One of my favorite teachers in High School was my biology teacher, Mr. Mack. I was actually quite scared when first I learned that he was going to be my instructor because he had a reputation for being a demanding teacher with an even harder personality. So I began that school year with much trepidation. However, I soon learned that his teaching style was only difficult to those students who didn’t want to think for themselves. His approach in teaching wasn’t to simply stand in front of us and give us information: he chose to ask us questions. As previously stated, this made those who came to class without any desire to actually learn something, miserable. And, admittedly, Mr. Mack wasn’t a fan of those who didn’t come to class ready to learn. Warm and snuggly he was not. But his teaching style was incredible to me. He made me think. He made me chew on the “reasons why” behind a question. He made me fall in love with critical thinking, even if that meant I had to dissect a frog in the process.
The best teachers know what Mr. Mack knew: any ol’ fool can give their pupils answers but it takes a skilled instructor to ask just the right question at just the right moment to get the students to land on just the right answers. This is a feat of greatness, indeed. So it comes as no surprise to me that all throughout scripture, our Almighty, Omniscient God asks us questions. Obviously, God never asks a question for His own personal information: much like Mr. Mack, he asks questions to get us to know something. In His wisdom, God asks questions because He knows that sometimes, asking us to think about something is far more powerful than Him simply pointing something out. He is a remarkable teacher. Jason Upton wrote about this wonderful aspect of God in his song, “When the Time Comes,” when he penned, “You are Wisdom but You ask questions.” Wisdom is always asking us questions and I recently came across two glorious ones.
In Genesis 16:1-16 we find the heartbreaking story of Abram, Sarai, and her servant, Hagar. Sarai is barren and yet, she and Abram have been given a promise that they shall bear a son. But because God seems to be taking too long to fulfill said promise, Sarai gets the bright idea to take matters into her own hands. She presents Hagar to Abram as a concubine and gives him the green light to try and fulfill the promise with her instead. First off, let me say – gag. Secondly, let me say, poor Hagar. This was not a choice for her. As a slave, she had no option but to comply with her Mistress’ wishes, even if that meant sleeping with a very, VERY old man. Soon we find Hagar pregnant with Abram’s child. But in her youthful pride, Hagar begins to forget that she is still a slave and starts to behave in a condescending way towards Sarai. Well, Sarai ain’t having none of that so she complains to her husband about Hagar. Abram gives Sarai the green light to do whatever she wants to with Hagar. And the bible tells us that “Sarai [then] dealt harshly with her (vs. 6a).” Now, I can only imagine what “dealing harshly” with a slave involves and I am sure it is no cake walk. I am certain it wasn’t a simple slap on the wrist. So here we find Hagar, possibly beaten with rods or put in the stocks; here we find her yelled at and belittled for nothing she really did. This was all Sarai’s idea and yet here is Hagar being punished for it all. It is understandable, then, that the very next line says, “So Hagar fled from [Sarai’s] presence (vs. 6b).”
Hagar runs into the wilderness, for how long we do not know. But, mercifully, she finds a spring of water and stops to rest beside it. Suddenly, the pre-incarnate Christ appears to her as The Angel of the Lord (vs. 7). And then, He goes into The Great Teacher mode and he asks her these two questions: “Where have you come from and where are you going?”
Where Have You Come From?
Our Lord appears to a young woman, pregnant with child who has been mistreated, abused, and manipulated – used as a tool to twist God’s will into being – and He asks her, “Where have you come from?” Like I stated earlier, he already knows the answer, but He wants her to pause and ponder the truth. In that moment, God gave Hagar an invitation to do something difficult but life changing. He was asking Hagar to face the very thing she was fleeing from: the pain of her past. It seems that Hagar had fled with no thought about where she was going – she just ran. She ran with all her might into the wilderness. And because she was in a state of absolute exhaustion, she had to stop and rest. She had to stop and drink. But Jesus met her there and said, “Let’s talk about it.” God was asking her to honestly stop and deal with the pain of being mistreated and abused. To stop and know that what happened to her wasn’t her fault. In that one simple question, he was asking her to ponder her pain. To Face it - not flee from it.
The invitation God gave Hagar is given to us today just the same. So often we flee from the pain of our past or even present situation. We don’t know where we are going exactly, but we just run. We just avoid it. We just stay busy. We push it down. And often times, we will continue in that state for years until the exhaustion of running from the pain finally catches up with us and we find ourselves wandering so parched in the wilderness. But it is there in that place where we have an invitation from Jesus to do exactly what Hagar did: stop running and face the pain. Hagar found the courage to answer. She admitted, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress, Sarai.” From her very presence! She is saying, “I cannot handle being near her at all. I am way beyond being afraid of her or hating her – I am so broken I cannot stand in proximity to her.” Hagar is admitting that she had all kinds of messy feelings inside. And this is why Jesus wants us to answer His question: to face the pain and the mess inside that all that pain brings. If we will answer that important question – where did I come from – then the next answer to the next question can come.
Where Are You Going?
That next question that God asked Hagar was, “Where are you going?” But when you read the story, you will find Hagar had no answer for that question. She had no plan. She was just running. She had no answer – but God did. There in the place of fleeing from her pain, The Angel of the Lord gave the answer to the very question He asked. He answered by prophesying into her future. He said, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly so that they shall not be counted for multitude…behold you are with child and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael (God Hears) because the Lord has heard your affliction…Then Hagar called the name of te Lord who spoke to her ‘The God Who Sees.’ (Vs. 10-13)”
Hagar had no control over where she came from. The trauma of her past was not her fault. But in that place of fleeing from her pain, God made her a promise about her future. No matter where I come from, God is the one who determines where I go. If I will stop by the spring in the wilderness long enough to answer the first question, then God himself will heal me, untangle my mess, and show me that He is the God Who Hears (Ishmael) and The God Who Sees. He is the One who determines our future. He decides where we are going as long as we are healed up enough to go where He dreams for us to go.
If Hagar hadn't faced her pain, then she could have looked at her child as the "fruit of her trauma." But that was never God's intention for her son. Did she ask to sleep with Abram? Did she ask to get pregnant? No. God didn't want that for her either. But God is the Redeemer of what is done against us. So He determined that the fruit of her life would not be known from her pain of her past, but the fruit of her life would be proof that God was good and that He hears. When we stop and deal with our pain, the fruit that comes from our hurt can actually be turned around for glorious good. Isn’t this what Joseph told his brothers after they sold him into slavery? “You meant it for my harm but God meant it for my good (Gen. 50:20). In this story I learn that when I face the pain of my past, I will find The God Who Sees. And there, in that place, HE determines where I am going.Not my pain. Not my trauma. Not even my sin. Pain might have penned the story of my past, but God is the author of hope for my future.