Why Kindness? (Ashes day 1)
It feels right that I should start this off by answering the question, “What’s the deal with kindness, anyway?” It’s a theme in most of my books, an obvious focus of Ashes, and now the subject of a devotional to accompany that story. So why? Why do I never seem to let the idea of kindness go?
The short answer is that it’s important, and I guess I could leave it at that. But clearly, I’m not, so brace yourselves for the significantly longer answer. Yes, kindness is important. But it is also consistently misunderstood. So often when people talk about kindness, it’s unclear what they actually mean. It’s a word that’s slapped in slogans and positioned in reminders, but in many cases, there’s no real meaning behind it. No “umph,” if you will. It’s an empty word, used as a fleeting reminder to be a better person because, in general, the world is cruel. But to view kindness as an empty, vague catchphrase is a mistake that I think can prevent us from actually succeeding in being kind.
Which brings us to our second question. What actually is kindness? By the dictionary definition, kindness is, “the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people.”1 Not a bad definition (and in case you were wondering, I am not at all qualified to critique the literal dictionary definition of a word, but I am definitely still going to do that). In terms of more informal definitions, a couple helpful friends defined kindness as, “going out of your way to help another person” or “giving for the better.” Here’s an interesting observation, though: in my experience, when people talk about kindness, it’s contingent on something. Kindness should be shown to those who show kindness. Or kindness should be shared, unless it is painful and/or difficult. However it’s phrased, a common point of view in today’s society is that the expression of kindness is dependent on other factors.
You can probably guess by now that I would disagree with this view of kindness. But since I am not, in fact, in the position to decide what things mean myself, it will be far more beneficial for us to take a look at what God says about kindness. He is, after all, the One who invented it. There are a whole lot of different verses and passages we could use to look at this idea, but to start, we’ll focus on just one word. In many instances where we see the word “kindness” in the Old Testament, it is translated from the Hebrew word chesed, which means kindness or goodness. This is the word that in Hosea 6:6 is translated as mercy, love, kindness, or lovingkindness. This definition is interesting to me because it reinforces the fact that kindness cannot be separated from love. This is something we’ll look at closer in a later post, but while we’re still looking to define kindness in biblical terms, it makes sense that if kindness and love are so interconnected, we need to look to the Author of kindness and Epitome of love.
In Matthew 5:43-47, Jesus spoke about what love should look like in His sermon on the mount. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (ESV) In this passage, Jesus is clear that our attitude should be to express love and kindness no matter what. It is not contingent on anything, nor is it in expectation of any reward. It is love- selfless and continued, even when we feel it may be undeserved.
One of the great things about God (there’s a lot) is that He doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t already done. Hosea 11:4 tells us, “I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” (ESV) Throughout the entire history of God’s people, from the time of the Israelites in Egypt through the present day, God has shown continued love and kindness. Even when we turn our back, even when we prove to be unfaithful and unappreciative, He continues His kindness. This is the biblical definition of kindness.
This was what I had in mind (albeit, for the most part, subconsciously) when I wrote the poem that appears in the beginning of Ashes. And this is the idea that drives Ember throughout the story. Even when kindness seems undeserved, even when it’s difficult or inconvenient or painful, it is still necessary. It is still the right thing to do. We show kindness because, although we are completely undeserving, God first showed His kindness to us.
1 “kindness.” dictionary.cambridge.org. Cambridge Dictionary, 2022. Web. 4 May 2022.
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This particular page is dedicated to connecting my stories with their inspiration in God's Word. One of the goals of my writing is that it would illustrate God's goodness, love, and truth. These posts are designed to make those illustrations just a little more clear.