The verb “to see” has an assortment of meanings. We can perceive something with our eyes. We can grasp something mentally and understand it. We can have an experience. We can watch, examine or notice something. We can visit or accompany somebody. All of these Merriam-Webster definitions refer back to the first verb — to see.
But what does it mean to see someone?
To truly see someone is to see who they are. To understand what makes that person the way they are. To understand what they enjoy, what they dislike, what makes them laugh. To see their pain and to see their joy. To know their hopes and aspirations. To know their fears and doubts.
Realistically, however, there are few people who truly see us for who we are — both the good parts and the bad. We might even sometimes feel that nobody can really understand what we’re going through because nobody sees us, nobody knows us. But God knows, and He sees us.
Hagar probably experienced similar feelings in Genesis 16. She was running away, scared and abused, and she eventually finds herself in the desert, thirsty and alone. And that’s when God hears her cry of distress and meets her.
“The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?'”
God knew perfectly well where Hagar had been and what she was running away from. He knew details of her own life that she herself couldn’t fully understand. He knew her past, and He knew her future. But He met her in the present, and He revealed just how much He saw and knew about her and about her future son, Ishmael.
“Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.'”
El-roi — The God who sees me.
He sees me. He sees my struggles. He sees my desires, my hopes, my joys. He sees me on my good days. He sees me on my bad days. And yet, His love toward me never fails and never wavers. He knows what makes me tick, and He created me to work a certain way.
God created us as unique individuals, each with certain talents and gifts. He saw us and knew us before we were even born.
“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered.” — Psalm 139:15-17
He sees us. But it’s more than God seeing us.
After God spoke to Hagar, she referred to Him as El-roi, as the God who saw her. But she continued to speak. “She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?'”
Hagar’s encounter with God wasn’t like one of those two-way mirrors you might find in an interrogation room, where one side can watch someone on the other side without being seen.
God revealed Himself to Hagar. He allowed Himself to be seen by her. She caught a glimpse of who He was — of His knowledge, power, love and mercy — and that affected her perspective of God. Her experience of being seen by God — and of seeing Him, in turn — changed her life.
God sees us. He knows us. But more than that, He allows us the chance to see Him. Now, God as a spirit is invisible, and no man has seen God (1 John 4:12). But we can know Him. We can can live day-by-day in His presence. We can experience Him. We can see His blessings. And we can know that He won’t stop loving us, regardless of what He sees in us.