Why Is God Punishing Me?

The only person who named God in the Old Testament was an unmarried, pregnant refugee. A woman on the run. A slave with zero rights. An outsider who was the victim of an old man and old woman who took advantage of her young womb to make a child they could claim as their own.

She is Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Abraham and Sarah, whom God discovered in a godforsaken place, at the end of her rope, when it felt all the world was against her.

@@Hagar is the patron saint of those the world uses up and throws away.@@

Why Is God Punishing Me?

When I pulled up alongside the convenience store on Friday to grab a cup of coffee, I saw him. A man on the sidewalk, hunched over, a small dirty bag between his feet. It held all his earthly possessions: three changes of clothing he’d picked up from Goodwill.

I bought my coffee, came back outside, and sat alongside him.
“I’m Chad,” I said and stuck out my hand.
He shook it and said, “I’m Scott.”

His name is Scott. Did you hear that? Not bum, not loser, not vagrant, not dopehead, not panhandler, not get-the-hell-away-from-me. His name is Scott. His mother gave him that name when, fifty something years ago, she cradled him in her arms. His friends call him that. His wife who ran off seven months ago and took what little they had together, including his son, she called him that. And God, as he looks down upon this outsider, this man who has lost virtually everything, he calls him that, too. His name is Scott.

“I don’t know why God is punishing me,” he said as we talked. And the words rang true. I’ve said them myself, as perhaps you have, when all around you are the pieces of a life that exploded into unrecognizable shards.

What have I done to piss God off?
Why has he turned against me?
Why is God punishing me?

Hagar sat in the desert, alone, her few possessions at her feet, wondering where God was. Scott sat in his concrete and asphalt desert, alone, possessing fear and regret and—worst of all—a cancer of despair metastasizing in his soul.

We talked for a few minutes. I mostly listened. I encouraged him, gave him some money, tried my best to show him compassion, and said a prayer with him before I left. We shook hands once more and I got in my truck to drive away.

As I rolled down the street, away from Scott, I thought of the woman who, long ago, named God. And I said another prayer that our Lord would do for my brother what he did for Hagar—and for all of us.

El Roi: The God Who Sees

In Hagar’s moment of deepest need, the messenger of Yahweh appeared to her. He told her to return to Abraham and Sarah. He told her that he would multiply her offspring so greatly they couldn’t be numbered. And he told her to name her son, Ishmael, which means “God hears.” Her baby boy embodied answer to prayer.

The messenger or angel of Yahweh in the OT is another name for the Son of God (see video). It was Jesus who appeared to Hagar, comforted her, and gave her the promise of future blessings. It was Jesus who came to her when it seemed everything and everyone else had let her down.

Hagar called the name of the LORD who spoke to her El Roi, which means “the God who sees.” She gave Jesus that name. He is El Roi.

Christ is never blind to our suffering, our loneliness, our heartbrokenness. He is the God who sees. He saw Hagar. He sees Scott. He sees us, even when it feels like we’re buried so deep in the darkness of addiction, depravity, divorce, bankruptcy, or depression that even divine eyes can’t penetrate the blackness enveloping us.

@@Jesus is El Roi, the God who sees.@@ Out of the depths we cry to him, and from those same depths, he whispers, “I’m here. I am with you. You can’t see me but reach out your hand and take mine. Run your fingers over my skin. Feel that scar? Now reach up to my side and touch me here. Feel that scar? Now reach your hand up to my face. Feel that wet skin? That’s me weeping with you, for you. I love you. Those scars are for your healing. These tears will moisten your withered hope. I am Jesus, your brother and your Lord. I am El Roi, the God who sees.”

Of all the names for Jesus, El Roi has become one of my favorites. This friend of sinners, this companion of outsiders, this God who sees—he sees you, too.

And in his eyes is a world of compassion that will never end—a compassion that flows from him, through us, and into the world, including the most down-and-out lives in our world, to help them see that there is a God who sees. And cares. And loves.