Book review: The God Who Sees

May 27, 2019 by

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This winter, as I read Karen González’s excellent new book on immigration, troubling news continued to unfold about events at the United States’ southern border. Governmental policy, fueled by xenophobic rhetoric, was intensifying a humanitarian crisis. Families seeking asylum from violence and poverty found themselves in deplorable living conditions, stuck in what amounted to internment camps.

The God Who Sees

The God Who Sees

At the same time, demands for a border wall had shuttered parts of the U.S. government and then precipitated a presidential emergency declaration, diverting funding to construct the barricade; the wall was needed, President Trump said, to keep out “bad people,” “rapists and murderers” and “animals.”

The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible and the Journey to Belong provides a much-needed antidote to the dehumanizing language about immigration that has become part of our civic conversation. It is a direct challenge to the policies that have risked the well-being of thousands.

Using her own story as a narrative frame, González explores what a biblically based approach to immigration must be. She convincingly argues that current hate-filled responses to immigration are anathema to the God who sees, knows and loves immigrants. The God Who Sees also contends that Christians need to be at the front lines of the immigration debate, offering welcome rather than a wall.

Recent surveys suggest that for white evangelicals especially, messages like the one González provides are necessary. According to the 2018 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, white evangelicals were the only religious group in which a majority said there should be laws barring refugees from entering the country and the only one with a majority who said “immigrants threaten American customs and values.”

For Christians who support President Trump’s draconian immigration policies, The God Who Sees should be required reading. In fact, González’s book is enlightening for every believer who desires to live in alignment with the principles of love and inclusion outlined in the New Testament, where Jesus tells his followers that by welcoming strangers we welcome him.

González knows what it means to live as a stranger in an unfamiliar land. Born in Guatemala, she moved with her family to the United States when she was 9, fleeing violence in her homeland. She details how the war in Guate­mala, largely funded by the U.S. government, affected her family: how she saw a dead body while playing with friends, the man having most likely been tortured; how she feared a similar fate; how her fear was well-founded, given the numbers of people who were raped, tortured, kidnapped and murdered by the Guate­malan government.

Her family moved to Providence, R.I., and then to Los Angeles, having overstayed their tourist visa. González’s father was considered a dissident, his life was in danger, and moving to the U.S. also provided his family some economic stability.

In Los Angeles, they experienced the isolation that can accompany life on the margins. The God Who Sees outlines many of the challenges her family — and, by extension, other immigrants to the U.S. — might face, including language barriers, racial and ethnic discrimination and the secrecy needed to hide their undocumented status.

Like many immigrants, the González family remained invisible — because of their undocumented status, because of their otherness. (If it matters — and I tend to think it doesn’t — the González family became legal citizens through family-based immigration.)

González makes a compelling case that immigrants suffer acutely from their invisibility and that this persistent dehumanization, in rhetoric and in deed, is not what God intends for those who are beautiful image-bearers of our Creator, no matter who they are, no matter their documentation (or lack of it).

Within her family’s story González weaves consideration of Scripture passages that define a biblical understanding of immigration. She looks at the Bible’s immigrants: Abraham, Joseph and Ruth among them. She explores Jesus’ encounters with those on the margins, like the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7 who wrangles with Jesus, making a case that Jesus needed to include foreigners in his ministry. In God’s economy, Gon­zález says, there is room at the table for foreigners and citizens alike.

Most compellingly, González shows that the holy family were themselves immigrants, having escaped the violence of Herod, fleeing to a new land in search of safety for their baby. Indeed, Jesus’ story, both before and after his birth, is replicated again and again by families at our southern border, seeking security in a new land so that their children might live and thrive.

The final chapter of The God Who Sees beautifully reflects this story central to our faith, as González recounts the Las Posadas sin Fronteras celebration, which happens at the U.S. border wall each Christmas, when people on the U.S. and Mexican sides enact the journey taken by Mary and Joseph, searching for a peace-filled place to give birth.

In addition to her advocacy through writing and speaking, González works in human resources for World Relief. The God Who Sees is informed by her interactions with countless immigrants helped by this organization.

The book includes resources churches and individuals can access to help their immigrant and refugee neighbors. González believes U.S. Christians can no longer stand by and allow suffering to continue at the borderlands and elsewhere. She argues that the borders themselves are devised by humans, not God-ordained and sacrosanct, as we sometimes seem to believe.

God sees those who are at the wall, desperately seeking safety. God sees them as fearfully and wonderfully made, an image of their Creator. González challenges us to see immigrants and refugees as God does. And then to act.

Melanie Springer Mock is professor of English at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.

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