Saturday, June 12, 2010

What kind of God would . . .

I used to think about this all the time while growing up especially when reading the Old Testament. I was reminded of that today.  I'm reading Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott and in it she writes about the story of when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  

The story filled me with terror as a child.  I knew my parents would do *anything* they believed God was telling them to do because that is how seriously they took their faith.  I knew that given the same injunction by God, they would (potentially) carry it out.  To the end if that's what God told them to do.  To them, Abraham was a hero.  To me, he was a callous, unloving ass. 

The story still makes me uncomfortable especially now that I'm a mother.  I would have to risk eternal damnation before I sacrifice any of my children for any reason.  Now, I realize that some cultures and religions teach that this kind of sacrifice is sometimes necessary but who, pray tell, do my children trust more than me?  I couldn't do it under any circumstances.  I just wouldn't be able to go that distance to prove my loyalty to anyone.  Much less to a God unseen.   I have never been able to make peace with the story even though countless pastors have tried to smooth it over because in the end God did provide a lamb.  But can you image the seer terror of Isaac?  Do you think he would ever be willing to unequivocally trust his father ever again?  Who cares so long as God was pleased, I guess.  

And it always bothered me immensely:  God is supposed to be omniscient . . . why does someone who knows everything need to put his disciples through such tests.  Shouldn't God just know that they are 100% devoted to him?  Other pastors have tried to say that it was for the good of the disciples, good for strenghtening their relationship with God . . . yeah, not buying that argument either. 

There are many examples in the Old Testament that made me uneasy.  The only books I could really stand to read were Psalms and the Proverbs.  I was just always so grateful for the compassion and love the New Testament brought. 


Anonymous said...

For some reason, your post reminds me of Beloved, though the situations were entirely different. The biblical story was about gaining favor with God, more or less. And the latter was about sparing a child the atrocities of slavery. Being in either situation where one has to contemplate such a decision scares the crap out of me.

Anna C. said...

As a child I loved/hated the Old Testament: curious and drawn to the salaciousness, and repulsed by these types of stories. Have you read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant?

Tara said...

Wow, I look at the Abraham/Isaac story totally differently! I look at it as a man who clearly had a relationship with God, and knew a lot about the character of God. God had already done great miracles in Abraham's life (sarah became pregnant at an old age). I see the story of a man who trusted God so much with his life and with the life of his child that he 100% believed that God would spare them both AND reward him for his faith, in addition to learning a valuable lesson about the spirit of God.

In the story when Isaac asks his father where they are going, Abraham says "to worship". I don't for one second believe Abraham actually felt God would take his beloved son. I believe that when two people work together to help each other come to a mutual understanding of their relationship (in this case, God and Abraham) there has to be trust involved. I believe Abraham trusted God was trying to impart a better understanding of both the character of God, and to illuminate Abraham to what God felt about Israel at that time.

I believe God was trying to show Abraham a couple of things:

One, that He keeps his promises -- that if He says He will never forsake us, He never will...even if it seems impossible.

Two, to illustrate to Abraham the relationship between God and Israel at that time, which was pretty strained -- and God's feeling on how the people of Israel were treating (or mistreating) His word.

I think both God and Abraham had the understanding that there was a greater purpose to this -- not that it was easy to Abraham to be faithful to God's call for his son -- but by virtue of saying to his son 'we are going to worship' and by telling his companions at the bottom of Mount Moriah 'WE' will be back -- Abraham also told Isaac, who asked about the sacrificial lamb, that "God would provide the lamb".

Knowing that the Old Testament is merely a shadow cast behind the light -- you cannot have a light (Jesus) without casting a shadow behind it (the Old Testament) -- or, you could also say the Old Testament foreshadowed Christ's coming - I think the "lamb" Abraham was talking about God providing spoke to Jesus (although not Jesus Himself but Abraham's knowledge of God's character and willingness to sacrifice his OWN son at some point in the future.

I think Abraham and God had a very deep understanding of each other, which is an understanding people will come to who are anointed by God (which I believe Abraham was and I believe anyone can receive God's anointing). I believe God was not so much testing Abraham's faith, but rewarding it in allowing Abraham to feel for a moment the great love God has for His people that He would send his son Jesus Christ as a sacrificial lamb to us all.

So that's how I have come to understand the Abraham/Isaac story, and I think it is an extremely beautiful story.

The Bible, if one studies it in it's entirety and to a degree in which they desire to tie the Old Testament together with the new, I have come to understood that the literal and metaphorical work together in such a supernatural way to weave a tapestry of God's character and perfect strategy.

Just my two cents so perhaps maybe show a different perspective.


The Original Wombman said...

Indeed, LT.

Anna C, I have read the Red Tent and loved it!

Tara, the story has been explained to me the way you have just explained it too. I have never come to see it that way though. I have always seen it through the eyes of Isaac, the child and not through the lens of the relationship between Abraham and God. It seems that Isaac's mental health and well-being was the real sacrifice that was made and it doesn't feel like anyone had any compassion on him. I do appreciate how you are able to connect the Old and New Testaments in such a seamless way. It's something I really haven't been able to do. The God of the OT still feels like a totally different God than the compassionate one of the NT.

Serenity Love Sincere Peace Earth said...

Did you ever notice that Issac really didn't "do" anything to speak of? He was the bridge between Abraham and Jacob. When his mother died, his father quickly found another woman (Rebecca) to take her place. Even gave Sarah's tents to Rebecca. I have always thought that Isaac was a little p.o.'ed at his father playing so light and loose with his life.

That's the thing about the world. We are all interconnected. Abraham's faith, affected everyone in his universe. I'm certain he believed he was right, but no one ever asked his unknowing and not so willing sacrifice.


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