Christians make a preposterous claim that is either the height of insanity or utterly life-changing. We assert that the God who created the entire universe, billions of galaxies, stars and planets, knows us personally. We claim He’s our Father and so intimately acquainted with us that He’s numbered the hairs on our heads. Even as I write this, it sounds incredulous. Yet, these aren’t ideas we came up with ourselves. God Himself communicated them to us. He had His servants write them down so that future generations might read them [Isaiah 43:1, Jeremiah 1:5, Matthew 10:30]. When you consider that planet earth is barely a speck within our galaxy, and about a million times smaller than the sun – our nearest star, with several billion people living on it, it’s difficult not to feel small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
That feeling is easy to ignore when things are going well, but when tough times come, especially in moments where we are isolated, we can feel all alone and worthless. Like many, I’ve been through these experiences, and even when I was fortunate enough to have people around me who cared enough to ask what was wrong, I was too overwhelmed to articulate what I was going through in a meaningful way. Not being able to satisfactorily explain what you’re feeling adds another layer of complexity to these tough seasons. Sometimes it results in being misunderstood or receiving the wrong kind of help. At other times, the cumulative effect of concurrent challenges can break our spirits. In those moments, even if we can do something to remedy the situation, we may lack the will to fight. Often, all we can do is sob in despair as life delivers one crushing blow after another.
I don’t know whether the amount of suffering in the world has increased over my lifetime or not, but it certainly feels like the number of catastrophes has. If that is the case, it means the number of things that can adversely affect us has also increased. Consequently, there’s been a significant rise in the number of people struggling with financial, emotional and mental challenges. So many people don’t feel safe anymore. When it seems like everyone is going through something, it’s often tempting to minimise my problem and tell myself that my crisis isn’t unique. But that never assuages me. Ultimately, pain is personal. A situation will hurt just as much regardless of how many other people are experiencing the same thing. So, we all want someone to acknowledge our suffering – to see us and say we matter.
Sadly pain, suffering and situations that cause us anxiety have been part of the human condition since Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. So, the Bible is replete with many who have faced harrowing seasons. God used the case of Hagar to reveal an aspect of His character in Genesis 16. Hagar was a slave girl given away in marriage to Abraham by her mistress, Sarah and her consent wasn’t sought or required. I’m aware of the cultural context of this story, but Hagar, like Abraham, was created in God’s image. While the Bible doesn’t say, some scholars suggest that she was part of the cohort gifted to Abraham during his first foray into Egypt [Genesis 12:14-20]. Irrespective of the culture, she deserved to be treated with dignity, just as every human being, regardless of race, creed or gender, is worthy of respect.
Shortly after Hagar married Abraham, she conceived. But her relationship with Sarah deteriorated significantly. So, Sarah demanded Abraham kick Hagar out of their home, and Abraham obliged. As such, Hagar found herself pregnant, desperate and homeless. Many of us can relate to Hagar’s desperation. Whether it’s the secret tears no one else sees or the desperate situation that draws everyone’s sympathy, many of us have experienced the fear, anxiety and loneliness Hagar must have felt. However, amid her tears, God met and comforted her. He made her a promise she would have struggled to believe [Genesis 16:7-10]. She became the first woman in the Bible whose child is given a name by God while still in the womb. She had encountered the God who sees; El Roi – the God who comforted her in a time of despair, who saw her; a castaway Egyptian slave girl [Genesis 16:13].
That God Hagar encountered hasn’t changed [Hebrews 13:8]. He sees you, even as you read this blog. Like Hagar, you may be the victim of the decisions of others – helpless as those in political, spiritual or economic power seemingly decide your fate. Also, like Hagar, who wasn’t completely innocent, your actions may have led to your current predicament. It could also be that you’re anxious about the future, wondering who will help. Let these promises from God Himself, spoken to a nation whose transgressions had resulted in exile and oppression, comfort you: “… Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not drown you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” [Isaiah 43:1-2].
You may be intimately acquainted with Hagar’s desperation, but maybe you haven’t encountered her God yet. I want to encourage you to trust in Him and not lose hope [Psalm 56:3]. God sees you, whether your tears are in secret or the open [Matthew 6:6]. He keeps account of your tears [Psalm 56:8], and He will do something about it because that’s who He is [Isaiah 61].