When we feel like no one is watching, we can become lazy or even misbehave. This is understandable, to a degree. But would we be so lazy and misbehave if we were being watched? And if we were being watched, would we obey and act appropriately only to avoid punishment? If such watching was intended to spot our faults and misbehaviour, of course. But, maybe, being seen is not as it seems.
There is a rather amusing television commercial promoting Maltesers chocolate balls.
Two women are standing rather tall and proper, at either ends of a counter, in a high-end jewellery shop. Their supervisor turns away from them and walks out of the frame. As she disappears, one woman nods toward the other, who pulls a Malteser from out of a drawer and places it on the counter. She then turns on a fan which blows the chocolate ball across the counter to her friend, who scoops it up and quickly pops it into her mouth, with a look of innocence … even as her crunching of the ball gives away her misbehaviour.
This reminds me of another anecdote: Students were taking apples from the cafeteria to their room. Someone put up a sign, “Please take only one apple. God is watching you.” Someone else put up a sign by the cookies: “Take all the cookies you want. God is watching the apples.”
Why God is Watching?
When we talk about God watching us we tend to think he is doing so to spot our faults and misbehaviour. Instead, he is watching us so he may know us because his care and concern for us is deep and complete. For the friend of Jesus, knowing God sees and knows us should encourage us to glorify him in our lifestyle. In other words, we should consider what we say and what we do at all times, for how we live matters.
How Do We Know God is Watching?
After being baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Jn 1:29-34) and tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Lk 4:1-13), Jesus began his public ministry as he made his way back to Galilee. Along the way, he called Philip to be his disciple (Jn 1:43). I guess Philip was excited by this opportunity because he took the time to find his friend, Nathanael, and told him about Jesus (Jn 1:45). He told Nathanael Jesus was the fulfilment of prophecies and let slip that Jesus came from Nazareth. To which, Nathanael made a sarcastic remark:
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46)
Rather than argue with his friend over how offensive it is to portray all the people of Nazareth as being unworthy and unrighteous, “Come and see”, Philip answered.
Despite his initial resistance at the prospect all their spiritual hopes and dreams were finally being fulfilled, Nathanael’s interest was piqued enough to follow Philip and meet Jesus. The relative spiritual openness of the two men is held in contrast here, although, to be fair, Philip had met Jesus face-to-face whereas Nathanael had only his jaundiced knowledge of Nazareth and its typical inhabitants to guide him.
Nathanael went with his friend Philip, to see this man of whom Philip was willing to change his lifestyle. Upon spying Nathanael as he drew near, Jesus made a positive comment about Nathanael’s character:
Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. (John 1:47)
I don’t want to bore you with the details but Jesus was essentially saying Nathanael was a righteous person, despite his scepticism and hesitation, a person who valued truth and honesty. A compliment which, of course, surprised Nathanael, although I’m sure he was also very flattered. But how could Jesus possibly know this about Nathanael since they had never met? Jesus didn’t explain but instead revealed his supernatural vision of Nathanael:
Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. (John 1:48)
Jesus not only had a vision of Nathanael but knew he was speaking with his friend Philip and that he was sitting under a fig tree. If Jesus could see Nathanael from afar and was privy to his conversation with Philip, perhaps his estimation of Nathanael’s righteousness was based on that conversation? If so, why did Jesus come to this positive estimation of Nathanael’s character?
It seems Jesus looked beyond the sarcasm and bigotry and hesitation to see the faith of Nathanael. Jesus promised him this demonstration of supernatural power would pale in comparison to what else they would see if they followed him as his disciples (Jn 1:50-51).
Jesus saw Nathanael before meeting him and perceived his character. This revelation of supernatural power was enough to convince Nathanael to declare aloud Jesus was the promised Christ of God (Jn 1:49), an expression of faith far beyond Philip’s. Jesus therefore welcomed Nathanael as one of his disciples.
Should I Fear God is Watching?
These stories of being known by God remind me of a monument in Tennessee described by Carl C. Williams:
Gatlinburg is a tourist city buried deep in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. This city of 1,764 inhabitants all but rolls up sidewalks in the winter but is literally working alive in the summer. In and around Gatlinburg are many beautiful scenes, and many rolls of film are used in these parts! But the most photographed sight in Gatlinburg is the sculptured head of Christ in the Christus Gardens. This breathtaking marble figure of Christ is sculpted in such a way that the eyes appear to “look” in every direction. Regardless of where you stand, the eyes are upon you. (Carl C. Williams)
This description brings to mind the familiar horror movie trope of a painting whose eyes seem to follow a troubled character. Usually, such apparitions lead to fear and trembling as the character tries to avoid the spooky painting, along with fear and trembling in the audience. This monument in Tennessee, however, does nothing of the sort. The six-ton slab of marble is the centrepiece of Christus Gardens, much loved and admired, and its miniature replica is reportedly the hottest-selling item in the gift shop.
To say that God is watching us is going to fill some with fear and trembling. This is only because they know they have something to hide. They fear their faults and misbehaviour will be found out. Who wants to live like that? Let me assure you, our creator God does not want us to live like that. That is not why he watches us, wherever we are sitting and whomever we are talking to.
God Sees Us
The example of Nathanael demonstrates God does not merely watch us, as if he is looking intently for our faults and misbehaviour, but God sees us. He sees who we are and of what we are capable. He sees what we’ve done but also what we can do better. With his Spirit within you, you don’t have a policeman following you but a life coach encouraging you, guiding you, chastising you when need be, but always equipping you for living holy and righteous, if you will let him.
God’s care for you and I is so deep and complete we can know for certain we are known and we are loved. God sees you and I so let us both consider carefully what we do and how we live. Be intent on glorifying God and you will never find yourself doing anything you will have to regret in the morning.
Does the thought of God watching you scare you or comfort you, and why?
If so, what are you going to do differently?
 Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book: Over 4,500 Illustrations and Quotations for All Occasions (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Kregel Publications, 1997).
 As quoted by Paul L. Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX, USA: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996).