“Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?”(2 Samuel 9:3).
If George Saunders is right, some of the deepest regrets we carry in life have to do with failures of kindness.
Such was the premise of Saunders’s commencement address to the class of 2013 at Syracuse University. The address has since been published in book form under the title Congratulations, by the way. Saunders told the class of 2013 that kindness was hard work, and he issued a call for intentionality and effort in being kind.
That kindness would be the focal issue of a commencement address reveals something about how most of us think of kindness. We tend to associate kindness with being nice. Kindness is an umbrella word that encompasses good manners and social graces, kind words and helpful deeds, a focus on others and a forgetfulness of self. We assume that kindness is something that anyone can practice if they’re properly taught and deliberately mindful of it.
This widely embraced understanding of kindness does much good in our world. It is, however, not a biblical understanding of kindness.
The New Testament tells us that kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s the evidence of God’s indwelling life in those who are joined to Christ by faith. It is not the result of deliberate efforts or good training.
Nearly a year ago Rasmussen Reports conducted a survey of 1000 American adults asking whether we were becoming more kind and civilized as a people, or less so. Of those surveyed, 77% responded that we were becoming less kind, less civilized, ruder. This survey suggests that either we are not being taught very well, or we are not trying very hard.
This week we’re looking at a story from the life of David in which he actively seeks to extend kindness to someone who belonged to the family Saul, Israel’s former king. David’s quest is surprising in that kings in the ancient world regularly sought to eliminate all rival claims to the throne. David is doing the opposite of what was usually done, the opposite of what we expect.
However, when David speaks of showing ‘kindness’ to the house of Saul, he’s not talking about being nice. He uses a Hebrew word that we often render as ‘steadfast love.’ This is the ‘kindness of God’ (v. 3). Eugene Peterson defines this kindness as “love without regard to shifting circumstances, hormones, emotional states, and personal convenience.”
For most of us, kindness is something we extend to those who are kind to us. Kindness comes easier to us when things are going well, when a tide of benevolent emotion rises within us, when it seems expedient and promises to pay off in the future.
God’s kindness is not like that. So what would it mean for us to show the kindness of God? We’ll explore this later in the week.
For today, consider this: where and with whom do you find it hard to be kind? Where and with whom does kindness come easy?
Gracious God, we want to do more than simply be nice. We want to show your kindness to those around us – your unearned, unexpected, risk-taking kindness. We can only do this by your grace, so we ask you to grant it to us today by your Spirit. Amen.