Does God surprise you? Does God do things for other people that surprise you? Like the people you wouldn’t think He knows about, and even if he does know about them, He certainly wouldn’t do that for them? Does He ever surprise you in that way?
Hmmm....I don't think so.
I used to be really (I mean, really) skeptical of when people told me stories about how God blessed them. I’m not talking about good Christian folks. I’m not even talking about nominal Christians who attend church at least twice a year on Easter and Christmas. No, I’m talking about people who I’m pretty sure have never stepped foot in a church aside from attending a wedding or funeral and definitely don’t have a relationship with God. So when someone like that told me that God blessed them, I was certain it wasn’t God because God wouldn’t do that. Or would he?
I have immense affection for the Old Testament because it’s where I first encountered the loving passion of Yahweh. While some can only see a violent, angry God in the Old Testament, I see a tender, loving God who continuously rescues His people from the messes they create for themselves.
Some of the stories are weird, though. The love triangle between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, and the children who were born into it – Isaac and Ishmael – is bizarre to my contemporary western understanding. Hagar is one of those Bible characters who seem to get no love, but yet, we forget she was a slave to Sarah. Sarah is beloved and we cast her in a positive light but if we’re true to the facts, she wasn’t very nice to Hagar.
Hagar did everything her mistress asked of her, including bearing a child for her. But it wasn’t enough. Sarah was nasty to her and finally Hagar had had it, so she ran away. It was better to die in the desert, than to withstand another day in Sarah’s employ. “Good,” you say, “She had it coming to her because her child, Ishmael, threatened the Promise that was intended for Isaac.” Maybe, but was it her fault?
This is where the story takes a turn that I wouldn’t expect. God shows up, to rescue Hagar and Ishmael, and blesses her. What?! He blessed her. How could He do that? It’s cray cray.
You know what else is crazy? Hagar was the first person in the history of humankind to experience God in this way, so she gives him a new name.
The Significance of a Name
I need to back up for a moment and go down the rabbit trail about naming someone or something. In our modern culture where names are accessories, or adornments we don’t understand the weight a name carries. You may have an inkling of what I’m talking about if you stop and think about why Jewish people won’t spell the word God (they write it G-d, instead). It isn’t because their keyboard doesn’t have an ‘o’ but because they hold to the ancient practice that to know a person’s name was to know (or possess) his or her character. God is holy, reverent and completely ‘other’ than us, so it’s impossible to possess God (or so they believe).
When God gave Adam the job of naming the animals in the Garden of Eden, it wasn’t a ‘make busy’ task for Adam to do while God went about the real business of creation. God invited Adam into the task of creating with God. (It’s unbelievably fascinating that I can barely contain my praise, even as I write this.) Adam named the animals, so therefore he possessed them, which made it possible for him to do the next task God gave him to do – to rule over the animals. Do you see why Jews don’t want to “possess” God? It’s a responsibility no one can live with.
His New Name
Okay, now back to Hagar and God’s new name.
She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are El Roi (the God who sees me),” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” ~Genesis 16:13
Do you see that? Hagar named God. Hagar. The mother of Ishmael. The mother of Islam. God rescued and blessed Hagar, and then Hagar named God. Hagar, the Egyptian slave, named and possessed God in a way that He was pleased to be known. Dear one, you have been like Hagar. I have been like Hagar. We have been outside of the Promise, a slave, desperate to get away but having no where to turn. Perhaps you are desperate, and the only way out is to die in the desert. That’s not how your story is supposed to end because if He showed up for Hagar, He will show up for you too. He is El Roi, the God Who Sees You. When His eye is on you, when He sees you, then He blesses you.
Have you felt invisible? Are you lonely because you don’t think anyone sees or notices you? Share your story in the comments. I want to “see” you, but more importantly, I want you to know that God sees you.
This month, our Featured Flag is El Roi, the God Who Sees You. I created this worship flag because you need to know: someone sees you; and it’s not just anyone, El Roi sees you.