Home | Philosophy

Hagar in the Desert

Have you ever been the other woman, the rival, the loser in a battle of will? On the phone with a friend recently, I confided about a rivalry that had emerged in my workplace. "Like Hagar and Sarah," my friend remarked. I opened my Bible to Genesis, flipped through to find the story, and my heart went out to Hagar. "Thank you, yes," I said. There was no answer to the workplace dilemma, but my heart was touched.

Many biblical stories can be hard. But we believe that the same God who speaks to us today spoke to those who wrote down these stories. I believe that they had the same questions, the same heart, the same human spirit. I am revisiting older stories and looking for wisdom and compassion; looking for stories of a Creator who loves all of creation. The writer of the story of Sarah and Hagar wrestled honestly with the paradox of chosen-ness and God's universal love: the idea that God can love one and God loves all.

I imagine a child, generations later, asking his grandfather, "Tell me again the story of where our people came from." The grandfather would answer, "God promised Abraham that his descendants would be blessed and would be as numerous as the stars in the sky." The child is delighted with these words. "But it is a hard story," the grandfather would continue. "We come, not from the firstborn son of Abraham, but the second-born. Abraham's firstborn son was Ishmael, son of Hagar. We are descended from his second son, Isaac, son of Sarah."

"What about the first son?" the child asks. "Hagar and her son almost died in the desert," the grandfather answers, "But God spoke to Hagar and showed her a well, and she drew water and gave it to her son. God promised that Ishmael would also be the father of a great nation."

Often I wish for a more neatly-resolved story. I want this current workplace rivalry -- or any current problem that I might face-- to be resolved. I want clarity.

But instead I find subtle paradox, kernels of wisdom. I need to be willing to wrestle with stories and ideas, looking for the wisdom inside.

March 2014