“Thou God seest me.” Gen. xvi. 13.
Do you sometimes feel as though God has forgotten you? Perhaps you feel that your problems are small when compared with so many greater problems, and God has more important work to do. This is not an uncommon way to think. Many people are tempted to think that God has forgotten them or even more that God cannot possibly be interested in them much less in their small things, especially thinking of the millions of people in the world. But this is not so. Using the Scriptures, St. John Henry Newman teaches otherwise. He begins a sermon about Providence using the Old Testament. He points to the passage where Hagar flees into the wilderness away from her mistress, and she is visited by an angel. Hagar calls the place “Thou God seest me.”
In reality, God sustains the world and every creature in existence, and cares for each. He takes, in other words, “particular Providence” of his creatures. Newman writes: “We conceive that Almighty God works on a large plan; but we cannot realize the wonderful truth that He sees and thinks of individuals. We cannot believe He is really present everywhere, that He is wherever we are, though unseen.” We forget that He is on our path and sees us (Ps. 119) and knows what is going on around us. “We know He is in heaven, and forget that He is also on earth. This is the reason why the multitude of men are so profane.”
This “forgetfulness” of God and His presence leads men to sin. In addition, the world cannot provide men and women with the happiness they need. “The world fails them, and they despair, because they do not realize to themselves the loving-kindness and the presence of God.”
Newman explains that people conceive of a good and almighty God acting in the world like the light of the sun, but in a universal way through general laws “because they have not accustomed their minds to feel that He is a merciful God, regarding them individually, and not a mere universal Providence acting by general laws.” Some are then surprised, like Hagar, that God does see them and cares for them individually.
And contrarily, they go to the other extreme and forget that God loves all other men too. For Newman God’s tenderness and considerateness for man “are the very perfection of kindness between man and man; but, from the very extent and complication of the world’s system, and from its Maker’s being invisible, our imagination scarcely succeeds in attributing them to Him, even when our reason is convinced, and we wish to believe accordingly.”
It is true that God’s Providence is manifest in general laws that apply to all men, the good and the bad, yet one of Christ’s most winning properties according to Newman is the individual way in which He deals with his own. He writes: “This might be illustrated, as is often done, by our Lord’s tender behaviour towards Lazarus and his sisters, or His tears over Jerusalem; or by His conduct towards St. Peter, before and after his denial of him, or towards St. Thomas when he doubted, or by His love of His mother, or of St. John.”
Newman closes his sermon with the poignant narrative of Christ’s personal dealing with Judas. Jesus sought to save him and offered him many opportunities of repentance. This is the tender and personal love for individual persons, the revelation of God’s particular providence for men.
Along with these thoughts, Newman also reminds us of God’s constant and loving gaze; we cannot love ourselves more than God loves us. St. Thérèse de Lisieux wrote in a letter to her sister Céline the way we should respond to Jesus’ love: “Yes, one who loves Jesus is all His family; in that unique Heart which has no other like it, he finds all that he desires, in it he finds heaven!….” Both these saints affirm this beautiful truth, that we each matter to God; our very hairs are numbered.
Let us ask ourselves: where did I see God’s hand today in my life? If we have experienced pain or loss we must consider: God has allowed it; and so what good does He have planned out for me? And all the while we can recall those words of Scripture: “Thou God seest me.”