The God Who Sees

By Julie Rhodes

It was about 49 degrees, and both kids had their hoods pulled up around their faces like grim reapers. We had made it over the bridge and were finally within the bounds of Trinity Park. We breathed in the exhaust from the train engine — having chosen to sit too close to the front — and turned our heads away to catch fleeting breaths of clean, cold air.

The trees. When you faced them squarely from a train car, they looked like flags stuck in the ground in a haphazard scatter, as if Russel Crowe from “A Beautiful Mind” had devised a jumbled pattern that only made sense to him. Can you imagine being skewered in one place for fifty years?

“He will be like a tree,” the Psalmist writes of the righteous man, the person whose roots go down into God. “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers” (Ps. 1:3). Even a February tree has fruit coming, eventually, or at least a green leaf or two.

As we passed them in the train, I began thinking about how the trees do not move, how they are fixed in space and time, and I began to wonder about how all of us people are fixed in time but not in space. We are able to move around our homes, our garages, our restaurants and schools and cubicles and closets. We are able to live and move and be and ride trains to and from — but we are not able to move away from time. I am wed to the present tense, roots to soil. I cannot leave 9:54 a.m. for 9:55 a.m. ahead of time.

There is a wonderful Present Tense moment in Scripture I’ve always loved. It’s the story of Hagar, the second wife of Abraham, who bore Ishmael. In Genesis 16, Hagar is fleeing. She is  desperate — a pregnant pawn used to expedite a Plan — and now she’s running from the fallout.

Scripture says the “angel of the Lord” found Hagar by a spring in the desert. The verse clarifies the location: “It was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.” I have no idea where that might be, but the writer makes sure I knows it’s a real place. (You know, that spot, the one by the road to Shur?)

Sure.

Real place. At a real time, too — like 9:54 a.m., say.

The angel of the Lord says:

“Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answers.

Then the Lord tells her marvelous things about an abundance of descendants in her future, safety enough to bear them, and most of all, this: God has seen her misery, heard her cries. Her son’s name shall be Ishmael, which means God hears. 

Then Hagar assigns the Name-Giver a new name: 

“‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’”

Ishmael: God hears.

The Lord: the God Who Sees Me.

Hears. Sees.

Not, God heard me, or God will hear me. Not God saw me or God will see me. But he hears and sees. He hears and sees me. Personal, present tense.

Something about her encounter with the Lord on the road to Shur made her Sure: Hagar was in the process of being beheld. And why was this more moniker-worthy than, say, God’s protection? Or God’s provision? Hagar could have named Him “The God Who Heard My Cry” or “The God Who Will Fashion a Future,” but she didn’t. 

There is just something about being seen, isn’t there? Even more than that, there’s something sacred about eye contact. All at once I remember what it is like to catch a beloved’s eye from across a crowded room.  It’s an instant suspended in time, skewered in Now. Now might be complicated, boring, or gloomy, but it is the only time I have to hold God’s gaze.  

So Now it is. I’m stuck here anyway. Might as well make it a cozy place to dwell, even if it means relinquishing to whatever the moment is, even if it’s not particularly fruitful or interesting. Even if I happen to be running for my life.

I send my roots deep. I wait for leaves.

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