Love is the fourth characteristic of God mentioned in Exodus 34:6, but what are we talking about when we talk about love? The word that shows up here in Hebrew is the word hesed. It’s such a rich and deep word that translators have a hard time pinning it down, because one English word, one description doesn’t exactly cut it.
In Psalm 136 for example, a psalm in which every verse celebrates the love of God, every translation goes a slightly different direction when translating hesed. KJV goes with mercy. The NRSV lands on steadfast love. The NLT chooses faithful Love. The NIV simply goes with love, although at other times the NIV translates hesed as “great love” or “unfailing love” or “loving kindness.” So, what is it? The truth is they are all onto something.
God’s hesed is merciful—it leads to acts of grace and kindness.God’s hesed is steadfast—it holds up under pressure, a solid foundation.God’s hesed is faithful/loyal—it stays true, sticks with you, even when you don’tGod’s hesed is great and unfailing. It will never end.
And notice here in Exodus 34:6 that God is not just described as a God of hesed, but abounding in hesed. This the plate of your kid coming back from the dessert bar at the all you can eat buffet. Abounding. Piled high. Overflowing. Abundant. All you can. This is God’s Hesed.
God’s love has never been about how loveable we are, how worthy of adoption and inclusion we are. If perfection were required, if flawless appeal was a necessity, it wouldn’t be happening. We absolutely have our redeeming qualities, our loveable attributes. But you are first loved, I am first loved, and God so loved the world… continually, abundantly, steadfastly, loyally, mercifully because God is overflowing with love.
(For those who asked, below is a picture of Prancer, the Chihuahua I read about from the pet adoption agency that was described as “more like a vessel for a traumatized Victorian child that now haunts [the] home.”