The God who sees me

Published November 30, 2015

And she called the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi,” by which she meant, “Have I not gone on seeing after He saw me!”

-Genesis 16:13 (Jewish Publication Society)

Jews, Christians and Muslims have all called Abraham their father in faith. He is the foundation of so much religious practice and hope that his greatness obscures another very different symbol. Abraham is the primary parent of faith, but outside the realm of normal religious faith and practice is another parent, another figure of hope: Hagar, the maidservant of Sarai (not yet known as Sarah). Sarah was filled with hate when Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael, the first child of Abram (not yet known as Abraham).

Escaping her harsh treatment from Sarai, Hagar found herself pregnant and alone, threatened from every direction. It is in this moment that she becomes a symbol and theme of some of God’s greatest acts of love and mercy: she is the first person in Scripture to witness an appearance by an angel and the first woman whom God addresses. Yet, there is one other distinction of essential importance: she is the only one in Scripture who gives God a name-El-roi, the God who sees me.

Most who read this will be people who choose to dwell within the safety of God’s mercy as it is found in the faith and life of Christian community. But Scripture shows a distinct and different path, off the grid of the usual way of grace. God sees, in a special way, those who can’t be seen by others; those who have found themselves exiled from human comfort, conscience and community, either by design or circumstance. They have a God who sees them, even beyond the borders of the community of faith. The women at the well, the tax collectors, the woman found in adultery-Jesus dares to say and show that they, like Hagar, have their special relationship with God. A relationship that may not be known by the community of faith, but is known in the heart of God.

So, this is to animate our hearts, to enliven our proclamation of the Good News, to enlarge our understanding of the community of mercy. The doors of God’s world, now coming upon us, are not only open to those we cannot see-perhaps do not want to see-but they are open with a special welcome and privilege, as should be our hearts and churches. But there is a dimension for us: this love and mercy is specifically and directly aimed at us when, as is inevitable, we find ourselves beyond the faith and life that we profess. We, too, who perhaps see ourselves as children of Abraham, find ourselves children of Hagar, children of the Cross, children of the suffering God who sees us.

Bishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.


  • Mark MacDonald

    Mark MacDonald was national Indigenous Anglican bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2007 to 2019, and national Indigenous Anglican archbishop from 2019 to 2022.

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