My Kind (of) God
Part of my practice in preparing the sermon each week is to consult a couple of different translations to see how they treat a particular text. Oftentimes a kernel of insight will emerge in the differences in translation, or a particular wording.
One of the translations I make sure to read is a relatively new one called the Common English Bible (CEB). It was put together a few years back with the stated purpose of being accessible and current. As its title suggests, it’s written in more “common” English, and uses contractions and other more informal elements.
But this is not to say that the CEB is somehow “less accurate” than other translations. In fact, many of the choices it makes are closer to the original Greek of Hebrew than other popular transitions, and the results are often refreshing. Take this verse from Psalm 90 I stumbled upon this past week. The New Revised Standard Version (the translation we use most often at the church) and most other popular translations read: Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.
But the CEB version reads: Let the kindness of the Lord our God be upon us.
“Kindness” has been chosen over the more traditional “favor.” And it turns out “kindness” is a perfectly acceptable translation of the Hebrew word in question. And isn’t the “kindness of the Lord our God” a curious idea? “Favor” has a sense of improper benefits, but “kindness” has a sense familiar warmth.
Kindness is an underestimated virtue. We reach for love and speak of it in lofty, philosophical terms, but love has a way of remaining in the hypothetical. Love can be so big, so heady. So big that we can’t get our arms fully around it. So heady that the more we think about it, the less it means. But kindness, kindness is much more manageable, more humble.
I heard the singer, Carrie Newcomer, say once in an interview, “Kindness is like the country cousin to love. You know, it just kind of—it kind of does dishes when no one asked it to.” Kindness gets love down out of the clouds and gives it a face and a name and a location. It picks up a dishtowel and gets to work, whistling a melody as it does.
I’ve thought and read and even preached a good bit about the love of God, but I’m not sure I’ve ever considered the “kindness of God.” Grandmothers are kind. Crossing guards and Sunday school teachers are kind. But God? God is love…right?
What would it mean for God to do the dishes when no one asked? What would it mean for God to know just what to say when a loved one has died, or pull over from his morning commute to help someone change a tire? What would it mean for God to embody that kind of everyday-love that we call kindness?
God’s favor may be worth thinking about, but God’s kindness is something we can hold, something we can touch, and most importantly, something we can imitate.