As a church this past Sunday, commemorating Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, we meditated on God’s character revealed in Exodus 34:6-7 and thought on how we as God’s image bearers should reflect God’s image in a culture that celebrates the destruction of unborn image bearers in the name of choice and convenience.
As we considered how we might reflect the heart of a God who is merciful, gracious, patient, loving, faithful and forgiving, I was reminded of the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. Here’s the long and short of it: In their unbelief, Abram and Sarai decided to help along God’s promise of giving them a son, concluding that it would be best to not wait for God to provide the child through Sarai, but rather to have Abram bring a child into the world through Sarai’s Egyptian handmaid, Hagar. However, when their plans went as planned and Hagar became pregnant, everything fell apart. Hagar became filled with pride, exulting herself over barren Sarai, and Sarai became so filled with anger and jealousy that, under Abram’s passive eye, she treated Hagar so harshly that she was driven to the point of fleeing into the desert.
Can you see Hagar in that desert place? She is an unmarried woman who has just been driven from the only home she knows by the people who created her current situation. She is alone and cast off and now probably despising the child in her womb that seems to have created all of these problems. She didn’t ask for this, but now she has to deal with the life situation she has been thrust into. Do you see her? Scared, alone, helpless, and hopeless?
What is God’s heart towards her? How does he come to Hagar? In the words of Genesis 16:7-12, the angel of the LORD tells Hagar God’s heart, and it is this: “I see you Hagar, and I hear you.” They are words of compassion that fill the heart of this lonely and distressed woman with hope – “God? You see me? You care for me? You are going to bless me and my child? Truly I have seen him who looks after me” (v. 13).
So often we as followers of God treat people like Hagar as Sarai did – we are so harsh that we drive them away to a place of despair. But what if we came to them in tenderness, saying, “I see this terrible situation you are in. My heart breaks with you. Sit here and I will listen to your cries of distress.” It’s in so speaking and acting that we reflect the heart of our God. It is in valuing the image-of-God-bearing-mother that we can help her celebrate the image-of-God-bearing-child she is carrying. And in all of this, it is God who is seen for who he is:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)