Some time ago I attended the christening of my grandnephew at a Roman Catholic church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The priest there told a story about a bishop who visited an old woman on her 100th birthday and noticed a picture of the Eye of God hanging on her wall. (The same Eye of God can be found on the back of a dollar bill staring hypnotically from at the top of a pyramid.) The bishop remarked that when he was a boy a similar picture had hung in his house, standing guard over a bowl of fruit on the dining room table. He had never liked the picture, because he was not supposed to eat between meals, and he felt God was always watching him when he was tempted to steal some fruit. The old woman smiled and told the bishop she always liked the picture because it reminded her that God loves us so much he can't keep his eye off us.
This story is meant to illustrate the small but crucial difference between a God who is watching us and a God who watches over us. You can see why a priest might find the story especially appealing, since a bishop is the one who is set straight in the end. The Eye of God functions as a kind of Rorschach test that reveals what is in the hearts of the guilt-ridden boy and the sweet old lady. The bowl of fruit provides a nice biblical touch, since forbidden fruit figured in the Original Sin. The moral of the story is also biblical. You will find it neatly summarized in a verse from one of St. John's epistles: "Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God."
Then again, perhaps the distinction between a God who is watching us and a God who watches over us is not so significant after all. Either way, there is no escaping a sense that we are being watched. Whether that inspires confidence or not, God has been externalized, which is the real consequence of Original Sin. The penalty for filching the forbidden fruit was that Adam and Eve now found themselves on the outside looking in. It was they, of course, who set this in motion by fleeing from God's presence in the first place. Like countless refugees to come, they may have concluded it was better to live in exile rather than live with the feeling that someone was always looking over their shoulder.
The truth is that God is not looking at us, because there is nothing to look at. The true Eye of God cannot be hung on a wall, nor does it operate like some gigantic security camera in the sky. You will never find the Eye of God by looking for it, because it is the eye you are looking through. The 14th-century mystic Meister Eckhart once sermonized, "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me" -- a statement that drew unwelcome attention from the guardians of orthodoxy in his day. This is still a hard one to grasp, but quantum physicists would certainly understand, since they recognize no real distinction between observer and observation, subject and object, self and Other. "My eye and God's eye are one eye," Eckhart wrote, "one seeing, one knowing and one love." There is nowhere we can flee where God cannot see, since God sees every time we open our eyes.
1 John 3:21