You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction.Genesis 16:11
So [Hagar] called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”Genesis 16:13
Woman. Foreigner. Slave. Pregnant. And now homeless.
Like most cases of injustice, Hagar’s isn’t fully black and white. While she was clearly, for the most part, a victim, she also seems to bring some of the grief upon herself. Which mirrors my personal experiences with the poor and disenfranchised.
Yet she was in such pitiful circumstances, God would not ignore her. Both in Genesis 16 when she left on her own and in chapter 21 when she was kicked out, God showed up and brought compassion as only he can. And what he did for her in meeting her spiritual, socio-emotional, and physical needs was so impactful, two aspects of God’s nature are made clear: He sees the hurting and he hears the hurting. It was God’s idea to name her son “Ishmael” to teach her that God hears her. Likewise, it was Hagar who called God El-Roi, “the God who sees.” And by nature of that, she knew he was a God who looks after. It was far more than putting his eyes on her; it was very interactive. He cared for her in an intimate way.
And while the story of Hagar does not explicitly teach its readers that we are to act to others like Hagar in a similar way, I think it is safe that the rest of the Bible does. Christians have a mandate to go into the world with what I will call—as a result of God’s compassion to Hagar and her gratitude in response—-the “eyes and ears of grace.”
We live in a generation where throngs of people are lonely, perhaps as many as 75% of Americans. Many others are distracted by phones, social media, entertainment. So if there is anything people are missing, it is other people hearing them and seeing them. And as God did in Genesis with this poor immigrant slave woman, I do not mean merely using your senses to note their presence. I mean people need to know that other people are willing to pay complete attention to them. And that they are willing to get into the mess of their lives to understand and help them. To meet their spiritual, socio-emotional, and physical needs. People need to know that someone sees them and hears them. Not just the poor or rejected. Being seen and heard is a fundamental need of every single human.
I’ve noted before that greeting people intimately can be a way to preach the Gospel. Because when you greet someone well, you communicate loudly and clearly, “I see you”. However, it goes far beyond that. People, as image-bearers of the Christian God, need never to feel invisible. And they never should feel that others are too distracted to listen to them. As someone who has struggled to put down my phone while in the presence of others (but by the grace of God is improving), I am convicted by this.
We were meant to both worship and serve others with the totality of our lives. This includes our bodies. It especially includes our eyes and ears. They need to be instruments of God’s grace. I am not foolish enough to believe that all evil in the world would disappear if people would listen to and look after others. But there is no doubt a common thread among people who do some of the most vicious acts of horror in that many are people who were lonely and cut off from others. I must state clearly that they alone are responsible for their actions. Yet I also advocate strongly that all of us need to be on the constant lookout for people who are sitting alone and to be proactive in engaging them. Everyone deserves the eyes and ears of grace.
So my challenge to the Rambling Ever On readership today is, who are you going to see and hear today? And the day after that? And as often as you can as long as you can? To whom are you going to show the eyes and ears of grace? A significant portion of the Bible is not sermonic. Instead, it is God and his people showing us how to live. This is true with Hagar’s story in Genesis. And it has led me to want to have eyes and ears of grace.