I had an acquaintance once who had a particularly annoying sense of humor. She would say things like, “Wow, you wear that shirt a lot; you must really like it. Just kidding.” Or maybe “Did you put your make-up on in the dark this morning? Just kidding.” Somehow, to her, adding just kidding to the end of her comment made it less hurtful. It didn’t.
I struggle with a lot of the Bible. Not struggle as in disbelieving the word of God. Struggle as in understanding why God did some of the things that the Bible says he did. The Old Testament, in particular, has many instances of actions taken by God in which I say to myself, “Really? That seems mean.”
Right up there on the top of the lot is the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his beloved only son, Isaac. The part of the story that I have always struggled with was why God felt the need to make Abraham prove his love. Doesn’t God know everything? Didn’t he already know how much Abraham loved him? Asking Abraham to do such a horrific thing and then stopping him at the last second by saying – basically – “Ha ha, just kidding. But you did good, boy!” seems insecure and mean-spirited.
But the truth of the matter is that there are a lot of things that I don’t understand about God and his world. For example, what was the point of the transfiguration? What was Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah about as they appeared at his side as they were – according to Mark’s gospel – “conversing with him”? I even go so far as to wonder just how Peter, James, and John even KNEW it was Moses and Elijah. Were they wearing nametags? Did Jesus greet them? “Hey there, Mosey. Thanks for stopping by.”
Seriously, these are the things I wonder as I listen to God’s Word being read at Mass. I’m pretty sure God’s going to have a good talk with me when and if I make it to the Pearly Gates.
As I pondered the readings later on after Mass, however, here are a couple of thoughts that occurred to me regarding God’s request that Abraham sacrifice the son he loved so much. (And I absolutely didn’t go out and get my Ph.D. in theology last night, so these are just the random thoughts of a struggling Christian.)
Abraham is a pretty important guy in Jewish history, and therefore in Christian history as well. He was the father of the Jews. According to Genesis: I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.
By the way, here are some of my mom and dad’s descendants, and therefore Abraham’s…..
Because Abraham is such an important person, he needed to be totally in love with God and incredibly loyal and strong. While it’s true that God knew that Abraham was loyal and would obey his command, perhaps he needed Abraham himself to recognize just how loyal he was to his Lord. Abraham needed to truly believe that he was God’s chosen leader of men and that he fully deserved this position, as demonstrated by his obedience. No doubts.
It further occurred to me that according to Genesis, once Abraham and Isaac reached Moriah, he told his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Once they built the altar, Isaac asked his father where the lamb was that they were going to offer. Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
In the past, I have always assumed that Abraham said these things so as to keep everyone calm and to prevent Isaac from freaking out. But it dawned on me as I pondered this reading that perhaps Abraham told his servants that they would be right back, and told Isaac that God would provide the sacrifice, because every part of his being knew that God would never make him sacrifice his beloved son. No way, no how. Perhaps he didn’t know the point of the exercise, but he knew his God. He wasn’t lying when he said they would be right back; he was fully telling the truth.
Now that I’ve address that concern, I will get to work on the Transfiguration. Hmmmm…….