I wrote a while about about “The Way of Abraham”, and as I was writing that post, it struck me that there was another aspect to Abraham’s relationship with God. It hit me hard as a result of a conversation my wife had with a friend of hers.
The conversation revolved around Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (found in Genesis 22). The friend’s observation was that God doesn’t require that same type of sacrifice from us, because Jesus has already come to be our sacrifice.
This statement bothered me, and I started thinking about it. I’m pretty sure that from a theological standpoint, the sacrifice of Abraham and the sacrifice of Jesus are not the same at all. In fact, it’s not even referred to as a sacrifice (The word “sacrifice” doesn’t show up — at least in my ESV — until Gen. 31). So it’s an “offering”, and I’m not too sure what the difference is, but it struck me that whatever Abraham was thinking when God asked him to offer up his son, he most definitely did not have in mind the complicated rituals laid out in the Mosaic law, much less the atoning work of Jesus. However, I have always read this story with my own frame of reference firmly in mind; lately I’ve been trying to read the Bible as though I were a member of the group to whom it was originally delivered.
This is extremely difficult. Donella Meadows (who?) says this: “Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental process that you are hardly aware of its existence, until you try to communicate with someone with a different paradigm.” So I have to literally fight through my own paradigm, my own worldview, to see what is obvious and true in someone else’s worldview.
Here’s a lengthier quote from Ms. Meadows (full article here). The setting of the quote is her field of ecology, which I’d like to set aside for the moment; focus instead on how she describes the conversation she is having:
When I show this evidence to proponents of industrial farming, when I offer to take them to organic farms getting high yields, when I point out that hunger could be ended by sharing either food or technologies that can raise output without poisoning the earth or invading the genome, I don’t think my argument even reaches their auditory nerves, much less their brains. That kind of extreme failure even to hear an argument, much less process it, alerts me that this is not a rational discussion. It is a worldview difference, a paradigm gap, a disagreement about morals and values and identities and fundamental assumptions about the way the world works.
Oh, how many times have I done this myself! I want to go back over my life and count (and repent) over the times I absolutely did not hear what someone was saying, because of my own paradigm.
So, back to Abraham. He was not offering his son as a sacrifice for his own sins, or those of anyone else. I say that because the concept of a sacrifice for sin has not been mentioned yet; it was for a much later time. He was offering his son to God because he trusted the God who asked him to.
So here’s the rub, the thing that we have such a hard time grasping. God is asking Abraham to kill is own son? What kind of a God would do that? IMPORTANT: I haven’t seen that God has asked anyone else to kill their children, but God asks us all the time to give things back to him. Some of these things we are quite willing to give back, and some of them we hold on to so very tightly.
Take children, for example. In my upper-middle class suburban American culture, the defining mark of successful child-raising is when they graduate from college. When that child walks across the platform and receives that degree, the parents breathe a sigh of relief, look at one another, and whisper, We did it. All their planning, striving, and saving have gone into this one moment.
What would happen if God asked you to offer up to him your college fund? To throw away everything you’ve been working for? To give those thousands of dollars away to the Lord’s work, perhaps somewhere far off? Does this even compute, or do you immediately say, “My God would not require that of me. Doesn’t he command us to look after our own household? Isn’t it wisdom to prepare our children for life in the world?”
Perhaps Abraham thought that very thing. However, it is very clear that when he heard from God, early the next morning he began the journey of obedience. I imagine that every step was death for him. I’m not saying it’s easy. But since when is faith supposed to be easy?