The God Who Sees Us
In my mind, one of the most moving descriptions in Scripture of the character of God is provided by Hagar, the Egyptian slave of Sarah. Hagar had been so mistreated by Sarah and Abraham that she fled into the wilderness. It was there, in her despair and fear and anger, that God found her and gave her the courage to continue to return to the home of those who had treated her so unjustly. After her encounter with God, the text says “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are [El Roi], the God who seesme’”(Gen. 16:13 NIV).
Those words are so poignant because, from a human point of view, there is no reason that God should notice Hagar or care much about her. Abraham and Sarah, not Hagar, were the people of promise: Hagar was a woman and a slave, and therefore virtually of no account in the eyes of the world, and she was a foreigner besides. But God saw her. Those few words are full of meaning and tell us much about what God is like. First, they suggest that he noticed her. She was not invisible to him. Secondly, he saw her. In God’s eyes, her identity was not dissolved into convenient categories like “slave” or “Egyptian” or “woman.” He saw her as an individual whom, as the psalmist says, he had lovingly knit together in her mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13-16). Not only did he notice her as a unique person, he also cared for her, and he went to her, to meet her need.
The gospel writers tell us that, like his Father, Jesus also “saw” people. How many people passed by the funeral procession in the village of Nain, too busy with their own business to pay much attention to the widow who had now lost her son; but Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her (Lk. 7:13), and he ministered to her need. Likewise, though he was teaching in the synagogue, he was not too busy or distracted to notice an old woman so bent over she could hardly walk (Lk. 13:11). The Pharisees saw “prostitutes” and “sinners;” Jesus saw people. The people in Zacchaeus’ village saw a Roman collaborator and a cheat; Jesus saw a man deeply in need of redemption (Lk. 19:1-10). In the parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan, the religious leaders who passed by the man who had been beaten nearly to death saw an inconvenience, an impediment to the discharge of their responsibilities to God. They didn’t recognize that he was their responsibility.
If we are to be followers of Jesus and embrace the character of God as a pattern for our own character, we, too, must cultivate the ability to see people. It is so easy to overlook them in our busyness, or to pass them by as an inconvenience, or to label them and put them in the category of “those people” so that we can dismiss them and excuse ourselves from listening to them or caring about them; categories not unlike the “prostitutes” and “sinners” and “tax collectors” and “Samaritans” into which people were discarded in Jesus’ day; categories like “baby killer” and “liberal” and “homosexual” and “fascist” and “illegal.”
God didn’t “see” Hagar because she was in the “approved” class of people. Jesus didn’t “see” Zacchaeus or the prostitutes because he shared their values. Rather, it is the fact that he saw them, that he was willing to take the time to dig through the labels and meet them as real people, fearfully and wonderfully created by a loving God, which made all the difference in their lives.
To be sure, many who encountered El Roi, the God who sees us, in the person of Jesus Christ, remained unchanged, and we should not be surprised to find that when we draw near to people many of them will lash out or scoff or perceive us as weak. After all, as John reminds us in his gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (Jn. 1:5). In spite of that reality, Jesus came into the world because he sees us, and he came to seek us, though we were lost (Lk. 19:10). May we learn from him how to do the same in his name, for the lost are all around us.
Pastor Jon EnrightSeptember 1, 2020