After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’
Take your son. Your only son, Issac. Whom. You. Love.
When I was younger, I remember hearing this story and being told this was a percursor to what would happen later in the New Testament where Christ as God's son became the sacrifice that set us free.
These days, I tend to focus on the whole concept of Abraham taking his son to be the sacrifice. It's something that makes you uncomfortable. To a modern reader like myself, it just seems wrong for Abe to even think that God would even request such a horrible thing. There is a temptation to just ignore this passage, frame it was one of those terrible "texts of terror" and just move on to a more pleasant text.
But the thing is, as unsettling as this story is, there is something here for us to learn about faith and about walking in faith.
The thing that is amazing (and disturbing) is that Abraham had faith in God. He does what he has always done when God calls- respond. He sets out to the place God tells him to go to with Issac. He continues to believe God will provide and is ready and willing to raise the knife to slaughter his own son because he had faith in God.
Rick Morely tries to show how faith isn't as neat and tidy as we would like it to be- indeed, sometimes it can seem quite bizarre:
This story raises so many questions. Big questions. Questions about the kind of God that would ask this. About the kind of father who would hear this Voice in his head and follow it.Faith in God is always an odd thing. I don't think it will lead these days to attempted murder, but it might lead us to places we never expected to be and doing things we never dreamed of doing. This passage reminds us that the God we serve is not a safe God. We follow a loving God and a good God, but never a safe God.
If this happened today Abraham would be arrested.
I think the ugly, tortured nature of this story was meant to be. I also think that there aren't any good answers to the hard questions that this story raises.
Because while this is an ugly story, it's really not about the ugliness. It's about the faith of Abraham who was willing to do whatever God asked him to to. For him there was no limit. And, it's about the faithfulness of God who ultimately provides, and which turns a tragic story a little less tragic.
The Akedah is one of those chapters of the Bible which reminds us all too well that we don't have a neat and tidy little religion that is country-club respectable in all ways at all times.
We also have to remember that faith is not simply following certain beliefs, but instead about trust. We place our trust in God and that trust is lived out in our daily lives. Rabbi David Ackerman sums this up nicely:
In Jewish culture, Avraham Avinu is the original "walking man." Two words bespeak this central motif of Abraham's life. Lekh l'kha, "Go forth," (or as I prefer, "Go take a hike," which I'll explain in a moment) is of course the divine command that begins Abraham's saga. The same phrase recurs in Parashat Va-yera as part of the demand that Abraham offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Between those two imperatives to go take a hike, Abraham spends a lot of time on the road. Momentously, he leaves his homeland and his father's house in search of a new, and not precisely identified, land. He migrates to Egypt in response to a famine and returns only to take to the battlefield, just one of a series of adventures that keep him continually away from home. Abraham's peripatetic nature gives rise to a great deal of commentary down through the centuries, some favorable, some not...
Aviva Zornberg brilliantly describes Abraham's journeying as suggestive of "the full paradox of a vital quest, enacted in empirical randomness." He may not know exactly where he is headed, but he understands full well why he's headed there. And in this regard, Abraham is all of us; our lives in so many ways follow the same trajectory of purposeful, personal journeys, undertaken in unreliable circumstances, in search of uncertain results. And yet, we continue to walk...
Heschel's famous claim that marching for civil rights in Selma constituted "praying with his feet" is the direct descendent of this Hasidic ideal. We walk in search of opportunities to serve God, to improve the world, and thereby to worship.
I do think when we are called by God we are called to take a walk on the wild side, to quote Lou Reed. It is a journey that doesn't always make sense, but it is a journey where we will meet God and be changed. It won't be all tied up with a bow on top, but it will provide in ways we can't imagine. We have faith in God and God has faith in us.
I don't have an easy suggestion for you all for the coming Sunday. This passage wasn't made for that. But I do ask that you look at the text a few times and ask your congregations to struggle with this passage. Remind them that trusting God isn't easy or simple. But also let them know this walk with God will not be boring.
Go and be church.
Illustration: Sacrifice of Isaac by Marc Chagall. Musee Nationaux Alpes-Maritimes (Nice).