I've been mulling over the story of Hagar in Genesis for a long time now. I'm just fascinated and amazed at the care that God shows her despite how crappily Abraham and Sarah treated her. It reminds me, unfortunately, of today, where some Christians feel that they are somehow serving God in their extreme rudeness and callousness toward women and those of other races (*see below for an example).
Hagar's story is pretty illustrative of, in contrast to some who claim to be followers, God's care and love for marginalized women.
Hagar, an Egyptian slave, is permitted no agency and is forced to procreate with Abraham, because Abraham and Sarah are too impatient to wait for God's promise of a son. While it's true that Hagar has her own problematic behaviors (definitely not a smart move to misread the power dynamics and start inciting Sarah), she doesn't deserve actual bullying. She flees, choosing the desert wilderness rather than stay one more moment with this family that needs her one minute and then mistreats her the next.
God actually speaks to her, giving her a promise regarding the child she is carrying. He reveals to her a prophesy about her son. She who was unloved, she who was mistreated hears that she and her son have a future. Their lives matter.
This direct interaction with God is not an everyday thing in the Bible. Few Bible characters receive a direct word of the Lord like this. Even David, the man after God's heart, usually had to ask a mediator priest for direction on what to do, and often received one word answers (see 2 Samuel 2:1 and 1 Samuel 23:11-12) including in the most life-threatening circumstances.
In contrast, God's response to Hagar takes seven verses to complete.
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
I love this so much! You can see her heart here. She who was unseen, who was just a body to be used and then discarded, is seen by God Himself. This is the God we serve, who while ultimately carrying out His promises to Abraham and caring for him, recognizes that Abraham is not acting in a godly manner here and He takes it upon Himself to care for her. This is completely consistent with God's character.
Sift through the Psalms and the Prophets and it's super easy to find passages where God talks about His care for orphans, widows, and all the downtrodden...and how we are supposed to care as well. Psalm 68, which I read this morning, describes Him this way:
Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land (verses 5-6).
So, it's Hagar who first recognizes the God Who Sees, and then Abraham does shortly after, essentially calling the very ground where it happened, The Lord Has Seen and Provides (see the last blog post on this: https://www.christianmusingsfortoday.com/post/the-names-of-god).
I so very much want to be seen by the Lord right now. More than even healing, my prayer is that He sees my daughter who has cancer, and provides for her. I felt from Day 1 of the diagnosis that it's not out of His hand that we need to be delivered. The God who hates that one of His own children has mistreated and discarded an Egyptian slave also hates sickness. When He walked on this earth, He spent the majority of His time eradicating as much of it as was possible.
Jesus was so focused on healing people, that His human body seemed frequently run down (think of all the stories of him sleeping, so deeply out that it's really hard to wake him up!). Jesus told us as early as Matthew 4 that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This was long before the crucifixion. He was redeeming captives from demonic possession, illness, broken relationships, meaningless lives, and even simple fevers as part of His ushering in His kingdom.
Here's another way to put this:
While Jesus came to die, he came to do so 'much more'...He is God in the flesh (John 1:14). He lived a perfect sinless life (Heb. 4:15). He is the greatest teacher (Matt. 7:29; John 3:2). He set a perfect example (Eph. 5:1). He performed miracles...But, he also fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3:13-15). While he died for many reasons, one is saved not only by his death, but his life as well (Rom. 5:10). C. S. Lewis said it well: "The Son of God became a man that men might become sons of God."... From https://thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/41617).
Jesus' life shows the heart of the God we worship. And I know He cares for and sees us. As I wrote in my last blog, I pray that He provides and acts upon this seeing. Jehovah Jireh, YHWH Yireh, my Provider.
My family laughs that my brain is like a library of Christian worship songs from the late 1970s through the early 2000s. In this brain library is an old Don Moen song that says, "Jehovah Jireh, my provider, His grace is sufficient for me." Those of you who read this blog regularly know that 2 Corinthians 12:9 ("My grace is sufficient for you...") is on my fireplace mantel.
He provides and He sees. Others, particularly women, have blogged Hagar's story and God's Name El Roi. Apparently, this has resonated strongly with them as well.
Do you feel unseen, either by God or others, or both?
Do you question whether, if you just disappeared, would it even matter?
Do you think that there is any distance you can go, either in terms of terrible life mistakes or fallouts with others, that God cannot find and rescue you from?
Hagar's story tells us that you don't even have to worship YHWH for Him to see you. Hagar was primarily a victim, but the few choices she had resulted in disastrous consequences. She likely would have died in the desert without God's intervention.
Some of us are in really bad situations because of our own bad choices, but also because of the callousness of others. Some of us are in difficult situations because we live in a fallen world and things break and people get sick.
Whatever the situation you are in, God sees. God sees, even if all you've ever received from the church has been judgment and criticism. God sees even if people who call themselves by His Name have hurt you, and hurt you disastrously.
Misery loves company, which is such a dark and terrible adage. I think the healthy form of this is that those of us who are suffering can experience mutual encouragement from and through others who are suffering. We may have different things going on, but we can reach out in person and digitally and say, "I see you. I see your pain." In this, we are acting far more like God than those who in their avoidance of pain neglect others or, worse yet, actively abuse and prey upon the weak.
Another old Christian song that's been running through my head is Amy Grant's My Father's Eyes (https://youtu.be/PECqVbfdreE). My freshman year at college, I was in a theater troupe where some of us sang during set changes to keep the movement flowing, and my director had me sing this song. During tour, I'd sing it every night. It carried special significance for me because my Dad and I both have green eyes, which is rare in our family and, I think, most families. My daughter also has green eyes (we also have terrible eyesight, so it's not all good!). We frequently comment on how we have the same eyes. And when I'd sing the song, I'd sing it with a triple meaning--my inherited eye color, my admiration for my father and how he sees people, and my love for my Heavenly Father.
The song lyrics are pretty powerful, with Grant specifying the ways in which she prays for her Father's eyes:
"She's got her Father's Eyes
Her Father's Eyes
Eyes that find the good in things
When good is not around
Eyes that find the source of help
When help just can't be found
Eyes full of compassion
Seeing every pain
Knowing what you're going through
And feeling it the same."
I didn't exactly pray it while I sang, but maybe it did end up being a kind of prayer, every evening as part of that theater troupe. I always thought I was kind of terrible in the area of compassion. I really didn't think I had God's eyes at all. But, I have spent most of my adulthood praying for my heart to change (Ezekiel 11:19 is my favorite Bible verse: I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.). I've since learned that, why yes, I am pretty terrible at being compassionate, but part of it was because I put up boundaries because I actually feel things a little too strongly. Learning how to care for others without becoming subsumed in their pain has been a lifelong lesson, and I'm still not there. This is why I'm not a mental health counselor!
But through suffering, I am learning to see others' pain in a way that is good and right. My eyes are opened, and have been opening for years now. And, I can receive others' open-eyed gaze toward me. It's OK to be seen (still hard sometimes, though).
Grant's lyrics, consciously or not, have become a driving force in my life. I pray that I may increasingly have my Father's eyes and, in doing so, that I may truly believe that He sees and loves me with just as much compassion as He saw an loved Hagar. No matter what mistakes I've made, He can meet me in the wilderness and redirect my path.
God, My Provider, I know your grace is sufficient for me, and your power is made perfect in my weakness. And I see your hands holding us and caring for us. Please see our need and the needs around us and provide your substitutionary love and care. Instead of illness, may there be health. Instead of trouble, deliverance. May others see and know not only that you are powerful, but that You love. You have seen the end from the beginning, and are never surprised. We ask that you see us know and indeed make your help manifest to us. May we in turn be filled with love and compassion for others. May following You be marked by love, just as Your apostle said that everyone will know we are Your disciples if we love one another.
*Here's the audio clip of Pastor John MacArthur's infamous "Go home" to Beth Moore: https://youtu.be/tO9JWqJJmdo. Worse than being rude, he and his church withheld information on a child sex scandal and MacArthur personally publicly shamed and shunned a woman who came forward about her husband physically abusing her, among other issues stemming from an extreme uber-patriarchal culture. See https://julieroys.com/investigations/john-macarther-masters-seminary/ and https://baptistnews.com/article/why-evangelicals-may-be-fearful-of-distancing-themselves-from-john-macarthur/#.Y0ydAHbMJPY