“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he (Abraham) replied.
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”- Genesis 22:1-2 (NRSV)
This is one of those passages in Scripture that should make people squirmy. It sounds like just the opposite of what God would ask of us. God saying to Abraham, “Take your only son –the one you prayed for and hoped to have for so many years- and sacrifice him as a burnt offering,” just doesn’t make sense.
That is more than just a little strange coming from God. That sounds completely crazy. What if God asked me to hand over my only son as a burnt offering? I think it would be reasonable, at least today, to seek psychiatric help at that point.
Is this the same God Who would later hand down the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder?”
Where is God going with this?
The first thing God was trying to accomplish with His request was to test Abraham’s trust in Him. How far was Abraham willing to go to be obedient to God? It’s easy to sing praise to God and say He’s great when times are good and we get what we want, but sooner or later the times of testing come. Are we willing to do what God asks of us even when it seems too heartbreaking, too hard, too hopeless, too much to endure? Are we willing to have the same kind of obedience that Abraham had, trusting that God will provide- even to the same point as Abraham when he was asked to give his greatest gift back to God?
The good news in this is even when it seems God is asking way too much of us, He provides what we need to do His will and be obedient to Him. God wasn’t going to let Abraham go through with the killing, but the fact that Abraham was prepared to do what God told him to do even to such an extreme as killing his own beloved son makes us wonder. Could we do the same thing in Abraham’s place? Do we have that kind of trust in God’s provision?
There is a saying that is popular with some in the Christian community- “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” That sounds simplistic and even cruel if we think of people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, or when we have to endure painful losses, illnesses or other dire suffering. This saying could be taken to imply that God enjoys our suffering or that He is imposing suffering upon us at his whim or caprice. However, even in its simplicity, and with what may seem to be callousness, this saying is true. God does go with us no matter where or in what circumstance, but it might not be the best consolation for someone who is in the fresh, raw pain of grief or loss. Theologians and scholars have debated the purpose of suffering and death and evil for countless centuries. Nobody really has a straight answer. It’s one of those “trust God” issues, at least in this fallen world, for now.
It’s easy to take a dualistic approach and say that God is nothing but good and that evil and/or Satan are the anti-God, but in truth, God is the author of ALL things. Evil could very well be defined as creation rebelling against God, and creation’s rebellion against God is woven into all creation. The theological concept of original sin (or, the total depravity of man, to borrow a petal from John Calvin’s TULIP,) is explained in the allegorical narrative of the Fall in Genesis 3. It could be said that the root of all sin and evil is pride, when we think we know better than God, or worse, we have the hubris to put ourselves in His place. Sometimes being obedient to God is counterintuitive and doesn’t make sense at all to us, and it may never make sense to us, because we aren’t God. We can’t see everything. There is where trust- and surrender- to God enter in.
If we take God on His word and trust that He is omnipotent (all powerful,) omniscient (all knowing,) and omnipresent (in all places, at all times, all the time,) then we have to trust that He is in control even when He asks the impossible from us, and even when the impossible and unbearable happen to us. We have to know that He has already entered into our circumstances even before we can acknowledge Him, and even if we refuse to acknowledge Him.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.”- Psalm 139:8-12 (NRSV)
God provides even when we can’t possibly see how. What are we willing to surrender to Him? Are we willing to trust in His provision?