Eureka!

Replying to my sister’s comment from my previous post, and still thinking about it, I got the nugget. I think I figured out not only my sermon, but how I can live with this text (and I didn’t even have to hunt down a copy of Leonard Sweet’s out-of-print book, although I still have a request in to the inter-library loan for it). All it took was wrestling with that passage long enough for the Spirit to bless me (even if I think my hip is a little out of joint!). I know I’ve found good inspiration when it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

So what bugs me about the passage is not the child sacrifice (actually pretty common in Abraham’s time and place), or even Abraham’s blind obedience, inconceivable as it is. What bothers me is the praise. This was the right thing to do, and I just can’t believe that.

What I want God to say to Abe is, “Good effort, and I appreciate your faithfulness, but you’ve missed the point of being faithful. Remember when you bantered with me for the sake of a city full of rude strangers? That’s true faith. Dialogue with Me. Relationship with Me. Not blind following. Have you become so overpowered by the blessings you’ve received from me that you’ve forgotten to engage your whole self– body, spirit and mind in your worship? This is what I ask of my faithful ones: that you talk with me, argue with me, use your whole being in service to me. Ask questions. Recoil from evil, even when it comes from my lips.”

That’s what I want. I want God to tell us that something in us should recoil from a God who asks us to kill our children. I want God to say, loud and clear, this should make you uncomfortable. This should make you doubt. Never be so complacent as to think that I demand mindless automatons (is that the right word? I never know. I can’t say it right).

How would God tell us this? Tell us that we should question even the things we think are God’s words when they tell us evil things?

God would tell us this by telling us a story. A story about someone who gets obedience right and faith wrong. A story that makes us so sick to our stomachs that we have to question whether it (and by extension, any other parts of the narrative that say God is a God of death and malice and evil) can be God’s Word.

Oh, and guess what. God did.

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11 Responses

  1. That is a great angle to look at this story… I sense a great sermon coming out of that!

  2. Ooh, that’s rather brilliant. I like that a lot. I’m a big fan of arguing with God, plus shout-out to the power of Story 🙂

    -Elizabeth, who is here from Jeremy’s blog but who also knows of you through Sangerin

  3. @Will,
    Thank you. Those questions of Sweet’s help, as do your reflections.

    @Seth and Elizabeth,
    Thank you for your affirmations. I’m glad I don’t sound like a total whacko!

    Becca

  4. Becca, this sounds good, but it won’t work.

    Reading the Bible, I know God is not safe (as the beaver would say to Lucy). Experience teaches me this as well.

    God’s will is always way more than what I bargain. Often I don’t like what is in front of me.

    Trust. Faith. To think the Son gave his life for the sheep. And the Father loved him for that (John 10).

    (Becca, thanks for letting me slip in here. I am pastoring in Idaho. This past Sunday, we finished Genesis 18. http://www.idaho4hisglory.org )

  5. @Todd,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. God most certainly is not safe, this is true. But surely God is not one who would call for the death of innocent children? Even God’s own child? Surely we must name that for what it is. The crucifixion is our evil, our sin, not God’s vision of Shalom. Oh, God’s purpose is accomplished in it, but that doesn’t mean that the violence itself is redemptive.

    In the end, it’s the struggle that makes out faith what it is. I haven’t been in and out of a text quite like this in some time.

    Becca

  6. “The crucifixion is our evil, our sin, not God’s vision of Shalom. Oh, God’s purpose is accomplished in it, but that doesn’t mean that the violence itself is redemptive.”

    AGREED! Resurrection is redemptive, not violence.

  7. Isn’t the God of the Old Testament supposed to be a much more vengeful, malevolent being than the God who’s drawn for the New Testament? (With the parallels drawn between this sacrifice and the whole supposed willing sacrifice of Christ from Gethsemene to the Cross I’m not willing to cede that the God of the NT *is* more compassionate or peaceful, merely pointing out what I understand to be the general rule of thinking. (Remember all those CORE discussions?))

    “But surely God is not one who would call for the death of innocent children? Even God’s own child? Surely we must name that for what it is.”

    Hello, this is the same being who slaughtered the children of every family that didn’t paint around the door of their house with the blood of ritual sacrifice, and was praised for doing so by “His Chosen People” as having taken action on their behalf in a good and just and right way that they should be thankful for. The one who sent locusts and plagues and famine, who rained fire and brimstone down on entire cities, who parted the Red Sea and then rushed the waters back to drown those trapped beneath the water. Those are painful, horrible, gruesome deaths; while they are painted to be just actions, they are by no means the actions of a being that eschews violence.

    With such a God, this passage with Abraham seems to me like the passage with Christ and the rich man that you’re always telling me about — that the true way to God is by willingly sacrificing that which is dearest to you, no matter the cost.

    Lissa

  8. @utterings,
    Certainly one way of looking at it is that the God of the Hebrew Bible is more violent than the God of the NT, but that opens up other questions (the easiest answer, though, being that people have conceived of God differently throughout time and at one point thought God was far more violent than they did later). That doesn’t change the fact that I need to find something to say about this passage and the understanding of God it presents. What I want to say is, in as much as you think God approves of Abe’s actions, *this passage does not present an accurate interpretation of God*.

    Obviously, I have the same problem with Exodus. And Sodom and Gomorrah. And Noah’s flood. And Whoever it was that was punished for showing mercy to prisoners of war.

    What I think this passage can begin to help illustrate is that maybe we need to question the image of a violent, bloodthirsty God who delights in human sacrifice. Maybe if we can look at that and say, “wow, even though that’s in the Bible, I don’t think that’s what God is really like,” then we (church folk) can begin to read the bible differently, asking ourselves when and how it reveals the nature of God and humanity, and when, maybe, it, um, doesn’t.

    (and if that sounds understated to you, remember my audience, both actual and virtual!)

    ❤ Becca

  9. As a Lutheran…(dramatic pause) I like the grace that you have lit upon here. This text has come up in a lot of places that I have been lately so I’ve done a lot of thinking about it. The thing with good old Abe, throughout his whole life is that he is an unlikely father of the nations from the very first and throughout. He does ridiculous things and God loves him anyway. God works through it with him. God bestows God’s grace on the people who get in Abe’s way and God intervenes when things get to be too much.

    A little extra grace for you here is that at the time of the origin of this story the sacrifice of children, often by kings/leaders, was happening as is evidenced in various places in Torah as well as in outside sources (look for kings of Israel who have their sons “pass through fire” also see Jephthah in Judges 11:30-40). So In this particular case God steps in first. People at the time certainly think that God (and other god’s) demand the sacrifice of their children at particularly sensitive times, at the loss of a battle, the threat of siege etc. Here God is saying “No,” Abe you thought I demanded this but I do not, nor will I ever again. The people of Israel shall no longer sacrifice their children or, as time goes on, other living things to me.
    Hear here: “do you think I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats (Psalm 50:13)” and “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats…cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17) and so many other places where Yahweh asks for thanksgiving, praise and love of neighbor in the place of sacrifice.

    Also just to get back to your earlier point, which I have diverged from, this last Isaiah text is the same on where the Lord says: “Come now, let us argue it out.” Asking not only for questions for the mortal realm but indeed a fight for their lives and the lives of their children. Good luck as you continue to wrestle, watch out for that hip!

    Also if you wanted to read some nice things about this story I always enjoy what Kierkegaard has to say though I don’t remember exactly which essay to find it in and also there is a new book from a man at Bard who spoke to my conference about the reprehensible violence that has come from the Akedah (binding of Issac) tradition, very interesting! That is: “Abraham’s Curse” by Bruce Chilton

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