed.” This chapter seeks to explain how these are not separate ideas but that they flow into each other. You can only do justice by loving hesed.
What is the profound cost associated with doing hesed?
Michael Card: It’s tempting to think that, if we express kindness, the world will reciprocate in kind, but that’s a dangerous idea. Part of the cost of doing hesed involves being misunderstood and even hated for doing hesed. You see that kind of hatred consistently directed at Jesus, who was the Incarnation of hesed.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Michael Card: Increasingly Exodus 34:6 and following is my favorite passage. Here God is describing himself! What could be more amazing? And the first word from his mouth is not holy or powerful or perfect (though he’s all of those things); the first word he uses to describe himself is compassionate. I believe this is why so many times in the Hebrew Bible he’s praised because “there is no other God like you.”
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Michael Card: I appreciate how clean the App is. You can simply look up a passage or you can go more deeply into commentaries. I also appreciate the recommendations for other sources. I believe that’s unique.
Bio: Michael Card is an award-winning musician and performing artist. He earned a master’s degree in biblical studies from Western Kentucky University under Dr. William Lane. His many books include A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter, Parable of Joy: Reflections on the Wisdom of the Book of John, A Violent Grace: Meeting Christ at the Cross, and the Biblical Imagination Series on the four Gospels. Card and his family live in Tennessee.
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