Grace in the Rough Stuff

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by Linda Rex

In my last blog I mentioned that “There are lots of opportunities in life to celebrate pity parties.” I followed this with a comment about our common human experience of at times feeling forgotten and unnoticed. Then I began to talk about Hagar’s experience.

Unfortunately, this may have given my readers the impression that I believed Hagar was having a pity party out in the desert, sitting next to a spring of water somewhere feeling sorry for herself. In reality, she was no doubt reflecting upon what had just occurred and was frightened and upset. When God, the One who saw her, came to her in her distress, he had something to say to her about the whole situation in which she found herself.

This all began because her mistress, Sarai, was unable to conceive a baby. According to the cultural norm of the time, but against the wishes of God, Sarai offered her maid Hagar as a surrogate mother. Hagar’s child would become the family heir in place of the baby Sarai could not conceive.

The problem arose when Hagar conceived. All of a sudden her attitude toward Sarai changed. She despised her. And Sarai could not tolerate this. In her frustration, she went to Abram and laid the blame at his door. In response Abram gave Sarai permission to do whatever she wanted with Hagar—she was considered their property. Sarai acted according to the cultural norms again, and rather than treating Hagar with God’s grace and wisdom, she treated Hagar harshly.

In response to this abuse, Hagar fled. Thankfully in the wilderness she found a spring of water, and it was there that the angel of the Lord met her. Hagar’s response to the angelic visit was to name the spring after the God who saw her there in her distress.

Which is a little surprising when you think about what God said to her through the angel. He didn’t pat her on the head and say, “Oh, you poor thing.” He didn’t sympathize with the injustice of it all. He didn’t criticize her for her behavior and attitude toward Sarai. Nor did he excuse it. He merely said in effect, “Go back and do what’s right. I will redeem this. This child has a future and a purpose.”

John’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ response to another woman facing unpleasant circumstances and unwanted consequences was exactly the same as that of the God who sees us. This woman was being accused by some Pharisees of committing adultery. When all was said and done, Jesus never accused her nor did he excuse her. He merely said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and sin no more.”

Jesus’ response exactly reflected the response of Israel’s God—God’s response to our failures, the struggles and consequences we face in life is grace. God takes whatever happens in our lives, whether we caused it or not, whether we are the victim or not, and determines that it is not the end of the story. God, in Christ, has redeemed and will redeem it all—he will cause it to fulfill his ultimate purpose and will. He will work it to good as we love and serve him in the midst of it.

What he asks of us is to leave all these things in his hands and to go and do what is right. He wants us to trust him to make it right, to restore what is lost, to forgive what we’ve done wrong, and to heal what is broken. He wants us to rest in him and just live in gratitude for what he has done and will do for us, and to bear witness to his grace and truth in Jesus. He gives us his Son and his Spirit and says to us, “Go and do what’s right. I’ll take care of all this. Trust me.”

Thank you, Father, for your precious gift of grace in your Son and through the Spirit. Thank you that no matter where we are or what we’ve done or what’s been done to us, it is redeemed in Jesus Christ, and you will use it to accomplish your purposes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We thank you in advance for the grace to trust you no matter what has happened, is happening or will happen in our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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.” Genesis 16:7–10 NASB