She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
-Genesis 16:13 (NIV)
Just for fun the other day, I typed my address into Google Maps. When I clicked on the Street View function to see the photo of my house, I discovered something interesting.
There in my yard, sitting in his accustomed place by the fence, was our dog, Isaiah.
He was watching me do some yard work.
It’s not a flattering picture, I have to say. (Of me, I mean. The dog looks good.) It’s obviously not posed. I’m not smiling, not even looking at the camera. In fact, I never saw the Google camera car. I’m wiping sweat off my brow, maybe, looking at one of my flower beds. Judging by the shovel stuck in the ground nearby, and a trash bin parked beside me, I’m obviously in the middle of something else. Clearly, the last thing I’m expecting is that someone would be snapping a photo of me.
And yet, there it is.
We tell our kids that, with the ubiquity of the internet, almost nothing we do is completely private anymore. We should know. We’ve seen enough people publicly embarrassed, enough careers ended in spectacular fashion, because of something someone has posted or found online. Google camera cars, in fact, have discovered a lot of people doing a lot of things more compromising than mulching rose bushes. We know that in our world, private is just a click away from public.
It’s still the slightest bit unsettling when it happens to you, though.
I guess it really shouldn’t be. I should be accustomed to the idea that nothing I do is completely private, and not because I expect Google to be looking over my shoulder. I should be accustomed to the idea because I believe in the same God on whom Hagar came to believe.
You remember Hagar, right? Just a servant girl: no one special, no one anyone would pay any attention to. Except Hagar happened to be the servant of a woman to whom God had made the entirely ludicrous promise that he would give her a child in her old age. And not just any child: a child through whom God would keep a promise of worldwide significance.
Hagar found herself, suddenly, the object of a lot of attention. She got into the middle of the situation when Abraham’s wife, Sarah, decided that her servant could be the answer to the problem of her and her husband’s inability to conceive. She received a lot more attention, of the unwanted kind, from Sarah after the plan worked and she became pregnant. And she finally found herself alone in the desert.
Except she wasn’t alone. She discovered that there was a god there. That God was there. She knew him, from hearing Abraham speak of him no doubt, as Yahweh. Maybe she even worshipped him. She certainly did after this, because God made her a promise similar to the one he made Abraham. And Hagar, the poor servant girl who was never noticed for anything but her uterus, discovered that God noticed. God saw her. In fact, as far as she was concerned that was the most significant thing about him. He was the One Who Sees.
Abraham’s descendants would discover, centuries later, that God saw them too. He saw them in their misery, in their oppression, and he acted to deliver them.
God is the One Who Sees.
Those of us who believe in Jesus know this better than anyone. We know that God saw our suffering, too, and that he came to us in Jesus to deliver us finally and forever. We’re grateful, and we thank him and worship him.
And sometimes we’re uncomfortable with it. The writer of the document we call Hebrews sums up the discomfort factor this way: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Heavy stuff it is to be “uncovered” before the Creator. Potentially catastrophic to find ourselves “laid bare” before God. Ask Adam and Eve, if you can find them, hiding the the bushes to cover their “nakedness”. But you don’t have to ask them, do you? You know the nakedness of heart that they felt. You know it first hand. There’s no bush, no fig leaf, no animal skin that can hide anything about us from God’s sight. He’s the One Who Sees, after all. We like to imagine the One Who Sees our pain and suffering and fear and heartache and delivers us from them. We’re a little less inclined to think much about the One Who Sees the things we hide, the things we deny, the things for which we’re heartily sorry and sore ashamed.
But, oh, how we need to remember that the One Who Sees doesn’t close his eyes to the things we’d rather he not see.
We need to remember it, not so that we’ll feel loaded down with guilt over our every misstep. Sin is part and parcel to the human condition, and if you imagine that you are or should be an exception to that rule, you’ll make yourself and the people around you miserable. Remembering the One Who Sees might sometimes help us to avoid sin in the first place. But the greater value of it is in remembering that our lives are lived before God. We can’t imagine that we can reserve a part of our lives for him, while living the rest outside his jurisdiction. God is the One Who Sees, and he sees what we bring to him on Sunday morning, and what we withhold from him on Tuesday afternoon.
But maybe it will help us to remember that the One Who Sees also sees with human eyes. He sees harassed, helpless crowds of people blundering through life like sheep without the protection and guidance of a shepherd, and he has compassion on us. He sees a bit of faith, and he offers forgiveness.
Only once did the One Who Sees have sightless eyes, and that was only after death took his vision. But God raised him from death so that he might bring life to those who trust in him. So don’t be afraid of his gaze. Don’t try to duck out of his line of sight. We need to be seen for who we are so we can trust that we’re loved as we are, and the voice of the One Who Sees tells us that we are indeed. So may we live like people who are known intimately and loved completely. And may we stop trying to pretend that we can - and may we stop wanting to - live as though we can keep parts of our lives out of God’s sight.
And may we find, like Hagar, comfort, peace, and hope in the One Who Sees us.