6-28-20 — A Test of Faith — Genesis 22:1-18, Matthew 10:34-39 — The Rev. Dr. Stephens Lytch

Home / 6-28-20 — A Test of Faith — Genesis 22:1-18, Matthew 10:34-39 — The Rev. Dr. Stephens Lytch

What kind of God would do such a thing?  Abraham had waited a lifetime to have a son; he had staked all he had on his faith that God would be true to God’s word.  How could God watch as Abraham saddled his donkey, cut the firewood, and walked for three days toward Moriah; as he unloaded the wood from the donkey, laid it on the boy’s back, took the fire and knife in hand, and climbed the mountain?  How could God stand the silence of those footsteps, broken only when Isaac asked, full of innocence and trust, “Father, here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” What kind of God could watch as Abraham gathered stones to build an altar, placed the wood in order, bound the boy with cords and laid him on the pyre, as the father reached out his hand and took the knife and raised it high above his head to plunge it into the flesh of his son?  What kind of a God is that?

And what kind of man was Abraham? How could Abraham do it, even if God did tell him to, how could he raise a knife over his son, his only son, the son he loved?

This story makes me shudder.  In fact, it’s an embarrassment to moderate people like us, we who run from excess and paint our pictures of God in bright, pastel shades.  Most of us are easy-going about our religion.  We confess our minimal sins and give God what we consider a reasonable return.  But we try to be careful about going overboard with it.

And yet this God we worship so carefully is the same God who told Abraham to sacrifice his son.  What does that tell us about God?  What does that tell us about ourselves? Maybe our revulsion at Abraham’s sacrifice isn’t an indictment of Abraham’s zeal or God’s demand.  Maybe our horror is an indictment of us.  Maybe we do not take God seriously enough.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is a series of fantasies about some children who enter a strange and wonderful world as they are playing in an old wardrobe.  One of the characters in the Chronicles is a lion named Aslan who is a figure for Christ.  In this passage from the book The Silver Chair one of the children named Jill confronts the lion by a sparkling brook.

 

“Are you thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl.  And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion.  It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry.  It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer.  “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.  [1]

 

How hard we try to tame the Lion.  How hard we try to domesticate God.  We would be more comfortable with Abraham if he had stood up to God, if instead of replying, “Here I am,” he had said, “No.  I will not give you my son.  He is mine to protect and to rear.  I will not give him back.” We would understand if Abraham were willing to sacrifice almost anything to God, but drew the line at his son.  Yet God asked Abraham, “Will you trust me with the gift I have given you, the most precious thing in your life?”

Now, you and I know as we read the story that it was a test.  The Bible makes it clear from the start, when it says, “God tested Abraham.”  God forbade human sacrifice, and Abraham knew that.  That’s what made his obedience all the more remarkable.  He was willing to lay aside even his understanding of right and wrong to be obedient to God.

There are people today who believe God asks for human sacrifice.  They are the people who with all good intentions say to a bereaved parent, “God needed your child in a better place,” or “God is doing this to you to strengthen you.” The message underneath that well-intentioned attempt at comfort is “God made your child die.” God doesn’t cause innocent people to die.  Evil causes innocent people to die, evil that we see in illness, war, violence, random suffering.  There was only one son God asked as a sacrifice, God’s own son who died on the cross.  God put Abraham to the test, not because God kills innocent people, but to show us the kind of faith God demands.

This story of Abraham isn’t a story of child sacrifice, but a story of faith, faith that offers God’s most precious gifts back to God.  But why are we appalled at that?  If we take seriously the vows we make before God, we might shudder at what God asks us to do as much as we shudder at the command God gave Abraham.  Every one of us who has professed our faith in Jesus Christ has made a commitment to God as radical as Abraham’s.  On that day we gave our lives back to God, not as burnt offerings, but as living sacrifices.  We put everything we own, all our relationships, not on an altar, but on a cross, and committed everything we love to God as surely as Abraham committed Isaac.

There are other times we answer God’s command to lay the things we love most before God.  Those of us who were married in a service of worship offered God what is most precious in our lives, the love for those we married.  When we exchange vows in the context of a worship service, it’s a promise that a commitment to God comes before all else, even before each other, knowing that only when God comes first can you really love one another the way you want to love.

If you ever presented a child for baptism, you offered your child to God as surely as Abraham offered his.  You took a vow to raise your child for God.  You promised you would show your child that God is at the dinner table, in the playroom, at the bedside.  You promised you would rear your children, not to fulfill the dreams you have for them that they be successful or talented.  You promised that you would raise them so they will know Jesus Christ and fulfill the plans God has for them.

From time to time we hear God calling us to go and offer up important things, things we value most.  Maybe it’s a job, one you’ve loved and enjoyed, but you know God is now calling you to pull up your roots and go to a new place to do new work among new people, and the response of faith is the same one Abraham made when he heard God’s call: “Here I am,” trusting that what we receive is going to be far more precious than what we give up.

The things God gives us are our most precious things: our lives, our loves, our children, our church, our nation, our vocation.  How tempting it is to make them into idols that control our lives, to hold firmly as if they were ours by legal title rather than by grace.  How easy it is to put our hope in the things God has given us rather than in the one who gives them.

The breathtaking thing about the kind of faith God requires is that when we give back to God the most precious gifts we have received, when we return them trusting that God will provide, God multiplies our blessing many times over.  Abraham offered Isaac to God, and God gave him back with this promise: “Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.  And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves.”  Jesus said it another way: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

What kind of God is this?  This is a God who demands all that we have, and gives back more than we can ever imagine, who asks everything of us and gives us himself.

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, pp. 16-17.