A Pluralist View on Lovingkindness

A Pluralist View on Lovingkindness March 14, 2024

I have written quite a bit over the years on the topic of lovingkindness, though mostly from an Eastern perspective. For much of this post, I want to look at some western perspectives before turning back to the eastern.  

While lovingkindness in the eastern sense has more to do with one’s relationship with another person (it also shows up in the Christian context, specifically (Genesis 20:13; 21:23; Joshua 2:12)), lovingkindness from a Christian perspective has more to do with God’s relationship with creation. It speaks to God’s love. A literal translation is hesed or checed which means covenant loyalty which is an older version of this where a newer view of this is unfailing love, mercy and good favor.  

Western Sense  

The Christian idea of lovingkindness is kinda weak in relation to other views of it. From Judaism, we get this idea: 

Gemilut hasadim is translated as acts of loving-kindness. It is used to describe everything from the work done by synagogue bikur holim committees [that visit the sick] to service projects designed for high school students to lessons on how to treat a homeless person you pass on the street. (from: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/acts-of-loving-kindness/ 

It is felt that this Jewish notion is closer to the eastern notion. The root of the word above, gml as found in the Talmud is defined as reciprocal acts. I like this notion as it seems to fit my current leanings as how I understand God’s work in creation. Leaning into an open theist or Open and Relational idea of God, we here see God working with creation.  

Chesed is not only the nature of God, but also the nature of how we as humans are to be with each other. While today Chesed is understood as an altruistic act of kindness. In the Bible, chesed and the parallel term noam refer to a covenantal arrangement between a powerful person or deity and their subject(s) 

As an observation, I find the rabbinic and biblical notions of chesed or lovingkindness to have a flat affect. If we consider a God who engages us with covenantal loyalty, who is kenotic and unconditional in love, it is felt that this gives us a model in which we should live. It is felt that the Eastern practice of lovingkindness gives us this model.  

A Brief Look back at the East 

One of the observations I make about Jesus is that he loved. He seemed to bow in compassion to even the vilest individuals in his society at the time. In the east, in the words of the loving kindness meditation, “may you be safe, may you be happy, may be at ease”, we can hear the actions of Jesus and see the love of Christ.  

As an eastern practice, lovingkindness is the quality of feeling love and being kind towards yourself and other people, it ia a Buddhist practice that focuses on trying to develop these feelings.  

As a Spiritual Practice 

Loving kindness is a practice and one that can take time. Looking at the Western perspective, if one has grown up with the traditional notions of God, one getting their head around a loving and intimately personal God can be a lot especially if you lean into traditional Calvinist and Lutheran tendencies. Learning the practices of the religion of Jesus rather than engaging in the practices of the religion about Jesus is a start.  

Judaism in its entirety gives us a good view into how we should treat others. As a practice for members of Judaism, chesed is one of the pillars in which the world stands. Chesed is one-sided giving, a type of charity that has elements of mercy and goodness. From the eastern perspective we see the same type of embodiment.  

As practice, lovingkindness is a contemplative practice. One cultivates this spiritual posture through patience and vulnerability. In therapy, lovingkindness is about coming to a sense of acceptance over your faults and the faults of others as a condition of being human, rather than focusing on forgiveness. Instead of “I forgive you or myself” which can be emotionally re traumatizing, we focus on may you or I be at peace, may you or I have love, may you or I be at ease. This again is a practice and not one that can be accepted at first blush for some.  

Consider this quote from Jay Forrest from his post on Patheos (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/spiritualnaturalist/2015/11/loving-kindness-as-a-spiritual-practice/ ):  

Loving-kindness is not going to accidentally happen to us. It is a commitment we make, a practice we cultivate, and a lifestyle that we live. We practice loving-kindness so that we will live a life of loving-kindness. We live a life of loving-kindness so that all beings may be happy. For we find happiness by giving it away. 


Before you go…  


The world is complicated, but Love Opens Doors strives to help you understand it. Each week, I am putting out 2 articles a week ranging from health to spirituality from theology to philosophy and from Church history to ethics. Each week, I put many hours in a week to create insightful, enlightening and meaningful content to share with you. Sign up for my free newsletter to get these articles in your inbox each day.   

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