Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Kindness | Part 1

Micah 6:8 says something like this: that God has shown humanity that what he requires of us is to be just, or fair, in how we relate to one another; to show kindness (often translated ‘love mercy’); and to walk humbly, to tread the earth lightly, looking to him.

It seems to me that kindness is at least in danger of becoming a forgotten virtue, and one worthy of reflection.  Here are some thoughts.

Kindness and faithfulness

Kindness is an expression of covenant, of life-long commitment that stretches beyond the parties who enter into covenant, to embrace their children.  So in Genesis God shows kindness to Isaac and to Jacob because they are the son and grandson of God’s friend, Abraham.  Centuries later, king David will demonstrate an understanding of this faithful kindness.  Having come to the throne after a bitter civil war, and the death of king Saul and his sons at the hand of a neighbouring tribe, David would well have been advised to search out any survivors of Saul’s family line and have them killed, in order to secure his own position on the throne.  But David was a covenant friend of Saul’s son Jonathan, and instead he asks whether there are any surviving members of Jonathan’s family to whom he can show kindness, for Jonathan’s sake.  Kindness is radically subversive.

Kindness and unkindness

The opposite of kindness is failure to show kindness, in particular demonstrated through exploiting the vulnerable.  The book of Job and the Psalms consider failure to show kindness as an offence before God.  Among the vulnerable they include those who are unable to have children, widows, orphans, the poor, the needy, and the broken-hearted.
The world has always been an unkind place.  In our own time this is exacerbated by the instant, driven, pace of the digital revolution – we have neither time nor space to express kindness; by the state of our economy; and extreme individualism.  If we are honest, our approach to mission is shaped by this culture: we see kindness – the very antidote to unkindness – as vague, ponderously slow, as an ineffective strategy.

Kindness and repairing the world

The Jewish community see kindness as a key element to repairing the world.  Included in this is their approach to marking births, weddings, and funerals within the community.  In contrast, many churches looking to engage in mission in our western context see these occasions – and the pastoral issues around them – not as opportunity to show kindness but as distraction from mission, or even imposition upon our worship.

Kindness and reading the Bible

Again, for the Jewish community kindness is the interpretive key that makes the Law an ethical concern for constructing a fair society, rather than a set of Rules to be obeyed.  It is when kindness is forgotten that grace is replaced with legalism.  Jesus himself summarised the Law in the Shema: love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. 
When we read something in the Bible that is hard to understand, kindness may be a useful lens through which the text comes into focus.

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