God Who Sees

The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

-Exodus 2:23-25

This is a moment within the great Exodus story where God works through Moses (and his supportive siblings, Aaron and Miriam) to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. There’s a good chance you’ve heard this one before.

So here’s a question for you: what did the people do to convince God to help them?

I’m not going to give you the answer right away. Think about it for a minute.

Ok, let me give you a hint: up to this point in the book of Exodus, we have not seen a single person pray to God. The heroic midwives — who rescue babies from Pharaoh’s murder decree — are called God-fearing, but we aren’t told about any prayers (Ex. 1:15-22). Moses’s mother sets his infant body in a basket and pushes it down the river, but we don’t see her pray for his safety (Ex. 2:1-4). Moses kills an Egyptian, and we hear no prayers for repentance (Ex. 2:11-15).

Even in the passage I cited at the beginning — and in similar passages that will come in Exodus 3 — we don’t hear about people praying to God. The translation is much more passive: “Out of slavery their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning…”

There’s nothing about them being particularly righteous or special. We might assume they’re praying or remaining faithful to the God of Israel, but the Bible doesn’t tell us that. All the text says to us is: “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”

The people don’t do anything in particular. They suffer. And their suffering makes them cry out. That’s it.

The powerful verbs belong to God. God hears. God looks. God remembers. God “takes notice.” 

And this will lead to God instigating all the main action of the story: God calls to Moses from the burning bush. God spends a long time responding to all of Moses’s reasons for why he can’t go to Pharaoh. God empowers Moses before the Egyptian court. God sends the plagues that eventually change Pharaoh’s mind (or at least twist his arm). Not to mention: God creates an escape path through the Red Sea.

Let me tell you another story. 

This one takes place only a couple of decades ago, during one of those seasons where the Black community’s relationship with the police was again big in the news cycle. A friend of mine was serving as a pastor, and the news topic came up in a Bible study. One (white) man kept insisting: “Police don’t pull over people just because they’re black here. They don’t treat people like that here. That doesn’t happen in our town.”

And finally my friend spoke up: “My son gets pulled over in our neighborhood all the time. He gets asked what he’s doing there all the time.”

My friend is white, but he and his wife had adopted two black children. Now he had a front row seat to experiences many other privileged white people never have to see.

There are so many reasons we don’t see one another’s suffering. Sometimes we’re so separate from one another that we don’t have the chance. Sometimes we so desperately want a story to be false that we deny it. Sometimes our pre-judgements and assumptions get in the way. Sometimes we’re just too focused on something else.

Sometimes we refuse to see even our own suffering, much less allow it to be visible to others. We distract ourselves from our pain with work or movies or food. A survey of this year’s CORE students reveals that 80% do not reach out to other people when they could use support. Among their top 3 reasons why: “I think I should be strong and handle it on my own.” And how often do we respond to our own hurt with, “Someone else has it worse,” or even, “I deserve this”?

For so many reasons, we often don’t see suffering. We don’t acknowledge it.

God is not like us in that regard. God sees. God takes note.

And God “remembers his covenant.” God remembers the promises God has made to the people, and God holds Godself to them. Which is another way of saying God is faithful to us. Another way of saying God loves us, like a spouse who makes vows to their marriage partner and keeps them through all the years.

God does all this because it is who God is. In fact, the only time we know of a human giving God a name (instead of God revealing a name to humans) is when the Genesis-era suffering slave, Hagar, names God El-roí: “the God who sees” (Gen. 16:13).

God sees, God remembers God’s love for us, and God acts. There’s not a space in-between where God stops to ascertain that we’ve checked off all of God’s good behavior boxes. Even sin has been stripped of its power to separate us from God through Jesus Christ — whose life, death, and resurrection were the ultimate example of God seeing, remembering, and acting. 

The Lord works vindication

And justice for all who are oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,

His acts to the people of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,

Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

-Psalm 103:6-8

– Pastor Kate

Rev. Katherine Museus and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and take turns writing weekly devotions.

September 27, 2023