“The Eyes of My Eyes Are Opened”

July 17, 2011


Genesis 21:8-21

II Corinthians 4:13-18


One of Andy Warhol’s last paintings was titled “Camouflage Last Supper.” In W  Warhol’s famous way, he took a familiar image—in this case, the “Last Supper” of Leonardo da Vinci—and transformed it—in this case, by covering the painting with a camouflage pattern. The pattern covers and partially veils the features of Jesus’ face as well as the faces of his disciples. In this painting we get a glimpse of Warhol’s own Christian faith, that even in obscurity, the Christ is there, offering bread and cup at the table.[1]

There are times when one must look in new ways to discover the presence of God.

The fox in The Little Prince says: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Paul put it this way: “What can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Faith suggests there is more than meets the eye in every event.

The story of Hagar is a story of what we see and what we miss. Indeed, at one time Hagar gave a name to God, saying: “You are El-roi,” which means the God of Seeing.”

Often our vision is poor. Sometimes we overlook what we need the most. Can we learn to look at what cannot be seen?

Like many stories in the Bible, this morning’s lesson from Genesis is a horrible tale. Sarah has protected her own child at what looks to be the expense of the life of another. Abraham has been passive. And the death of a mother and son seem certain.

Remember how Abraham and Sarah laughed when they were told that they would have a child? No one is laughing now.

With a son of her own, Sarah is emboldened to pursue a dual goal: to secure Isaac's future ascendancy as the tribal leader while settling an old score with Hagar.

So Sarah says to Abraham, "Cast out this slavewoman and her son; for the son of this slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son, Isaac."

Sarah's motives are understandable from an emotional point of view. For her entire life she carried the stigma of being childless. And considering her age, she may well fear for her son's welfare after she and Abraham die.

Yet even if we can sympathize with Sarah's motives, we feel a deep compassion for Hagar and Ishmael. Indeed, our heart goes out to all of the players in this drama—the father, the mothers, the sons.

Life is filled with situations in which either weak passivity or aggressive revenge appears to be the only option.

Life is filled with desperate situations, occasions in which it seems like there is no way out, nothing that can be done.

Can we open our eyes to new possibilities?

The scripture lesson from Genesis invites us into the world of one person, rejected by the world, on the edge of death. To the story of Hagar we bring our question for the world: Where is God?

Look at Hagar, wandering in the wilderness. Used and then thrown away by the jealous and protective Sarah and the passive and ineffectual Abraham she is an outcast in a waterless wasteland. She waits for her own death, hoping not to see that of her son.

The theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, says that often enough, the actual direction of the world and its history offer little evidence that a God of love and mercy, or even justice, controls it. The extent and absurdity of what seems to be meaningless suffering, the triumph and good fortune of the unjust, and the presence of sheer evil gnaw at the souls of those who believe in God’s good care.[2]

It is by no means obvious today that “in everything God works for good,” but then again that was not obvious when Paul wrote that affirmation to the Romans 2000 years ago. When we look at what can be seen, the providential care of God is questionable at best.

Earlier God had promised Hagar, as God had promised Abraham, so many descendants that they cannot be counted. But look at her now. Hagar waits for death.

The Christian idea of providence—that the Creator is in control of the creation—stands face to face with the obvious reign of death in the world. We look not toward what is seen but toward what is unseen and affirm God’s care.

Affirming God’s providential care does not mean things will go our way. They will, in some sense, however, go God’s way. Bad things happen. Evil is present. Still, with good reason we speak of God’s merciful presence in the world and in our lives.

Because we trust God’s care with eyes wide open to all the signs against it, we can avoid both the aggressive assertion that God is with us and the passive acceptance of all that is wrong in the world. We discover instead the gospel challenge to see opportunities for increasing life and joy in each situation. We find the courage to choose what is right in difficult situations and the faith to continue with our choices in the face of opposition.

Affirming God’s providential care is an act of faith. We trust in God’s care by faith. We do not know it with certainty. We cannot know it with certainty. When Hagar lifts up her voice and weeps, there are no guarantees. The outcome is not certain.

What starts to become clear, however, is that God is on the side of life for all.

The God of Abraham does not forget the promise of a great nation. And that nation will trace its lineage back to Abraham through his son Isaac.

But at the same time, God protects Ishmael, and remembers the promise to make a great nation of Hagar's son as well. In time, Islam will trace its descent from Abraham through Ishmael.

The God we discover in the Bible is one who gives abundantly to all and still has more to give.

Providence—the Christian faith that God is in control of creation—confronts the apparent reign of death. God cares.

So how does God care? How is this divine care shown?

Genesis puts it this way. “God opened Hagar’s eyes.”

Perhaps this is the best expression of God’s care for us. How quickly we fall into going through life with our eyes closed, blind to all that is around us. We look at the things that are seen, and miss what is unseen or even camouflaged.

So maybe we can agree with the person who said that “miracle” is simply the religious name for event. Every event, even the most natural and usual, becomes a miracle once it is related to God. Again, it is a matter of seeing. Routine has a dulling effect on us and we see things only in their immediate context. Religious perception, however, sees the deeper nature of everyday event, experiencing them as miraculous, as an expression of the providence of God.[3]

If we remember the feebleness of our imagination and knowledge and the dullness of our own sight as we reach after the majesty and glory of God, we will not be surprised that much in nature and history remain dark and incomprehensible. Faith seeks to understand and accept the natural lack of full understanding.[4]

Life is still filled with desperate situations, occasions in which it seems like there is no way out, nothing that can be done.

Life is filled with situations in which either weak passivity or aggressive revenge appears to be the only option.

God is the one who, in loving mercy, opens our eyes—gives us a fuller vision.

How often are our own eyes closed?

Remember how the author of Genesis puts it: "God opened Hagar's eyes and she saw a well full of water; she went to it, filled her waterskin and gave the child a drink." Affirming and experiencing the care of God moves us to offer that care to others.

Defeat and death are not the only options.

Apathy and selfish indifference are not the only options.

God opens our eyes to new possibilities.

No doubt some are here today facing extreme situations, not sure what they should do, not sure what they can do.

No doubt there are some discouraged by what they see in the world, in their lives.

The good news is that there is a well of life nearby. There is a well of refreshing, renewing water, inviting you to drink from it and to share that water with others.

May the One whom Hagar named the “God of Seeing” open our eyes. May we see the constant care of God and to live joyfully trusting in God’s goodness.

[1] Jane Dillenberger, The Religious Art of Andy Warhol, pg. 109 ff.

[2] Page: 3
Pannenberg, vol. 2 pg. 54.

[3] Pannenberg, vol. 2 pg. 46.

[4] Page: 6
Kaufman, pg. 311