…God tested Abraham’s faith.
“Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac,
Whom you love so much–and go to the land of Moriah.
Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains…
The next morning Abraham got up early.
And Abraham went to that place with his son. Moriah. The teaching place, the place of fear, the place where he will sacrifice his heart, his treasure, his son.
The passage says, “God tested Abraham’s faith.” What kind of a God would test a man’s faith in this way? Who needs this kind of faith? Was God toying with Abraham? Today, where the technology of immortality seems close at hand, we have no need for such a God, especially such an apparently bloodthirsty one. Or do we? Are matters of the spirit, of life and death, merely the delusions of sentient meat machines? Why would anyone waste their time with such evident nonsense?
We all have self improvement programs, we know we have to make some sacrifice if we want to improve ourselves. Sacrifice junk food, exercise a little, find a hobby. But one’s own son?
So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?”, Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.
What must Abraham have been thinking? Kierkegaard, in his Fear and Trembling, heartbreakingly describes what might have taken place in Abraham’s mind: “So all was lost…He [God] made miraculously the preposterous actual, and now he would in turn annihilate it…Who is he who would make a man’s gray hairs comfortless, who is it that requires that he himself should do it? Is there no compassion for the venerable oldling, none for the innocent child?…All would now be lost.”
Abraham loved Isaac. And yet the moment came when Abraham picked up the knife to kill the son he loved.
He must have died already, surrendered, but he did not doubt.
In Father Goettmann’s book Prayer of the Heart, he offers these lines: “to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God is one of the most wonderful definitions of perpetual prayer. It means to adhere fully, and with love, to that which IS, communing with the present moment as it presents itself, saying ‘yes’ to the event which comes upon us whatever it may be….refusing to say it is terrible, unacceptable, horrible.”
Goettmann goes on to say, that Christ, in his own death, shows us the only possible response to the question of suffering: “acceptance of the unacceptable because the will of God expresses itself there…and this total surrendering, in which nothing remains of our own will, allows God to act with power, to make of suffering and even death, a veritable alchemy.”
For those of us who have been working on our own selfish little enlightenment projects, and those whose faith that the vector of technology will continue to eliminate suffering entirely, and those who despair at the hollow emptiness of it all, may find mysterious and frightening wisdom in this story of God, Abraham, and Isaac.