Some verses get me every time I read them. One example is Genesis 16:13. Hagar, Sarai’s female servant, is carrying Abram’s child. Sarai, who planned this pregnancy, now hates her, and Hagar is on the run. In the middle of the wilderness, God appears to her and tells her to return, and promises to multiply her offspring.
Hagar responds by calling God “You are a God of seeing.” She comments, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
“Hagar actually confers on deity a name. No other character in the OT, male or female, does that. It is not unusual for mortals to give names to family members, to animals, to sacred sites, but never to one’s God, with the exception of Hagar,” observes Victor Hamilton. That name, El Roi, celebrates God’s care for a woman who’s been exploited and hurt.
Abram wronged her; Sarai wronged her. Hagar had done nothing wrong. In the wilderness and on the run, God showed up and extended kindness to her. God saw, and God cared.
Seeing What God Sees
I listened to a sermon a couple of years ago called “Sexual Assault and the Hope of the Gospel.” It stood out to me for a couple of reasons. First: it’s the only sermon I’ve ever heard on sexual assault. Second, as is appropriate, it contained tears.
It’s an important topic because it’s so prevalent. The estimates are horrifying: it’s estimated that at least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime, in many cases when they are children. And yet it’s a topic that’s hard to talk about because it’s so painful, and because it’s easier to turn away.
I’m writing this now because recent events have pointed out how hard it is to see those who have been wronged. Even in our responses, it’s easy to overlook them.
But God sees, and I want to see too. It’s easier to look away, but God doesn’t. He’s on the side of those who’ve been wronged and hurt, and I want to be too. If we look away, it won’t be because there’s nothing to see. It will be because we’re blind to what’s all around us. We must open our eyes, and we must care because God does.
The Place to Begin
Diane Langberg writes, “Trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the 21st century.”
She tells us where to begin.
“Your main task is to listen well,” she writes in Brad Hambrick’s book Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused. “You will need to put your own fears and questions aside for the moment … Listening makes room for their voice and restores dignity. And frankly, they have honored you by coming to you. You have been seen as safe—as a shepherd is meant to be—when they feel most vulnerable. Keep in mind that their vulnerability has already been exploited. Let them know you want them to be safe too and you want to help them get the care that they need.”
God sees, and I want to see too. God is the God of seeing, the defender of those who’ve been wronged. May God make the church a place where people are seen and cared for, and where we don’t turn away even when it’s uncomfortable.