Genesis 22 is an iconic text, for reasons perhaps unknown. It is told as a remarkable tale of the faith of Abraham, who nearly murdered his own son (in whom his hopes and God’s promises for the future were tied up) because God told him to. Likely the narrative’s vivid nature (it is filled with dramatic imagery, suspense, and foreshadowing) has led to its iconic status, but I also think it draws our attention because it is so scandalous. God inviting—nay! commanding—the murder of one’s own progeny? The dramatic image of poor Isaac tied up on the alter, with the elderly Abraham toweringly menacingly over him with a knife, ready to perform the coup de grace?
Sure Genesis 22 is entertaining. But it is so distant from my life. I don’t have that kind of faith. I don’t believe in that kind of God. So I am disturbingly amused by the text without the resonance of deeper meaning that makes it a significant part of my canon of scripture.
Until now. Perhaps for the first time (that I’ve realized), I have lived this text. Now please don’t call the Department of Family Services quite yet; hear me out first.
My knife is metaphorical. There is no alter; nor is there a ram per se.
But the peril has been real. The threat has been real. The danger has been imminent. And the only exit—as with Abraham and Isaac—is faithful obedience and submission, “hoping against hope” (Romans 4:8) that God would somehow provide.
God has been telling me that God wants to use me somewhere else; of this I have been certain. God has made it clear to me that I have done great ministry in my present context, but that my time in this place is drawing to a close. As a result, I have been in the process of transitioning out of my current ministry position. I am seeking another one.
But things haven’t been coming together as I had hoped. Paperwork takes longer than we ever expect. Connections are hard to make. Sometimes it seems churches and committees drag their feet following up. Communication is always poor.
Deadlines loom ominously as weeks lead to months of uncertainty and being in the dark. Living in uncertainty has been the norm for my family for several months now. Not knowing where we will live. Not knowing what is next. Not knowing when another position will start. Not knowing what it pays or when that first check will arrive. Not knowing where or how to register for kindergarden. Not knowing if there will be enough to cover our expenses between the “now” and the “then.”
Like Abraham, God called me to a sacrifice. And I, my family, and everything we love have been traversing the wilderness and climbing Mt. Moriah. Each day I mark off the calendar looks more and more like it is my children and spouse I am about to sacrifice. Each step I take up that mountain—each stone I place to build that alter—I become more and more horrified by what it appears God is asking of me. I don’t know what to do, but I don’t want this. And yet somehow, I am graced with enough faith to believe—with Abraham—that “God will provide” (Genesis 22:8, 14).
After weeks and months of darkness and vacant of possibilities, the last three days have been a laser-light explosion of possibilities (potentialities?) more blinding than the Griswold family Christmas display. Still no certainty, but provision and potential opportunities—and that is enough.
The sacrifice, I understand, is the notion of control. For reasons beyond my comprehension (yes, I could label this “a test of faith” or something else, but I think that is just our religious way of saying we don’t understand it), I had to take my family through the wilderness, climb the mountain, build the alter, and perhaps even raise the knife before God’s provision was made apparent to me.
Only faith that led to such radical obedience was able to cleanse me of my need to control. Only when I let go of even my children’s well-being could God be certain of my faithfulness and readiness for the “what next.”
Maybe I’m overly optimistic. But I suspect Abraham was too, despite what had happened, as he and Isaac traveled back down Mt. Moriah. That God stayed Abraham’s hand was enough for Abraham. And it is enough for me too.