The story which names God as the God Who Sees is always one which disturbs me a bit. The whole premise is so foreign to our current life. A woman, Hagar, who has been a slave for years for a couple is suddenly thrust into the role of concubine. Then when she is successful her duties, she begins to despise her owner. This is perhaps because the owner, Sarai, likely has the right to her child. So, she is carrying a child which she may never claim as her own. She is perhaps resentful of it. Then the mistress Sarai decides she doesn’t like the situation that she created and makes Hagar’s life so miserable that she runs away. I have always wondered how Abram could let this go on; it doesn’t seem very ‘head-of-household’ to me.
To simplify this look at the God Who Sees, we’ll focus on Hagar. A woman who is a slave. A woman who is made a concubine. She is mistreated and resentful.
How often we find ourselves in situations where we are ill-treated or feel used. How we know resentment for our situations. It is easy to understand the desire that Hagar had to run away. I have. I was in my twenties, part of a small group that was doing youth work. My co-worker dropped out and I felt like a ton was expected of me and had no idea what to do. I left. I would have done better to read Hagar.
Our Lord sends a messenger, and angel to Hagar. In those days, representatives spoke as in our day ambassadors do. It is the word of the person represented. Hagar understands immediately that God took personal interest in her, sought her out. How I wish someone had approached me in my own situation; well, one did. But I didn’t understand like Hagar did.
Hagar feels understood in her lonely, lost situation. Because God is with her. He sees her and addresses her needs. Her child is to be named ‘God will hear’; that is what Ishmael means. She was given a daily reminder that God hears her simply with her son’s name. Yet, she names God The One who Sees Me.
Hearing is still somehow impersonal. But when we meet someone face to face, that is when we feel that we actually know the person. We may exchange communication for months these days with a person, but it is only when we meet them in person that we know them. It is in a personal encounter like Hagar’s that we see God and, in seeing Him, we know him and understand his love for us. She feels ‘seen’ and has seen him.
In the personal encounter we are fully known and fully understood; we are fully loved by God. Hagar has this personal encounter with God, trusts in Him, and returns to her life as a concubine. I didn’t make the choice to trust Him with the lost feeling I had. No, it wasn’t nearly the misery of Hagar, but I carried the guilt with me for a long time that I had abandoned my responsibility. God wants us to come to him and let him sort out the mess and misery, the lost and lonely feelings. He can and will, if we let him. He sees us; he sees our situation, our feelings, and our fears. He accompanies us and he alone will sort it out for our good (Romans 8:28), if we let him.
Hagar calls God the One who Sees ME. He doesn’t just see, but he is personal and Hagar felt like the only one in the room, so to speak. She felt important, more than a slave, more then a baby incubator, more than the ‘other’ woman. God sees the woman that Hagar is, and puts aside those other labels. I think we often see ourselves ‘in’ those labels and not as God sees us. We need to peel those away, peel away the station, the job, the family role, the feelings, and seek God. We will encounter him in such a way that we feel seen, we feel known. He sees me.
As usual, I’ll also make a few comments on the Hebrew transliteration, El Roi, and translation. The literal translation is apparently ‘a God of seeing’ – which conveys the idea of movement and motion, nothing static. God does not just see or look once, but is seeing all the time. We often look but do not see; he sees. The other nuances of the word are appearance and spectacle. I don’t want to stretch at all, but he does always show up and he is something to look at. His works are majestic, as is he.
God sees us. He sees me. He sees you. And he loves us.