Inexpressible, Michael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.
Summary: A study of the Hebrew word hesed, exploring what this says about God, about the objects of hesed, the incarnation of hesed in Jesus, and how then we should live.
“When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”
After studying all the uses of the Hebrew word hesed, this is how Michael Card ended up defining this word. This whole book is about one amazing word. Translators have groped for words to express in one or a few words the inexpressible wonder of this word, particularly because it most often is used to describe God in his action toward humanity. At the beginning of Card’s book, Card lists over a hundred words or phrases the translators have come up with for this word. The King James Version came up with a compound word, loving-kindness, to try to capture its essence.
Card takes us through his own extensive study of every use of the word in the Hebrew Bible. He takes us through passages that have to do with the God of hesed, explores what it is like to be an object of hesed, considers how Jesus incarnates and teaches hesed, and what hesed meant for the Jews after the destruction of the second temple, and what this says for us. Appendices give us a list of every text with the word hesed, the words used in different translations, the words associated with hesed, and ideas for further study.
Card tells memorable stories to illustrate hesed such as that of Keshia Thomas, a black demonstrator at a Klan rally who saw a Klansman who had wandered mistakenly into her group of protesters, and was being attacked until she shielded him with her own body, possibly saving his life. Card speaks of his first visit to a black church, and a black woman, Dinah, who held his hand, and extended welcome. He develops the argument of Moses with God that he is slow to anger and abounding with hesed, a refrain recurring throughout scripture. God may deal with Israel’s sin, but he never gives up on her.
One of his most striking reflections is on Jesus with the Roman centurion, who is described as deserving by the people, but describes himself as undeserving and yet, out of love for his servant, and faith, the like Jesus had not seen in Israel, asks for what he does not deserve. He found the hesed he believed in. Eventually, at the cross, Jesus would give to all humanity what we did not deserve, making peace between God and us.
His concluding reflections challenge us to live in this world. He begins with how the followers of Hillel in Judaism dealt with the fall of the temple, drawing on the statement of Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I desire hesed and not sacrifice.” The doing and living of hesed, along with the idea of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) have become central to modern Judaism. Card invites us to live into that same reality:
“The final challenge to you and me is to take whatever understanding we have in our heads of hesed and allow the Spirit to move it into our hearts. We must enter into the world of the word hesed and then take that world into our world, back to our families, to our churches and towns–to our enemies. The Scriptures are offering us an unimaginable opportunity to make Jesus believable and beautiful by offering everything (even our lives) to those who have a right to expect nothing from us.” (p. 135)
To read this book was to allow God to thaw my heart, reminding me of the everything I have so undeservingly received. To read this book was to clear the fog from my eyes, to give me at least a glimpse of the inexpressible beauty of the God of hesed. Finally, to read this book was to stir my will, my hands, my feet, to think about the places where I might repair the world through the loving-kindness of hesed.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.