I was visiting my parents in another city. Because of a stroke suffered more than 10 years ago, my dad is cared for in a residential facility for the aged. My mum lives at home and makes the journey across town to visit him most days.
After whatever I had been doing that afternoon, I visited my dad. My mum also joined us after she finished work. We talked for a while as my dad cleaned his teeth and, when the nurses came to move him from his wheelchair to bed, my mum said goodbye and headed home to prepare our evening meal. I decided to stay for a few more minutes.
In her years of motherhood, every time she called her son’s name she would be reminded that in the worst situation of her life, God had witnessed her despair.
As Mum left the room, I also stepped out into the hallway as the caregivers went through the evening routine, preparing my dad for the night’s rest. Without thinking, I went to a window at the end of the corridor that looked out across the parking lot. With the sounds of the evening tasks of the nursing home behind me, I watched my mum exit the facility, walk across the near-empty parking lot, unlock her car, and drive away into the dusk.
People seem to walk differently when they do not know they are being observed. As I watched my mum walking slowly to her vehicle that evening, I felt I had unintentionally intruded on a private moment. It’s a lonely walk that she has done countless times during the past 10 years, probably mostly unnoticed, many days tired and with some sense of sadness.
It occurred to me that this might be a glimpse into how God sees, and has seen every one of her lonely walks out of that aged-care facility. Not one of those quiet walks into the evening has been unwitnessed. And He sees every one of the many such walks taken by tired, sad, and worried relatives out that door, across that parking lot each day. Then there’s the hospital down the road, and so many other sites of sickness, sorrow, sadness, and injustice in our world.
Throughout the Bible, many names are given to God, and the context in which a name is ascribed to Him is always important. As such, the first name given to God by a human being in the Bible story arises in both personal and noteworthy circumstances.
Hagar was in a difficult and traumatic family situation. She was an Egyptian by birth, but we know nothing of the circumstances that found her taken away from her home country. As a servant in the household of Abraham and Sarah, Hagar was not able to choose where or how she would live. And when Sarah suggested her desperate plan for Abraham to have children, it is unlikely Hagar had any choice. As bad as that idea seemed, it only became worse when the plan seemed to be working. Sarah began to resent the pregnant Hagar. As the situation became increasingly unbearable, Hagar ran away—a woman, pregnant, alone, in a foreign country, in the desert, perhaps fearing for her life.
But even in the depths of this injustice done to her, and her extreme physical situation, Hagar was not alone, unseen, or forgotten. An angel came to her with a message that God had seen her predicament and she was not abandoned. He assured her that God was with her and working things out. The angel even gave her instructions about the baby she would have: “You shall name him Ishmael”—which means “God hears”—“for the Lord has heard of your misery” (Gen. 16:11). In her years of motherhood, every time she called her son’s name she would be reminded that in the worst situation of her life, God had witnessed her despair.
Hagar responded by giving a name to God in return: “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’” (Gen. 16:13).
From these experiences, we have the first but also one of the most profound and comforting names given to God—“the God who sees me.” It’s a Name that anyone throughout history can call, whatever their circumstances, distress, or suffering. It’s the prayer I prayed—amid my own tears—that evening as my mum drove away and I stepped back into the room with my dad.
As people who seek to know and follow this God-who-sees, this promise changes how we see and respond: “Put simply, we are never first on the scene of anything in our world today, be it our personal lives or the lives of people across the globe. When we encounter injustice, whether in story or face to face, we are encountering reality that God knows to its deepest depths. And when God invites us to act in the face of injustice, God is inviting us to join the work He is already doing” (Bethany Hoang, Deepening the Soul for Justice).
God sees. God works. Whatever the sorrow, suffering, or injustice that might catch our attention, God invites us to see with His eyes, to feel with His compassion, and to respond as His hands.
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing Company in Warburton, Victoria, Australia.