Abraham’s Absurd Faith

Genesis 22:1-14

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he 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.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to 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.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together,Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him.  Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Let me read the second line of the passage again:

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.”

This New International Version translation of this line is incorrect.  Reverend Linda Pepe writes in her blog, Theological Stew:

The English translation of what God is saying here leaves out a very small particle- which means, “Please”.  Why is this a big deal?  Because it is the difference between God commanding “Take your son!,” and God asking Abraham, “Take your son, please… and  offer him.”  This means that Abe has a choice in this.  He has a choice as to whether he will follow God’s request or refuse….  If he was going to do what God asked of him, it had to be done willingly.

God had promised Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation if, at the age of 75, he would leave his home in Harran and take his household to the land of Canaan[2]  His son, Isaac, would be the first of those descendants   So If he were to kill Isaac, his move to Canaan would be for naught.  There would be no great nation. 

And if God says, “please” – “Take your son, please… and offer him,” then Abraham has a choice.  If he sacrifices Isaac, he will be doing it willingly.  This is huge!  Abraham takes his son up the mountain and carries the sword and the fire willingly, knowing that if he follows through, there won’t be any great nation, no nation of Israel. 

And yet, God promised!

Dan Clendenin in his “Journey with Jesus” web magazine writes:

The command of God challenged Abraham to embrace the absurd, the irrational, and the unintelligible. What sense did it make to murder the son of promise through whom God had promised to bless all the earth?  Moreover, Abraham had to transcend normal ethical expectations. Good parents love and nourish their children, they don’t murder them in religiously-inspired violence and claim that “God told me to do it.” [3]

What faith!  What amazing trust in God!  Abraham is in this absurd, irrational situation in which if he willingly does what God is asking him to do. There will be no great nation — and yet God promised!  Abraham is trusting the promise and is willingly setting out to murder his son.  The two are incompatible.  It makes no sense!   Abraham trusts God to bring some kind of sense out of this impossible situation.  What faith!

Isaac trusted his father when Abraham asked him to carry wood up the mountain for a sacrifice.  He didn’t know he was to die.  Another person carried wood up a hill trusting his Father,  knowing he would die.  He didn’t know he would be resurrected, but according to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he…

emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    assuming human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.[4]

That’s a lot of trust!  That’s a huge amount of faith in God.   Jesus surrendered himself to God.  He was obedient.

How about you and me?  Are we called to surrender and empty ourselves and be obedient?  The apostle Paul thinks so.  He starts that passage in Philippians by saying, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in

Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God did not regard

Equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself….

Jesus surrendered.  Paul asks us to have a similar attitude of surrender, as well.

But who wants to surrender, even if we think it would be good for us?   The idea of surrendering sounds vulnerable,  something to be afraid of.  Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, says:

You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose controlBut you never hadcontrol; all you had was anxiety.[5]

As I have told you.  I was very anxious during midlife.  I developed a mindful prayer practice, partly to reduce my anxiety.  Years later, after meditating at least three or four times a week, I still find my mind wandering.  I can be in “the zone,” totally in the here and now, totally united with the Divine Oneness of all things, and all of a sudden something on my to-do list for the day will pop into my mind. 

The mind doesn’t want to surrender. It wants to keep you and me safe. God forbid I would forget to do something I am supposed to do!  I don’t trust that the God in me will cause me to remember it later.  I am a person of little faith.

No wonder so many people set out to begin or intensify a mindful prayer practice and then don’t follow through.  There is a strong resistance to surrendering to the here-and-now Presence of God.  There is a strong resistance to taking on the mind of Christ.

I don’t know about you, but I need Abraham’s absurd faith.  I need to trust that if I let go and surrender the part of me that wants to control things, I will be guided to do what is needed to be done. 

Let us pray.  Holy One: Give us Abraham’s absurd faith.  Help us empty ourselves as Jesus did, surrendering to your guiding presence in our lives as we live each moment in the here and now.  Amen.

[2] Genesis 12:1-2

[3] https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20140623JJ.shtml

[4] Philippians 2:7-8

[5] https://hopeforwidows.org/2022/02/anxiety-and-grief-my-forever-friends/you-are-afraid-of-surrender-because-you-dont-want-to-lose-control-but-you-never-had-control-all-you-had-was-anxiety-elizabeth-gilbert/