Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him
I remember the first time I ever practiced Lectio Divina. I was in a class and we were asked to meditate on Genesis 22, the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It was a time of my life when I was experiencing a lot of loss, and I remember myself being furious with God. How dare he? How dare he constantly ask us to give up our treasures, the people that we love, our tangible proof of God’s promises? Why? What kind of heartless, egotistical God would constantly require such sacrifice? Why was he constantly stripping us of things that we cherish, relationships that we need?
For a long time after this experience, I just avoided the passage. I just told myself that this was the Old Testament God (always a convenient excuse, yes?) And that our God is different, he doesn’t take all that we love from us. But still, in the back of my mind, a small ember of resentment glowed orange.
It wasn’t until I had children myself, that I found a new understanding of this passage. For, as I wrote in an earlier post, parenting is terrifying. Every day I am confronted with a myriad of terrors, I’m always reading about newly uncovered dangers to my child’s health, well being, psyche. It’s enough to make me want to tape him up in a suit of bubble wrap, and force him to wear a helmet 24 hours a day. But then again, that would make him that kid, and cause harm of another kind. When God called Abraham to lay his precious boy on the altar, he is asking him to trust. He is asking Abraham to put GOD first in his life, and to trust that God has a plan. One that is ultimately good. For us. For our precious children. For the world.
For you see, when I was reflecting on this passage initially, I missed one important point. God provided a sacrifice. Abraham didn’t have to murder his son in order to please his Father. What was placed on that altar ultimately was not Isaac, it was Abraham’s expectations for his son. Who he thought that Isaac would be, what he thought Isaac should be. Abraham’s expectations of control, of pride, of success. God asked Abraham to trust in God’s good plan, and the second Abraham was faithful to this call, a sacrifice was provided. A new way, heretofore unseen, was given.
When we unclench our fists and ask for God’s plan, not our plan, to determine our steps, the sacrifice is complete.* God isn’t taking away the things we treasure out of spite or ego. Instead, he is inviting us into freedom. Asking us to trust that life isn’t about us and our plans, but about a bigger, better plan, that we can’t even see or appreciate fully. It takes the pressure off of ourselves to get it right, and places the expectation upon God to provide. Life becomes less about fear of what could happen, and more about a breathless expectation to see what will happen.
*Just to be clear, the sacrifice I am referring to here isn’t the Ultimate Sacrifice, Jesus’ atonement for our sins. Instead, I am referring to the sacrifice Abraham was asked to offer- to give up control and his sense of power over his own destiny, and to trust God to provide…