February 7, 2010

Hagar's Response

So far we have traveled with Hagar through most of the steps of decision making. Hagar, the pregnant maid and surrogate mother for Sarai, made the decision to run away when she was treated harshly. Because Hagar didn’t really plan her journey, she became lost. Destitute and discouraged she arrives at the oasis near Kadesh-Barnea. We learned that really Hagar was not abandoned. God was with her and sent an angelic messenger to speak to her and give her advice at the oasis. Last week, we left her in the midst of making the decision whether to obey God’s messenger or not. This week and next we’ll find out if Hagar listens to God and what impact meeting God has on her decisions.

Many of the images we think of for angels involve figures with wings. This photo is not of an angel--it's really a snow storm across town. It captures what I think of when I think of angelic messengers—light and power without a real form.

So she named the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are El-roi’; for she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?’ Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered. (Gen. 16:13)

Like Paul on the road to Damascus, Hagar’s preconceived ideas about her life and about God have been transformed. The God she thought distant and uncaring has intercepted her at the crossroads of her life. She names God El-roi (the God who sees). She realizes that only the Holy One could have seen into her motivation and despair.
“How can I have spoken with God, or God’s angel, and survived?” Hagar wonders. “The One who spoke to me has promised great and amazing things. This could only be a True God who can see me as I am. I will call this place Beer-lahai-roi, for I have glimpsed God and live.”
In a religious context the process of decision making is called discernment. Prayer is an important component of any discernment. In order to pray, we have to identify who we are praying to. Hagar acknowledged that God had seen her anguish and responded to her when she calls the Lord “the God who sees.”
Because of her experience, the name of place where Hagar encounters God comes to be known by a special name. “Beer-lahai-roi” means the well (beer) of the one who sees/is seen (roi) and lives (la-hai). The root of lahai is chay, which is the same as the well known toast l’chaim (to life).

Hagar has met God and her life has taken on new meaning. The Bible does not give us details of Hagar’s thoughts after her encounter with God, but we know that she knew that she was changed. No longer was Hagar the victim, she was now empowered by having been visited by God. When we encounter the Living God, we too are strengthened. No longer are we held captive by our wounds, we are free to live the abundant life promised by God.
The abundant life is not a bed of roses. I am reminded of the old Lynn Anderson hit Rose Garden. The chorus says:

“I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden.
Along with the sunshine,
There's gotta be a little rain sometimes.”

The rain or troubles in life nourish our faith by rinsing away the things that distract us from hearing God’s messengers. Like these roses in the rain, we may feel a bit beaten down until, like Hagar, we learn that God is present.

You may think, ‘I’ve never been confronted by a messenger from God.’ I’ve noticed God rarely issues neon signs saying ‘this way’, but…How often do you hear a little voice inside you urging you to make this decision rather than that? When has a friend said just the right thing to help you make a choice? Aren’t these all messengers from God?

At the beginning of the year, I suggested you review your life as a series of stepping stones.  If you did the exercise, you may want to look at it again and see if there are times when you were at a crossroad and had to make a choice. Was your life transformed by the decision you made?

Come back next week for the final entry in this series to explore what happened when Hagar returns to Abram and Sarai.

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