Sunday, September 02, 2007

Getting Abraham & Isaac Right

You know the story. It is a tale precious to believers of three different faiths--Judaism, Christinity and Islam. Abraham atop a windswept peak, his arm raised high, a knife clenched in his fist over the submissive body of his son, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice in obedience to his God.

Old Abraham is held up as a paragon of faith, of obedience, of loyalty to God.

Bu doesn't it bother you? That God would demand such an awful sacrifice? And that Abraham would so willingly go along with it? It bothered me, and in the summer of 2005 after reading Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakuer's searing tale of a man who killed his wife and infant child because he believed God had told him to do so, I knew in my heart of hearts that if God came to me with Abraham's test, I would have flunked. I would have said, No. You can keep Your covenant and Your promises. We're done here. I think I felt that way because I had it wrong. I didn't really understand the story, or at least the point of it. I suspect many of us don't.

Have you ever wondered what we might have thought of the story if God hadn't intervened at the last minute? What if God had let the knife fall? What if God had approached Abraham, shaking with grief as Isaac's lifeblood ran down the stones of the altar and pooled at his feet, and said "Now, I know that you fear God, since you have not witheld your son your only son from Me." The obedience would still have been there, wouldn't it? God's words recognizing Abraham's faithfulness would have been no less true, right? But lets face it, we would not be celebrating Abraham's fealty nor would we be worshiping God out of anything more than a dreadful sense of fear and loathing.

No, it wouldn't be much of a story if God hadn't provided, and yet so often that is how the story is told, as if Abraham were the hero and obedience to God's demands no matter how abhorent, the lesson. But we're getting it wrong. The hero of this story is not Abraham, but God, who provided, and the lesson is in deep faith and trust in that provision. Faith deep enough to make the ultimate leap because you know, somehow, some way that God will catch you. You see, Abraham obeyed not because he knew God would take his son, but because He knew, against the ever-mounting evidence, that He wouldn't. Go back and read the story again. It's all over the account. Verse Five: "And Abraham said to the young men, 'Stay here with donkey and I and the lad will go yonder, and we will worship and return to you." Verse 8: " God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." Everywhere is the implication that Abraham was trusting that some way of escape would be provided. The author of Hebrews, in his account of Abraham's mountaintop test, makes it clear that Abraham placed his faith God's miraculous power to provide. And the take-home message at the end of the Genesis 22 account? "And Abraham called the name of the place 'The Lord will provide'and it is said to this day 'In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.'" He didn't name the place "I will obey". That is not the legacy of Moriah. He named it "The Lord Will Provide."

I'm not trying to knock obedience you understand. I'm simply saying that radical obedience, obedience that flies in the face of everything that seems to make sense, can only come from deep trust and a true a knowledge the One who's asking you to make the leap. It does NOT come from blindness, but seeing with the eyes of faith.

Granted, nobody's life was at stake, but our long wait for Judith Edwards is what taught me the true meaning of Abraham's journey to Mt. Moriah. We waited, because we were certain that God would provide. In the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, we beleived that God would bring us a teacher for grades 5-7. While both Barbara and I went through moments of doubt, periods of struggle and anger at God, on the whole there was this pervading sense that somehow, someway, God was going to come through. We didn't know how, but we just chose to believe that He would provide. And He did. I realized then, that this was the faith of old Abraham on that mountain (and really, Isaac too). For Christians, especially, this is the message of Genesis 22--that God Has Provided. And that--at least from where I am, descending the mountain, relieved and happy--is getting the story right.


Anonymous Mom said...

I like that perspective, Sean. Never thought of it in that way. All I could wrestle from the story was the fact that Abraham must have known God so well, that He did not doubt that the command was coming from God. And I'd say to myself, hmmm, I wonder if I would ever be that close to God that I could be absolutely 100% sure that God is the one making this request of me. If I were that sure, then I'd have to go ahead and do the job, but it is the "sureness" that I doubted.

I really like the trust you found in the story. Abraham KNEW his God, and he KNEW that God was not the kind of God who would make you sacrifice your son. Yet here was the request. So he went forward, trusting all along that God would provide.....and indeed He did. :-)

3:20 PM  
Blogger The Libertarian said...

Interesting take, Sean. You definitely seem to be on to something and I certainly prefer your interpretation. I was talking to a local pastor the other night and his take, based on some clues in the hebrew text, was that it was Satan who provoked the idea of Isaac's sacrifice. I'm not sure how much merit that interpretation has.
I admit, the fact that Isaac was spared makes this story not so horrendous. The stories that bother me most are those where God shows no mercy, when he gives the command to kill man, woman, child, infant. Not to mention those who are stoned to death at God's command. I've heard all the reasoning, but the fact is the Bible is far too bloody of a book to be taken as the inerrant word of the God of love.
Obviously you and I are not in favor of genocide or religious executions or infanticide but so long as we hold the Bible up as an idol, and claim that it reveals the perfect will of God, there will continue to be hate, prejudice, even murder and war in the name of God.

3:12 PM  
Blogger The Libertarian said...

Sean, I agree with your most recent comment about the nature of Scripture. I'm glad you noticed the Satan/God confusion in the Old Testament and you didn't try to dismiss it as "saying the same thing two different ways" like so many fundamentalists do. What you have clearly said is that the Bible is written by men, say what you will about inspiration, it's man's word, not God's. I know that is a tough phrase to utter, but really, I think it's what we're both saying.

1:33 AM  
Blogger The Libertarian said...

I wish you'd say more about the God I've rejected as opposed to the God which you have faith in. As I contemplate Lucifer's ousting, Adam and Eve's expulsion, and Christ's torturous punishment I don't see many options.
Why must God punish? If it were only a love for justice then certainly Christ's representative atonement is a curious loophole in God's own law.

10:24 PM  

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