Fruits of the Spirit: Kindness (2)

20 Aug

In this post I will comment on some other people's ideas about kindness and the sense in which kindness is part of the harvest of God's presence and life with us.
Let me emphasize what I said earlier, too: I do not see the garden of the Spirit as individual lives only. The fruits of the Spirit emerge in community, in relationships and in organizations as well as in individual lives. The spiritual is not merely individual, or personal. It is relational and communal.
Kindness is very much an expression of the Spirit's life and presence between us and among us, not merely 'within' us.
The Bible has many insightful things to say about kindness …

 most
important of which is that God is kind. Older translations of the
Bible use the interesting double-concept, to refer to God's
'loving-kindness'. This is especially found in the Psalms, where we see the wonderful idea that God's loving kindness is better than life (Ps. 63.3). In more recent translations, this term is translated as 'steadfast love'.

In the often-quoted verse from Micah 6.8 suggesting what God asks of humans, we read:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

The idea that we are to 'love kindness' is interesting. Sometimes it is suggested that we should 'love tenderly'. But that is to qualify how we love. The better translation suggests an object of love: something to be valued and nurtured. 

Much more needs to be said about this challenging verse, but here my interest is in the idea that kindness is itself something to be nurtured and loved.

The New Testament also gives a high value to kindness in its ethics. Yet, interestingly, this is not a term we find in the Gospels and their accounts of the teachings of Jesus.

Colossians 3. 12 urges:  'As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.'

This is surely closely related to the 'fruits of the Spirit' theme, except that here people are urged to act in this way, by their own will and intention.

In 2 Corinthians 6.6 Paul lists kindness as one of the many features of his life with people, the means by which he has hoped to commend his gospel witness to them.

Kindness has spiritual power; that is, it can change situations in a way that brings people closer to each other and closer to what God wills and hopes for us.

So, many wise thinkers have named the value and impact of kindness in human relationships. Here are a few examples:

Abraham Joshua Heschel:When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.
Albert Schweitzer: Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.
Barbara De Angelis: Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.
Blaise Pascal: Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.
Frederick W. Faber: Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence or learning.
Goethe: Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.

I would like to hold these ideas together with those in my previous post. I think there are many things that prevent us from being kind. There are things too that set us free to be kind.

All these things lead me to prayer. I cannot make myself kind. We cannot will ourselves into this harvest. But we can put ourselves in the way of it. The Spirit can stir up this fruitfulness in us, releasing from us the loving-kindness of God, our creator, in whose image and likeness we can live. That's something to love into reality, as we do justice, and walk humbly with our God.

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