you are a God who sees

There's a saying: "Hurt people hurt people."

It's been on my mind lately. There is so much pain in this world and it seems to increase at an exponential rate, which makes sense - because every one of our wounds can be traced back to the hand of another wounded soul. Sometimes things hurt so much that the only accessible relief seems to be to turn and hurt somebody else, even if it's entirely unintentional. Even if we hate ourselves for doing it a moment later.

Hurt people hurt people.

Hurting fathers hurt their children. Hurting wives hurt their husbands. Hurting children hurt their families. Everywhere, pain breeds more pain, and one person's wounds can sink claws of destruction deep into the soul of a child many generations down the line, perpetuating a brokenness that has cracked us all down the middle since the fall of Adam.

It seems hopeless: I am broken, just like endless ancestors before me. And if I ever try to numb my pain, I'm doomed to break someone else in the process.

You are a God who sees: Sarai, Hagar, and how hurt people hurt people

There's a very broken woman in the pages of the Bible. Her name, at least when we meet her, is Sarai. We don't know much about how she grew up or what wounds she carried with her from childhood, but we do know that she was deeply scarred in her marriage and in her relationship with God. Her husband quite simply did not cherish her as much as he loved himself (Genesis 12:13). She was denied, too, the opportunity to love and be loved by a child (Genesis 11:30). She witnessed God's promise of a biological heir for her husband, but toward Sarai herself, God was silent (Genesis 15:4).

A deep, jagged wound left Sarai empty and aching in her area of most profound need. And she did what all hurting people do: she turned around, sucked in a shaking breath, and plunged her pain into someone else like a poisoned blade. She found half a moment of blessed relief, and in an instant another generation - no, another whole nation - was infected with destruction.

After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.

Genesis 16:3-6

Enter Hagar - another very broken woman, an Egyptian slave in Abram and Sarai's household. Hagar likely had nothing of her own in life, least of all a voice or any kind of power. She was entirely at the mercy of others, and when Sarai's pain became unbearable, Hagar received the abuse.

She was treated little better than a cow for breeding - violated to dull someone else's pain.

And she did what all hurting people do: she turned around, sucked in a shaking breath, and plunged her pain right back into her mistress like a poisoned blade.

This, to me, is one of the bleakest pictures in the Bible. Two broken people in heart-to-heart combat, each trying to destroy the other in hopes of forgetting her own desperate state for just an instant.

And I can look around at any relationship of any kind on this earth and see the very same image.

Is there any hope for healing? Any chance this sick cycle can ever be broken? Or should we just resign ourselves to hearing of another school shooting or another ugly divorce or another split church every passing day?

Well, the story doesn't end there.

Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her further,

“Behold, you are with child,
And you will bear a son;
And you shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
“He will be a wild donkey of a man,
His hand will be against everyone,
And everyone’s hand will be against him;
And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

Genesis 16:7-14

There it is: Hope.

In the middle of this black picture, the angel of the Lord appears.

Hagar has been driven out, all the way to Shur - the middle of nowhere, wilderness of wilderness. She is desperately alone. But God says,

"Hagar." I know your name.

"Sarai's maid." I know who you are.

"Where have you come from and where are you going?"

What an incredible pair of questions for the God of the Universe to ask at that moment. He knows the answers - but does she? "Where have you come from?" It's about more than her journey from Abram and Sarai's dwelling in the land of Canaan to the back of beyond. God probes into the origin of the problem, the origin of the wound. Healing only comes when we all answer the question: Where have we come from? We have to dig out the roots of our actions, all the way down to the bedrock of brokenness they spring from. No healing can happen until we cease trying to medicate away our symptoms and reach instead for the rotting insides of the wound.

"And where are you going?" When we get down to the messy guts of our pain, God's plan is never to leave us wallowing in it. Healing only comes when we answer the question: Where are we going? Now that we've uncovered the real traumas, we have to cut out the rotting core and wash the wound clean. No healing can happen until all the lies we have believed because of our wounds are completely eradicated and cleansed with the truth.

Hagar only answers the first question: "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." It's God who answers the second. "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." Go, but don't take the pain with you. Go, but don't keep stabbing others with your wounds. Go, but go in the healing of the truth.

And what is the truth?

You are a God who sees - Sarai, Hagar, and how hurt people hurt people

For Hagar, who has lived the life of a piece of property, the healing truth is that she is significant. She has a place in the world and a voice in history. God hears the cry of her heart and sees the pain she has endured.

She names her son, the father of one of the greatest nations on earth, Ishmael - "God hears." She names that spring of water where He appeared to her Beer-lahai-roi - "The well of the Living One who sees me."

That is the truth that breaks sin's sick cycle in our world. God hears. God sees. Our pain is not unnoticed by Him, and He doesn't want to leave us in it.

He's calling us by name and asking two questions: "Where have you come from and where are you going?" Because if we're going to stop being hurt people who hurt people, we need to know the answers.

this is God's will

God has been working in me.

It's always interesting to watch Him, because so often, His shaping touch is so gentle that I don't even feel it until I notice its tangible effects on my life months or years later. He works slowly, deliberately, never hurried or pushy, and why not? He has all the time in the world. I am learning, the longer I watch Him, that the aggressive, domineering, hurry-up-or-you'll-regret-it messages I sometimes hear in my heart and mind are never from Him - they are just my Enemy's strategy to distract me from the loving and teaching voice of my Father.

Today I noticed that my prayers have changed in the last year, maybe two. It was such a gradual shift that it didn't occur to me that anything was happening at the time, but now I can see it: Where I once asked for miracles, I've begun to ask for the revelation of God's character. Where I once asked for changed circumstances, I've begun to ask for changed hearts. Where I once asked God to step in and do blatant divine work in my life (and others'), I've begun to ask Him to lead His children to be His hands and feet toward one another.

I've asked God to miraculously heal the pain and suffering of a family member (well, let's face it... more than one family member), and I don't think that's wrong - but the beauty I have found in "Thy will be done" is that He often wills to do far deeper and greater work than simple healing of a physical problem. He shows us who He is - and there is no greater miracle than that.

The gloriously inefficient plan

But He doesn't necessarily show us who He is the way that I have often expected or desired, either. Looking back, I see that I wanted Him to sweep in in a grand vision, in an incredible event that no one could possibly doubt was an act of God - that would force us to turn our hearts toward Him more. But He has very rarely done so. Instead, He seems to prefer to work small... gentle... slow. He seems to prefer inefficiency. He seems to prefer to involve us, not to force us.

And I am coming to see that His favorite inefficiency is to reveal Himself chiefly in the small, Spirit-led voices and actions of His children. He shows us who He is in the unconditional love, the bottomless forgiveness, the open-hearted welcome of people who are just like us, people who are broken, but have been saved by the blood of Christ and transformed by the Holy Spirit.

So instead of asking Him to put on a huge show of power to remind me of His worthiness, His faithfulness, or His love, I have begun to ask Him to send someone - one of His small, saved people - who can gently, slowly, inefficiently live out His character before me in the humblest of ways. I am learning that He wants to do His deepest work through us, the Church. He wants me to hear His voice from the mouths of His children and see His love through their sacrificial actions and invite His grace into my life in the form of these genuine and difficult relationships.

And He wants me to do the same for them.

We, the Church of Christ, are intended to be His will. His voice. His hands. His arms. His feet. His heart.

The call to imitate Christ has never been more vital.

Now is not the time to wait for miracles to rain down from heaven. If God chooses to do that, then hallelujah, but here is the truth: we are the miracle. The God of all Creation has spared no expense to purchase a relationship with us, and to offer Himself fully to every living soul. That is a miracle. Every day that we walk with Christ as the active manifestation of His love, His grace, His power, His mercy, His unity, and His forgiveness for others is a miracle - and it's the miracle that will save the world, that will bring life to those who are dying in darkness.

God isn't showy or controlling or in a rush. He's not even all that efficient at times. But He is working - and He wants to work in me, and in you, and through us all. Broken and hurting people in our sanctuaries and our world are praying for a vision of what God's heart really looks like. What if we - the Church, the body of Christ - are the answer to that prayer? Am I ready to step in and live it? Are you?

This is your calling and mine - God wants to do His deepest work in us and through us. His Church is called to be His love to the world.

The hard, healing work

This is hard work. The hardest work. It means that instead of burying our brokenness, we re-open the old wounds to the community of Christ - to be healed and, equally importantly, to provide an opportunity for His Church to practice its lofty call. It means that instead of pretending we're all okay, we build relationships based on the assumption that we are all not okay - and that no matter what your pet sin or your coping mechanism or your personal trauma, I've got my own pet sin or coping mechanism or personal trauma that really isn't much different, except maybe by name.

It means I am not just climbing to get myself to the top, but I'm choosing to throw my weight into these burdens in perfect sync with those who are climbing beside me, so that together we can lift up those who are too wounded to make the trek on their own.

And it's risky, because without exception, all of our deepest wounds came from other people to begin with - often the people closest to us. It seems counter-intuitive that we'd need to look for healing in the same position of vulnerability that hurt us, or that we'd ever trust someone other than ourselves to pull us up the treacherous mountainside to victory. But this is the plan.

The gloriously inefficient and hazardously optimistic plan.

Disorders. Addictions. Emptiness. Trauma. Sin. Pain. Abandonment. Disease. Not a single one of us is not suffering somehow from the wounds of a broken world. But until we stop pretending otherwise, until we stop hiding from each other - which can only mean we are hiding from the healing hand of God - the destructive cycle will go on.

God has been working in me. Slowly, gently, He has been clearing my vision to see what my true vocation as a servant of Christ is. It's not to preach the Gospel to a certain number of people or to write a particular book or to revolutionize the way we learn Scripture. Even if any of these things did happen, my real, bottom-line vocation would still be exactly the same as yours: To imitate Christ, who lived unapologetically real, fearlessly vulnerable, and inexhaustibly loving.

He laid His life down for His friends - not just literally, but also daily, entering into other people's muck and empathizing with their pain and loving them all the way to healing. And all this He did fearlessly, freely, even at the risk of unimaginable betrayal.

Now He has passed the baton to me. To you. To His Church.

This is God's will. We are God's plan.

Will we obey?