God was even with him… but did we notice?
Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. She went and filled the leather bag with water and gave some to the boy. God was with the boy as he grew up; he lived in the wilderness of Paran and became a skilful hunter. His mother found an Egyptian wife for him. Genesis 21:19-21
It is essential that these two kinds of discourse not be confused or that one gets substituted for the other. Perhaps this can be clarified by pressing the love analogy further. Imagine the lover and the beloved at a critical moment in which the primary language is to be spoken. “Do you love me?” asks the lover. And the beloved answers, “Well, that is an interesting question. What is love after all?” And so launches into a discussion about the essence of love. After patient waiting, the lover finally gets another chance. “Yes, that’s all interesting, but do you love me?” Then the beloved takes another diversionary tack and says, “Well, yes, of course. You see, I love everybody!” (A universalist!) The lover protests, “That’s not what I mean! You haven’t answered the question! Do you love me?” So it goes. In spite of all the helpful things it does, secondary discourse makes the would-be lover look ridiculous when substituted for primary discourse.
Our task is that we develop a self-identity as Christians and do these things not incidentally to our lives, but centrally. By encouraging one another, by praying together, by studying Scripture together, we develop a sense that these things are in fact the very center of our lives. And we recognize they are not the center of the world’s life, however much cultural talk there is about Christianity.
There are the bad guys in scripture, and then there are those we assume are bad guys, sinner worse than the rest of us, and those bound for hell—well at least in our humble opinion.
The first I ever noted was Cain, who God talked to, and protected, not allowing any to condemn him. Ishmael, the son of Hagar, is another. It is just a brief comment. God was with him.
God was with him.
He wasn’t the chosen one, but God was with him.
I think this is what Forde is getting to as he tries to keep sharing the gospel in tension with teaching systematic theology. We can talk all day long about the presence of God, using intricate words like incarnational and sacramental, throwing around Hebrew, Greek and Latin terminology, and discussing the covenants. We can make hypothesis about why Elohim was used and not Yahweh. We can look at the history of his offspring in the Old Testament, and the sins they committed and the wars they started. Based on all of that, we might think that Ishmael was completely cut off, outside the family of God, even as he was cast away from the family of Abraham.
Defined by theology, Ishmael was an outcast.
But looking at the scripture through the lens of the gospel, God was with him.
It is something to think through, because many of us don’t fit the systems of the church today. We are not in with the cool crowd; we don’t have the right sponsors; we don’t have the connections, or the look or the charisma. We feel like outcasts.
This passage gives hope to the outcasts, for if God was even with him, then surely God can be with us.
The passage is that primary language of the gospel, “I am with you” that we so need to hear. I will care for you (which was the promise God made Abraham about Ishmael) God kept the promise, even to the one everyone overlooked.
He will keep those promises to you as well.
The Lord is with you!
Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 3.
Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 18.