September 24, 2021
The God of Difficult Places
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“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” Genesis 16:13 (NIV)
I thought it was going to be a normal phone call.
The tone in her voice let me know this conversation was going to be anything but normal. We bypassed small talk about the weather and current events and took a deep dive into the primary reason for the conversation. “I have cancer,” my mom said.
Those were three words I did not expect her to say ever again. She was an eight-year breast cancer survivor and had been declared cancer-free. “This is not supposed to be happening,” I thought to myself.
It felt shocking and unreal to hear those words come from her mouth. My initial response was anger with God. How could You allow this? I said in my head. Then I reviewed the facts.
My mom needed support, but I am an only child.
My mom needed me to be close to her, but I lived in a different state.
And my mom was in her late 70s and still had a lot of life ahead of her.
The situation seemed so unfair. I felt alone, abandoned and betrayed as I grappled with the news of her diagnosis.
Everything in me wanted God to just make it go away.
In the Bible, there is another woman whose situation seemed unfair.
In Genesis Chapter 16, we are introduced to Hagar. She was the Egyptian maidservant of Sarai (Sarah), wife of Abram (Abraham). Sarai was battling infertility, and as a result, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her” (Genesis 16:2a-b, NIV).
Abram agreed to go along with Sarai’s plan, and Hagar conceived a son named Ishmael. Scripture says when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she despised her mistress. Some translations say that Hagar treated Sarai with contempt.
Then Sarai blamed Abram: “I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me” (Genesis 16:5b, NIV). Sarai then mistreated Hagar, and Hagar fled, attempting to escape the difficult circumstances in her life. As I faced my mother’s diagnosis, I could relate.
At this point, I imagine Hagar felt used, betrayed, isolated and mistreated. She must have felt that her situation was so unfair. Then in Genesis 16:7, “The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert …” (NIV).
Many theologians believe that the angel of the Lord was the Lord in angelic form. Hagar was so valued by God that He came and spent time with her. God did not have to look for her because we know that He is omniscient. I believe the pursuit was for Hagar’s benefit. He wanted her to know she was worth looking for.
He wanted her to know that she was seen and loved by God.
The angel of the Lord pursued, engaged and listened to Hagar. He then instructed her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her” (Genesis 16:9, NIV).
God did not rescue Hagar from her plight. He did not swoop down and remove her from the situation. This is an expectation I have had in my difficult places. I have longed for God to step in and save me from everything hard in my life, instantaneously making all things wonderful and new. Here we see that this was not God’s plan.
Sometimes God will rescue us from difficult places and sometimes He will sustain us in the midst of them. He is still a loving God in both scenarios.
In verses 9-10, the angel of the Lord says, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her … I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count” (NIV).
He is saying, “In the midst of the place where you feel broken, isolated, abandoned and afraid, that is where I am going to bless you.” As a result, Hagar says, “‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13).
Hagar reminds us all of God’s tangible love when we are suffering, alone, broken or afraid. She reminds us to see God seeing us in our difficult places. I imagine her saying:
“Even though life is hard, I see God seeing me.”
“Even though I feel alone, I see God seeing me.”
“Even though I’m scared and broken, I see God seeing me.”
She knew God was El Roi, the God who sees.
He remains the same God today. He sees you and me as we walk through our difficult places. He is God enough to sustain us in the midst of them.
My mom continues to undergo cancer treatment. God did not swoop down and save her from her illness. He is, however, sustaining and blessing us both in the midst of this difficult place.
Dear God, I know that I am not invisible to You. You see me and the challenges that I face. You are intimately concerned about every detail in my life. Help me to trust and believe that You will bless and sustain me in the midst of my difficult places. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
Psalm 139:1, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!” (ESV)
How has God blessed and sustained you in the midst of a difficult place? How is He doing it now?
© 2021 by Kia Stephens. All rights reserved.