I've been reading through my Bible looking at the story of women. I'm thinking of writing about the women in the Bible, of the lessons we learn from them. Thinking of how to answer a culture that believes that women have little to nothing to do with God.
But as I have been reading through, I'm stuck by a few things. I'm beginning to think we were taught wrong in Sunday school. We learned about women, but I think we missed something about God. We were too busy looking at the "right" women in the story, and missed how God treated the "wrong" women.
We hear of Sarah and Hagar, and we are conditioned to dislike, even hate Hagar. She was Egyptian, not of the chosen race. She was not even married to this man. She was not of the promise. It was a wrong act, and her son caused problems. We still struggle today from the problems caused by her son. So we have strong feelings against Hagar.
Is that just? Is that the attitude God had?
As an adult, able to be trusted with more information (like where babies come from - a big taboo in Sunday school), I look at the story again. Hagar was a slave. She wasn't a paid housekeeper who could go look for a secretarial job if she didn't like mopping floors after a few years. She was owned. And she was told to do something. Ok, in the system of the time, there was no big deal about giving your slave to your husband. But... it likely wasn't her choice. She had no say in the matter at all. So blaming her would be on level of blaming a rape victim. Yet, through the years, we have done it.
I have always felt a sympathy for Hagar. We, because we are raised traditional American Christians with a strong bias for the the promised people and against the children of the slave, always look at that situation and deeply resent her child's presence in the story. "If only" we say to ourselves, "If only he had not been, we would not have the trouble we have now." It is the way we think from early on. We are taught as little kids when we hear this story - this is the trouble which happens when we try to do something ourselves instead of waiting for God.
But what we miss... this was not Hagar's fault or Ishmael's fault. Being a woman, and knowing slightly something about jealousy and envy and competition.... well, let's put it this way... Hagar would not have had to do much more than smile as she rubbed her round belly to tick Sarai off enough to make her mad. And yet, it was not Hagar who put herself in this position. She probably had no say in the matter at all. Yet it is her that gets kicked out in the desert alone and pregnant.
"The God who sees". This is her name for God.
A God who saw how she got here, and who sees her now. And what does God name her son - Ishmael, perhaps the first person outside of Adam that God names?
I, the God who sees the unjustness that put you here, also heard you.
I have a deep sympathy for Hagar. She had little choice, and had little say in her life. She was used wrongly and punished unfairly. But neither she nor Ishmael himself asked to be in that situation. The God who sees - it is a good name for God for many of us who have been abused and then also as a result of that abuse suffer unfair judgments. And I love God's answer to her. "Not only do I see, I hear." Yes, He did say go back and keep submitting, but "I see and I hear".
"One woman", people sometimes say, "what is the big deal about one woman, just turn your back so you don't see. It is not worth it. It is perhaps better not to make a huge incident over it. Just one woman, and not the most important one."
But God saw and answered.
Thinking about words said.... I have heard this too in her case. I have heard people almost say, but they don't want to argue aloud against God, but almost say it would have been better if she had died in the desert before the child was born. It is a powerful thing to hear people say one would have been better off dead. Not only as if she was unwanted, but as if people would have preferred she had died. Her value was so little.
The women I minister to are often told this - that is their worth, little to nothing and at times better off dead.
Where did this start? How do women believe it and what does it do to them? And how do we change these thinking patterns? It is at times good to see these things, and to see truth?
Look at Hagar. Even with God being outside of time, and knowing full well what would be the results, He did not turn His back. No one would have seen Him, judged Him, or said anything to Him if He had. He didn't. He answered her. Outside of talking with Eve, I think it may have been the first time God talked to woman. The first one He talked to was Hagar, about whom even Abraham had said, "I don't care, do what you want" .
God never said "I don't care". Not even about the wrong woman. Not even when He knew what this child she was carrying would mean to His plans. Not even then.
This is what we need to be able to tell hurting women. The truth. The world may still say what Abraham said, "I don't care, do what you want with her."
But there is the God who sees. And when we cry out to Him, He answers and says, “I hear.”