Text: Genesis 22:1-19.
Our College-Age Group used Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking over this past summer. The book is intended to be a type of Narrative Lectionary and provides a weekly commentary that walks through the entire Bible, following the traditional church calendar. McLaren offers a refreshing perspective on these familiar stories. I was so intrigued by his perspective on our text today, that I felt compelled to share it. After all, if we are honest, this is a disturbing story to our modern ears. Why would God demand that Abraham kill his own son, especially in light of the years of waiting he had to go through to get him?
Here’s what McLaren says,
The dominant theory of God in Abraham and Sarah’s day taught that the gracious God who gives human life would also demand human life as a sacrifice. So when Abraham believed God was commanding him to kill Isaac, he was being faithful to a traditional model of how God and life worked. We might wish that Abraham had argued over this theory, just as he did when he believed God was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But strangely, what Abraham did for two cities he refrained from doing for his own son.
So, one day Abraham led Isaac up a mountain. He piled stones into an altar, tied up his son, and placed him on the stones. He raised the knife, and once again, it seemed too late. But at that last possible instant, Abraham saw a ram nearby, its horns stuck in a thicket. Suddenly he realized that God had provided a ram to sacrifice in place of Isaac, his son. What a powerful new insight! Animal blood could please or appease their God as a substitute for human blood!
It was commonplace in the ancient world for a man to lead his son up a mountain to be sacrificed to his deity. It was extraordinary for a man to come down the mountain with his son still alive. Through that ancient story, Abraham’s descendants explained why they had changed their theory or model of God, and why they dared to be different from their neighbors who still practiced human sacrifice. It wasn’t too late to challenge widely held assumptions and change their theory of God!
Mclaren goes on to suggest that the ongoing story of God in the world is that God is continually challenging our ways of thinking about God and moving us toward ever more life-giving practices that promote aliveness and wholeness as the creative process of God continually unfolds.
We often get stuck in one way of thinking about God–usually encrusted in a doctrinal statement or ritual–and then cling to that thing as if it is God. I’m sure Abraham was tempted to cling to Isaac in this way. Abraham had to be willing to let go of the very thing that he identified as God’s promise in order to be in authentic, dynamic relation with God.
This is an important lesson for us today. God is continually cultivating new soil in which the promise of aliveness and life for the whole world can grow. What are you holding on to today that, if God were to ask you to give it up, you would struggle to let go of it?