God’s Merciful Eyes that Open Our Eyes – John 4.25-26

“The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you, I am he.'” (NIV – click here for full text)

Last time we reflected on Hagar’s testimony of the Lord that sees her. As she sat in the wilderness alone and away from all human sight, the Lord sought her, found her, and comforted her with his seeing of her. God saw her when she was all alone and rejected by the world. 

In the New Testament, we encounter a similar story in John 4 as Jesus interacts with the Samaritan woman at the well. Similarities abound. First, like Hagar, this woman is an outsider, someone who comes to the well alone. She is a woman in the constant wilderness of social rejection and shame. Second, like Hagar, she is in the midst of relational chaos. As Hagar found herself rejected by her “family” due to jealously and shame, the Samaritan woman lives in shame as someone married five times and now living with a man not her husband. Third, as everyone else has seemingly abandoned these two women, God has not. Indeed, he seeks them out. He sees them and shows them his mercy. Through this, he brings them to renewed life. 

As Jesus encounters this woman at the well, he “sees” her truly – both in her sin and in the new life that is being birthed. Throughout their conversation, the woman desires to deflect Jesus’ penetrating eyes into her soul. But through Jesus’ careful inspection, he speaks the truth that brings transformation. Her final defense mechanism is putting God’s coming into the future. “I know he is coming,” she says, “and then he’ll explain everything.” By putting the revelation in the future, it allows her to not face her present – the shame that hurts, but also the healing that is available. 

Jesus defeats this final defense as he says, “I who speak to you am he” (NIV). What she dismissed as a future reality is sitting right before her. She can’t avoid it anymore, her whole life is in this present moment – the sin, the shame, the truth, the opportunity for redemption, the loving presence of her beginning and end. It is here. We see this even more as we hear literally what Jesus said. The Greek translates literally, “I am, the one who speaks to you.” By saying “I am”, Jesus is taking on the very name of God that was revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Here is this woman’s burning bush and it changes her. It brings her to life. 

Let us not lose sight of what the truth of God’s seeing us does for us. Like the woman at the well, we are tempted to dismiss God’s present seeing of our life. We hide from his gaze. We hide in our shame, but we also hide from his mercy. Be healed by God’s sight. Do not be afraid of it. Be healed and comforted by it. It is God’s merciful eyes that open our eyes to his love, grace, and healing. 

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God’s Merciful Eyes – Genesis 16.13

“[Hagar] 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.'” (NIV)

Hagar is not a highly familiar biblical character. Her status is marginal at best in the eyes of the other main characters in the grand biblical story. She is merely a maidservant who becomes useful within the midst of human manipulations. She is Sarah’s maidservant. Sarah is the wife of Abraham. Abraham is the grand patriarch, the one called by God, the one who believed God’s promise, the one through whom all the world would be blessed. In this episode, Abraham and Sarah are at their worst. 

Abraham has received the promise that he would have a son. The problem is that Abraham and Sarah are well advanced in years and that Sarah has been barren her whole life. This whole promise is too much to understand, so in Genesis 16, Sarah seeks to take control of making sure the fulfillment comes. If she can’t have children, then she will step aside and make sure Abraham bears a child through other means. The desired end is a child. Unable to be the means to that end, she seeks another means: a fresh womb, her maidservant Hagar. 

Abraham agrees to Sarah’s plan and the plan works. Hagar becomes pregnant. But in being treated as a mere means to an end, Hagar becomes mean. The text says she “despised her mistress” (Gen. 16.4). The servant is now greater than her mistress. Hagar is now a woman of blessing. She foolishly flaunts this. Envy ensues. Bitterness grows. “Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me'” (Gen. 16.5). 

This episode shows the worst of Abraham. He acts as a pathetic passive male who allows Sarah to appease her envious rage. He doesn’t seek peace or reconciliation. He says to Sarah, “Do with her whatever you think best” (Gen. 16.6). Initially, Sarah had placed Hagar in Abraham’s arms and now Abraham hands Hagar back to Sarah. Hagar is a mere means, a means that has brought an undesired end. So, Sarah mistreats her and Hagar flees. 

She flees to the wilderness. She is alone, pregnant, and probably wondering what will come of her. Will she die? Will her child die within her womb? She most likely feels worthless, a mere tool of her mistress’s manipulations. The world has not been kind to her. The wilderness only makes real the harshness of her world. 

She’s here alone. Abraham won’t look for her. His pathetic passiveness proves this. Sarah won’t look for her. Her envy can only be appeased by distance. She’s alone with no one caring where she is. Except God. “The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16.7). As the text says he found her, it means he was looking when no one else was. 

He brings to her words of mercy and direction. He brings her words of divine blessings in the midst of Sarah’s curses. He brings her companionship when she thought she was all alone. 

Her response to the LORD is a majestic testament. “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'” (Gen. 16.13). 

Hagar bears testimony to all who find themselves as mere means in a harsh world that manipulates others to reach its desired end. To Abraham and Sarah, Hagar is a mere tool, not a human being of intrinsic value. Too often, people in the world are treated in this way. As God sees Hagar and reminds her of her intrinsic worth, we too must be reminded and remind others of how God sees us with his eyes of mercy. We must reject seeing people as means, but see them as God sees them. We’re created for the end of giving glory to God, not for being used for the whims of self-centered human desires. 

May we be freed by the knowledge that God sees us and has found us in the grace of Jesus Christ. (more to come on this next time). 

Blessings.

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God’s Merciful Approach to Our Hiding – Genesis 3.8-9

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” (NIV)

Playing hide and seek with God is not easy, in fact impossible. It’s God’s all-knowing nature that proves challenging. We might think we’re hiding, but we’re not really because nothing is hidden from God’s sight. Still, Adam and Eve try. They hide because of their shame. They are vulnerable and go into self-protection mode. They hide because of their fear. They fear being exposed. In their fear, they might expect God to come raging into the forest, knocking down trees as he comes, or blowing them all down with a mighty wind until the only things standing before him is his two vulnerable and naked human creations. But here we get a very different picture of God. We see a God who is taking his routine early evening stroll through the woods and calling for his beloved creatures. He doesn’t scream at them in judgment, wagging his finger and looking fiercely behind every tree. No, he lovingly calls out, “Where are you?”

I hear this question asked in a loving and compassionate tone. Of course he knows where they are. He’s God. He knows all. But in mercy, he still asks, he still calls. He seeks to show them not his infinite knowledge and power, but his infinite desire for fellowship. He is demonstrating the separation and in compassion showing them he wants to remedy the situation.

I find it powerful that God often calls in the form of a question when we are vulnerable and weak. He desires to call us to himself, not further the separation. We see this in Genesis 4 with God approaching Cain after Abel’s murder, “Why are you angry?,” “Where is your brother Abel?” We see it in John 4 as Jesus opens up conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, “Will you give me a drink?” It is powerful that God engages us in conversation, thus inviting fellowship. If we are willing to converse in truth with him, we will find a fellowship that heals and lasts for eternity.  

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The False Hope of Hiding – Genesis 3.8-9

After eating the forbidden fruit, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ (NIV)

God’s question in Genesis 3.9, “Where are you?”, acknowledges for Adam and Eve that a significant separation has occurred. They might not want to acknowledge that right away. They perhaps would rather forget what just happened and act like they were still on good terms with God. But God’s question expresses the distance that is now present and the horror of the hiding that they are now pursuing. God must acknowledge this distance to further open their eyes to the horror of sin and shame, so that they might allow God to find them and restore them. The same is true for us. In our sin, we must recognize the distance we’ve created from God before we can be restored to fellowship. It does not work to simply pretend nothing happened. 

I think of a child who hides when he has done something wrong. He hides to prevent being found out, thinking that in hiding, the sin will disappear as he has disappeared. A child with a good parent learns that things don’t work this way. The hard work of reconciliation must take place. Though this will be emotionally painful, in the end it the pain pales in comparison to the greater joy of reconciliation and love. The same is true for our relationship with God. 

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The Feast Before Us – Genesis 2.15-17

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free  to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'”

The first words of God to man are words of freedom, not restriction. “You are free,” God says. With these opening words, we see the character of God that so many miss in thinking about him. Too often people think of God as desiring to keep us away from good things. This verse speaks the complete opposite. Adam is given freedom to enjoy the broad riches of God’s creation, hundreds upon hundreds of fruit-filled trees. All that is restricted is one tree in the midst of seemingly hundreds, perhaps thousands. The question for each of us to ask is this, why am I more attracted to that which I can’t have than all that I am allowed to enjoy? Of course, this is the foundational question that the story is seeking to get at, especially as the story moves into Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve do eat of the restricted tree. This text calls us to reconsider our view of God. Too often people think of God as stingy, but this text speaks of him as opulent in his generosity. As we long for that which we can’t have we are led to consider, doesn’t our greed bring us to not only pursue destructive things but also to believe lies about the very nature of God? God’s plan for us is freedom, but it is freedom defined by him. He invites us into this glorious freedom. The question is, will we give it all up to indulge the one thing we can’t have? 

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The Mercy of Creating Space – Genesis 1.1-2, 6-10

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” …”And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse ‘sky.'”…”And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.'” (NIV)

We’re invited to see God’s powerful act of mercy in creating space. We need to exalt God for this creation of space. He creates space so that life might burst forth. As the Spirit hovers over the water, no space is available for life to flourish. The water has no boundaries. Through God’s powerful word, the waters are pulled back to allow for life to come. We see space for birds and then see space for land animals and human beings. This pushing back of the waters is such a dominant theme of mercy – of fear being overcome with new life and worship. Think of the flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, Jesus in the boat chastising the storm, and eventually Revelation 21.1, where there is no sea. In his mercy God creates space, where we will not be overwhelmed by the forces of chaos that swell around us. Think of this in terms of the spiritual life as well – the need for space in the midst of a chaotic life where dry ground can give us a firm foundation. This imagery is throughout the Scriptures – God as our refuge and rock who picks us out of the miry clay to set us on firm ground (Psalm 40) and Jesus’ teaching that the wise man builds his house on the rock so he will not be washed away.

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