Kindness seems to be everywhere these days. It’s posted on yard signs and granola bars, T-shirts, and posters for your home. Though kindness is not new, “Be kind!” has become an unofficial slogan, the currency on which a culture steeped in tolerance, affirmation, and acceptance runs.
But for all the talk about kindness, our world is growing increasingly unkind, divided, and contemptuous. If kindness is so popular, why is our culture so harsh? Perhaps this brand of kindness is lacking, pretending to do and be good while unable to produce any real changes. In a world that’s hungry for kindness but often finds only emptiness, we must look to Scripture and the author of kindness to teach us what kindness truly is.
Rooted in Love
Cultural kindness is more about tolerance, being nice, and enduring differences without complaining than it is about love. It asks us only to be pleasant to those who are different from us—it doesn’t call us to love them. When kindness exists without love, it quickly becomes insincere, something we do because we’re supposed to. But kindness without love isn’t kindness at all. It’s an imitation.
When kindness exists without love, it quickly becomes insincere.
This is the problem with cultural kindness. It offers niceness and acceptance of others while putting on the facade of love. But at best it’s bland tolerance, and at worst it’s hatred with a smile.
In contrast, biblical kindness—true kindness—is always rooted in the steadfast and self-sacrificing love of God. He is “righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works” (Ps. 145:17). He is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh. 9:17, NASB95).
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word chesed, which means loving-kindness, is used to describe how God relates to his people. It’s also this loving-kindness that he desires from his people in response to his own. As he says in Hosea 6:6, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Mere niceness—burnt offerings and sacrifices that go through the motions of devotion without love—doesn’t delight God.
Unlike cultural kindness, chesed captures the steadfast and sacrificial love of God who refuses to abandon a people who are radically different from him, who anger him, who fail him again and again. Biblical kindness, therefore, must be rooted in this kind of covenantal love that endures at all costs. Our kind God doesn’t merely tolerate us or endure us with distaste. He loves us with a fierce kindness that’s more committed to our own well-being than we are.
Not Always Agreeable
Godly kindness is rooted in the covenantal love of God who pursues the flourishing of his creation. But real human flourishing comes when humanity lives in submission and obedience to our Creator. Because God’s covenantal love always has the aim of changing a sinful people into a holy nation, godly kindness isn’t always agreeable.
To be kind in our culture means that we rarely disagree. We live in a nation in which outrage trumps listening and understanding, and disagreement means dismissal. Any number of current events might instigate Facebook posts that say something like, “If you don’t condemn ___, we’re no longer friends.” While condemnation of injustice is valid, these posts reveal how cultural kindness rigidly responds to disagreement: it cancels.
Cancel culture is cultural kindness’s attempt at justice. Though the desire to make right what has gone wrong is good, kindness without love will lead to justice without love. We will be content to settle for dismissal because our kindness was never more than niceness. It’s not motivated by wanting to know another, not fierce enough to engage in hard conversations, not deep enough to work toward restoring a broken person.
Not so for biblical kindness—God’s kindness is “meant to lead [us] to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Godly kindness confronts us in love so we might be conformed to his image. Because he loves us and wants us to flourish, God’s steadfast loving-kindness will challenge us, tell us when we’re wrong, and change us. This is why the psalmist says, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness” (Ps. 141:5). It is kindness when God corrects, rebukes, and convicts us because he loves us enough to see that we might become mature and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4), and receiving our inheritance as his children.
Godly kindness confronts us in love so that we might be conformed to his image.
Though cultural kindness leads to cancel-culture “justice,” godly kindness leads to restorative justice through truth-telling, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is why Paul declares, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22, NASB95). God isn’t interested in niceness; he’s interested in bringing many sons to glory. And in his kindness, he will surely do it.
Called to Kindness
God the Father sent Jesus Christ to extend to us the ultimate kindness: our salvation (Titus 3:4). But in Christ, we’re also set apart to be transformed into his likeness through the Spirit who produces godly fruit in our lives—fruit like kindness (Gal. 5:22). This is the calling placed on God’s chosen people, to put on godly kindness that we might be filled with love in all our interactions, caring about the well-being of others and speaking the truth in love in the same manner that our heavenly Father does.
In John 8, a woman is caught in adultery. Her crime deserves death and the community is ready to deliver. But Jesus shows her kindness. He kneels beside her, protects her, and reminds the crowd that they’re not so different. But he also doesn’t say her actions don’t matter. He calls her to repentance and obedience when he says, “Go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). May we grow in this sort of godly kindness in a world that desperately needs the kindness of our Savior.
A version of this article appeared at Daily Discipleship.