Hagar and the Horrible

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 12; 146, Genesis 21:1-21, Hebrews 11:13-22, John 6:41-51


Ever see those Christian t-shirts, bookmarks, or mugs declaring: “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” It’s a comforting thought — if we don’t think about it too long. However, if we are struggling with chronic pain, the loss of a child, or any number of devastating life events, this sentiment not only rings false, but raises a terrible theological question: “How could God give this to me?”

Abraham and Sarah had a servant named Hagar. God had promised them a child, but in their impatience they forced Hagar to conceive. After Sarah gave birth to Isaac she was jealous of Hagar’s son Ishmael, and told Abraham to banish them both. He sent them packing with some bread and a water skin. After much wandering, a thirsty and desperate Hagar placed Ishmael under the meager comfort of shady bush and waited for him to die.

God didn’t single out Hagar for suffering: Sarah and Abraham did. Abuse and oppression are never part of “God’s plan” for us. Neither are disease nor loss. God may use trials to strengthen us, but God does not heap hardship upon us just to test our endurance or faithfulness. Hardship finds us nevertheless.

Before her son could die, God led Hagar to a well. She and her son survived, and surely they were both influenced for the better or worse — or both — by this trauma. Eventually, as God promised, Ishmael’s descendants formed a mighty nation, alongside the descendants of Isaac. Of course Ishmael’s success did not justify the sufferings of Hagar, but it also meant she did not suffer in vain. What lesson might we learn from this story? Perhaps that no situation is so bleak God can’t help us through it somehow. A God who meets us at our breaking point is very different than a God who pushes us there.

Suffering can force us into a spiritual wilderness where we must rely on God to find our way. When we are in such a state of surrender, God’s mercies can redefine our suffering to have dignity and purpose. God will always offer you more grace than you can handle.

Comfort: Your suffering is not meaningless because God suffers with you.

Challenge: Be cautious about attributing God’s will to humanity’s weakness.

Prayer: Merciful and Loving God, I will trust in you and your grace at all times. Amen.

Discussion: What situations in your life are causing you pain, and how might God help you find a higher purpose for them?

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