Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”
The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.
Generally, the genres of stories haven’t changed much in four thousand years. In the ancient world, they liked stories of superheroes and gods, buddy stories and romances with some fantasy. They liked epics with monsters and stories of con men.
The story of Abraham is different. It is a story of a moral religious man who made mistakes, and who struggled with his wife to have a baby. He was involved in one small skirmish, but otherwise no war. He lived a quiet life, an unassuming life, and even though great events were around him, his participation in them was often just prayer. For the most part, his life is without great drama.
And yet his life is the basis of three major world religions. He is seen as an example to follow, an exemplar life. And perhaps because his life is so quiet, it makes sense. But we also have more information about him than about almost any ancient figure of his time, passed on through oral tradition and ancient texts, carefully transcribed.
Why is his quiet story so important for so much of the world? Perhaps because in his own quiet way, Abraham’s story is kind of crazy. He was a family man that approached life… differently… but still succeeded in the long run, although he was on the brink of disaster again and again. I guess we can all identify with that, a bit.
We hear that Abraham’s father moved his family from Ur in Mesopotamia in Iraq to Haran in Turkey,, and that he had quite a legacy to pass onto his sons. He originally wanted to go to Canaan, but ended up in Turkey instead, which was fine. Then we move right away to Abraham. He is told by God to leave his family and his inheritance and his land and to go… just go. Don’t worry about where. God will tell you when to stop. And if Abraham does then God will make of Abraham an enormous nation, and the whole world will be blessed by him and his family.
We have no indication that Abraham considered it for a minute or if he weighed the pros and cons. Pro– great nation someday. Con– leave everything I know to who knows where. Got it, let’s go!
So Abraham kept moving until he got to the land of Canaan and then God told him “Stop!”. God told Abraham that someday he would have all of this land, but meanwhile he had to live homeless in it. So Abraham and his family lived in tents, increasing his sheep business.
One day, Abe sat down and had a talk with God. “So God? You say that you’ll make me into nations? Well, I don’t really see it happening as I don’t have a son. Or any kid. And I’m really old, as is Sarah, my wife. How about if I adopt my head slave and you can make nations out of him?”
“No, Abe, you’re going to have a kid. You. Not adopted. Out of your body.” “Okay, God, if you say so.”
See, Abe really trusted God. He figured it would be okay if God said it was okay. If God told him to do it, Abe did it. If God said it would happen, it would happen.
So did his wife Sarah. But she was very particular about God’s words. “Sure,” she said, “God said you would have a son, but not me. Tell you what, my neighbors all have surrogate moms. Let’s use my slave, Hagar, as a surrogate mom.” So they did. And she had a son, Ishmael. And Sarah adopted that son as her own. But Hagar kept acting like a mom. And was kind of bossy. So Sarah got rid of Hagar. Abraham was worried about Hagar, but God promised that he would take care of Hagar and Abraham trusted God. God took care of Hagar
God made a a separate promise to Sarah that she would have a son, and she laughed to herself. Because she was 89 and children weren’t a possibility. God said, “Did you laugh at me?” Sarah replied, “I didn’t laugh.” We always have this problem about lying to God, as if God doesn’t know. God says, “You did laugh, but you will have a son.”
And… it did happen. Abe had a son. . But Abe and Sarah had a kid named “Laughter” or in Hebrew, Isaac, and they were overjoyed and they raised their kid and they knew that nations would come from Isaac.
Then came the bad day. The day Abraham’s trust turned bad.
The day that God said, “Abraham, I want you to take your son… your only son… the son whom you love and go where I tell you to go and sacrifice him there.”
Again, Abraham didn’t argue with God. He didn’t make a list of pros and cons. If he had, it might have looked like this: Pro– Do what God says to do. Con– Kill my son, give up on God’s promise of nations through him, do human sacrifice which is abominable, destroy that which I love most in the world. Okay, here we go!
To be honest, I don’t understand this Abraham. Maybe this is the same, naive Abraham who left his home and family just at God’s say-so. But is this the Abraham who haggled with God about the lives of Sodom? Is this the Abraham who heard his nephew, Lot, was in trouble and he took three hundred servants to go and attack the huge raiding party to get him back? Is this the “family first” Abraham?
This is an Abraham that had enough energy to do a three day walk, but not enough to tell God, “Can we think about this a minute?”
He said to his son, “Let’s go on a trip. Starting at three in the morning. And let’s not tell your mother. Or anyone else. It’s a God-thing.” Isaac knew about his dad’s “God-things”. So he got up and travelled with him. But Isaac figured it out eventually. He knew they were going for a sacrifice. But there was no animal brought. And Abraham was being pretty coy when Isaac asked about it.
Both Jewish and Muslim traditions say that Abraham’s son was old enough to take his dad, to run away. But he chose to stay, he chose to be with his father. He trusted his father, even when he was acting uncomfortably weird.
So when they got there, Abraham bound Isaac and was going to kill him. And Isaac let his father do this to him. And in the last minute, God sends an angel and says, “Don’t do this!”
So why? Why this drama, this exercise in futile obedience? Why put Abraham and Isaac through this turmoil?
The first thought is, “This is the Bible. This story is supposed to promote trust in God.” So you have the author of Hebrews who says that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. But we have no reason to believe that from this story than he thought that God would pull him back in the last second.
Many get the lesson that God was testing Abraham to see if he was really loyal to God first above everything else. God’s statement seems to indicate that. But what God said is, “Now I know that you fear God…” Is this really a statement of praise or a statement of fact? Yes, sure, now I know just how your trust goes over the line into insanity. I wasn’t sure before, but now I know for certain.”
In fact, the lessons from much of the rest of the Bible aren’t the lessons we would normally get from it.
Argue with God
If you think that you are hearing something from God that just doesn’t sound right, argue with God. Don’t just accept it. No one just accepted what God told them after this. Moses argued God down when God wanted to destroy all the children of Israel after the Golden calf incident. Ezekiel argued with God when God wanted him to cook his food over burnt human feces. Even Jesus argued with God about his sacrifice on the cross! Some say that true belief is, “God said it, I believe it and that settles it.” But the whole of the Bible seems to say that trusting in God doesn’t mean just accepting what God says. Trust is a relationship and in a relationship either side could be wrong, even God. Sometimes we need to sit with God and have a discussion, not just be an obedient slave.
No Human Sacrifice
Abraham was asked to do human sacrifice. From this point on, this act wasn’t even considered. God is not the kind of God that asks for humans to die on behalf of others. All three monotheistic religions are characterized by not forcing the innocent to die for others. Jesus and the martyrs could die willingly, but if anyone forces them to die, then they are condemned and even the land on which they died is polluted. The innocent who die in wars or famines are part of what we must stop in Jesus’ name.
We Beg God not to Tempt
Jesus taught us to plead with God to not put us in this kind of situation. Where we have our faith in God on one side and our humanity on the other. Everyday someone has to make a Sophie’s choice between survival and God, between a love for their humanity or their faith. Jesus tells us to ask God never to put us in such a spot.
Corrie Ten Boom tells a story about she and her sister, both of whom hid Jews from the Nazis in WWII. In their minds they both determined what they would do if the Nazis showed up at their door, demanding where the Jews were. When that day occurred, Corrie lied to the Nazis, who didn’t believe her and they ransacked her house, but didn’t find the Jews that were well-hidden there. When the day occured for her sister, Betsie, her faith didn’t allow her to lie. So she told the Nazis that the Jews were hidden in the closet. They didn’t believe her, either, so they left. Both acted according to their faith.
Trust in God can go very, very right, even if it seems crazy. Perhaps this is part of God’s insurance for us. If we trust in God, God will protect us just enough.
On the other hand, faith can go very, very bad.
The last couple weeks, laws have been passed in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio, in the name of God to end abortion. These laws, of course, do not end abortion, just ends the ability to abort babies safely in an office. These laws harm innocent women, and it doesn’t matter which side of the abortion debate we are on. One law targets women who go across state lines to seek an abortion, convicting them as a murderer. One law encourages the transplanting of an ectopic pregnancy into a surrogate. The latest denies abortions to victims of incest and rape. These laws are not targeting abortion, but women. And it is done in the name of faith.
Someone asked me if I believed in heresy. Yes. Yes I do.
I believe that when someone’s faith in God demands that people be harmed, that is heresy.
When someone says that war or terror must be committed in order to perpetuate one’s belief in God, that is heresy.
When someone harms innocent people in the name of God, that is heresy.
When slavery, rape, capital punishment, the destruction of other peoples or nations or hated is done in Jesus’ name, that is heresy.
When a faith community sees their protection or security over the support of the poor, outcast or marginalized, that is heresy.
And honestly, I see Abraham in this story as an actor of bad faith. Just like he was an actor of bad faith when he threw out Hagar and Ishmael– his co-wife and son– to die in the wilderness at just the word of God.
Sure, it all worked out okay, but that doesn’t mean that Abraham was overly naive. That his trust was misplaced.
Which God was he trusting himself in? The God that encourages us to take chances? No, I get that. Sometimes our trust in God causes us to take huge steps that might seem crazy to some. But the God of love does not ask us to kill. The God of love does not ask us to sacrifice someone else. The God of love does not ask us to destroy our family. To hear this from God and to blindly obey it is not just naive, not just foolish, but in opposition to the command of Jesus.
Jesus commands us to love God. AND to love our neighbor. It is not either/or, but both at the same time. To love God is to love our neighbor and to love our neighbor is to love God. The God of love will never ask us to choose one or the other.
When politicians, police, the military, pastors or any other authority demand that we make a choice between God and our neighbor then they are asking us to put faith into the wrong God. Some other God than that of love. Some other God than the God of Jesus. And I’m just not interested.