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From The Chaplain's Desk
From The Chaplain's Desk: God's Mercy

By Charles Dimmick, CT State Grange Chaplain

  AUGUST 4, 2016 --

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The word “mercy” is very common in the Bible, appearing 352 times in the King James Version. Knowing that there are sometimes great difficulties in finding proper translations from Hebrew to English, I got to wondering just what extra meanings the word might have in Hebrew. Much to my surprise I found that there are five different Hebrew words translated as “mercy”, each with slight but significant changes in meaning. For instance, in Psalm 4 we read “have mercy on me and hear my prayer”; the word translated “mercy” is “chanan”, which means to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior. But in the passage from Psalm 23, which starts this article, the word used in Hebrew is “checed”, which originally referred to bowing in courtesy towards an equal. It can also mean “kindness”, and indeed in Psalm 117 the same word “checed” is translated “merciful kindness”.

Properly translating “checed” into English has been recognized as a problem for hundreds of years. There is no one word which can give all its multiple shades of meaning. Indeed, looking at various translations of the Bible I find our familiar “goodness and mercy” of the 23rd Psalm rendered also as “goodness and love”, “goodness and unfailing love”, “goodness and loving kindness”, “goodness and faithful love”, “goodness and gracious love”, “goodness and faithfulness”, and “your kindness and your mercies”.

Let’s pass over for now the other three words translated as “mercy” and concentrate on these two. I think they are revealing in showing us the nature of God’s mercy. In the first instance God will show his mercy by bending down and saving us in our distress, thus showing “chanan” towards us. In the second instance, having raised us to safety, he will offer us his eternal friendship, his “cheched”, his merciful kindness to us and asks only that we accept it.

This, then is God’s great mercy: that although he is as much superior to us as we are to a grain of sand, he will raise us up and of his great love will disregard our inferiority, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses, and treat us as friends, showering us with his kindness. One cannot help but be reminded of that great old Gospel hymn: “What a friend we have in Jesus”.


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