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Thursday, June 15, 2017

יִשְׁמָעֵ֖אל: God Who Hears

I am absolutely fascinated.

In thinking about where to go next with Thursday Theology, it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to explore the ways in which God interacts with us on a basic, sensory level.  I can’t say for certain how this came to me, but I have a few ideas:

  • I just finished studying anatomy with my children.  It’s honestly the only science I have ever really loved.  That’s not to say I don’t like science, overall, but I have a dismally inadequate skill set when it comes to formulas and experiments.  Even anatomy presents challenges for me.  Dissection, for example.  I can remember taking anatomy in high school and being exceptionally grateful that my lab partner wanted to be a doctor… and could not draw.  She touched all of the dead stuff, and I created the reports.  Fair enough.  But I digress.  We ended our study of anatomy, this school year, with neurology.  It’s fascinating!  I think people often want to draw hard lines between thinking and feeling.  As it turns out, you can’t, because every single sensory experience you ever have must be processed by the brain.  So it might be weird, but as I’m sitting here thinking about the God who hears; I’m also thinking about the temporal lobe of the brain and how we aren’t created Imago Dei in a necessarily physical sense, but how we do, indeed, have parts that work together to give us similar fundamental capabilities.
  • I’m in a touch of a quandary regarding being heard, myself.  So, even though I thrive on theoretical theology; I know that practical theology is essential for our day to day lives.  The God I choose to believe in, comprised of the characteristics I choose to believe God possesses, will make an enormous difference in the way I proceed with everything from what I eat for breakfast, to major life and ministry decisions, to whether or not I throw a temper tantrum in the van, by myself, because no one hears me (this may or may not have happened recently).  I want be exceedingly clear about this particular point, because someone is reading this!  You’re reading this!  I have people.  As a matter of fact, I have lots of people—probably more than I have ever had at one time—who love me.  I have ‘besties’ on top of ‘besties.’  Sometimes it's weird, actually, for this introvert.  I have a Facebook bestie, and a 'let’s talk Disney' bestie, and a coffee bestie, and (quite genuinely, thankfully) a bestie who dates all the way back to my teenage years and is a licensed therapist (even as an open theist, you can see how I think God might have orchestrated that one). Friendship has to go both ways, so sometimes I am the speaker, and sometimes I am the listener.  I love filling that role (please don’t stop talking), because it is directly in the center of my wheelhouse!  But I’m also considering holding open interviews for a theology ‘bestie’... between midnight and 3am, until the position is filled.  I’ve been flailing (imagine a fish out of water) for too long on this.  Loss stinks, but we do have to keep moving. 
  • The narrative of Abram (later Abraham)… and Sarai (later Sarah)… and Hagar… and Isaac… and Ishmael is front and center in the lectionary readings for the upcoming week.  And wouldn’t you know it, Ishmael means “God hears…”

But what does, “God hears,” mean?

To Hagar… a runaway slave who was, for all intents and purposes (so painfully literally) raped, impregnated (which was the goal), and then abused; “God hears” becomes the name of her child.   Honestly, that’s more than difficult around which to wrap my mind.

That the angel of the Lord (later referred to as the Lord, himself) stops to ask Hagar (who has to this point been allowed no rights or opinions) a question, is an intriguing development:

Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Gen. 16:8, NIV).

As if he doesn’t know?  But stay with me…  Because if God hears Hagar; God hears us all.

Hagar is, of course, running… away from something (someone… in reality, maybe several ‘someones’), but I’m not sure she’s running toward anything in particular.  She has hit the ‘panic button.’ Looking at her life circumstances, that makes perfect sense.  But the Lord hears her… really hears her… and then gives her something for which to push—for which to live, as opposed to merely survive.

Interestingly, as the Lord names Hagar’s son; she in turn names the Lord:

“You are the God who sees me” (v. 13).

That’s important, as well… a topic for next week.

I’m not sure there is anything more critical that we can do for others than to listen… to sincerely hear them, and I am incredibly grateful that even when it seems as if there is no one to fit the bill as ‘hearer’ in my own life… even when I am tempted to run away with no idea what I might also be running toward… my God hears.

Psalm 116:1, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice” (NIV).



  1. L,
    It's interesting that you mentioned neurology, because neuroscience explains some of why Hagar was running FROM something but with no plan in sight. Her amygdala was probably flooding her system with adrenaline, and when our amygdala is on high alert, it shuts down our access to the parts of our brain that can think creatively, problem solve, remember our relationships, recognize our part in the problem, etc. The amygdala demands relief from the pain, and it's the part of the brain that does "fight, flight, or freeze," and Hagar's response in this case was definitely flight! :) I'm sure you know all this if you've been studying the brain, but I thought I'd share. You might want to check out Jim Wilder who is a "neurotheologian," which means he studies how the brain interacts with God and the Word. ;)

    1. Amy - Thanks so much for this! Great stuff! It's amazing how we are made in such a way that trauma (even if it's not physical) will cause parts of our bodies to shut down in an effort to protect us. I think this speaks to the need for holistic living (and ministry). We simply cannot compartmentalize, because we are not compartmentalized beings! And I will definitely look into Jim Wilder! L.

  2. Jim is associated with Life Model Works -- :) I agree 100% with you about holistic ministry - we are designed to be synchronized within ourselves (body, soul, mind, spirit) and without - with one another and God. So "if anything matters, everything matters." Joy and Shalom!