Genesis 22: 1-14
Seriously: This is Holy writ?
June 30, 2014
Bonnie A. Perry
"God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!"
Abraham answered, "I'm here."
God said, "Take your son, you only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him up as an entirely burned there on one of the mountains that I will show you..."
Seriously, this is Holy Writ?
We had a choice as to which scripture lessons we could read this morning and at first I asked Andrew throw out this one out and instead to use the other option from the prophet Jeremiah. Then, after listening to Beau preach last week so beautifully on Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael, I was inspired and impulsively decided that we should wrestle with this wretched piece of scripture. I thought it would be good for us.
I was wrong.
And incidentally, so was Abraham. And, depending on how far we trace it, so was God.
Let's start with Abraham. IF, IF—God did pose this question to Abraham, this task, this test of killing your son to show you love me I will join with one or two of the "midrashes" written on this text and say, Abraham flunked this test. "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and make of him a sacrifice...." The answer, the proper answer, the only answer is, "No." "No, I will not."
In my world, Abraham says, "No. No, I will not."
Not because I do not fear you, not because I am not faithful, not because I am afraid that the stars will continue to shine, but have nothing to do with my non-existent descendants. No Abraham says no because, adults do not threaten children, adults do not harm children, adults do not use children to make a point and people---people do not (should not) kill other people.
"Will you do this for me?" No I will not do it for you, or for anyone. Period." If that is the test, then that is the answer.
In the book, After the Midrash, the authors write, "A God who asks man [sic] what this text appears to ask is not the true God, but one whom man [sic] fashions in his [sic] own image. Man often believes that God wants him to sacrifice his children to an imagined demand...man who all too frequently is prepared to immolate his offspring to satisfy his own concept of duty and who will restrain his compassion before his own sense of righteousness."
From my perspective our country's apparent elevation of the Second Amendment over the lives of our children strikes me as this mistaken theology writ large.
Faithful people, moral people, people with a pulse are not called to sacrifice children for principles. Ever. The answer is, "No."
Given my reading of this text, you might ask, "Is there anything in the text to back this up, or am I just cherry-picking the bits and pieces I want and laying aside the rest?"
Let's look at the text. Up to this point in the story God and Abraham have been having regular conversations. God asks Abraham to leave his homeland. God tells Abraham he will be blessed. When God wants to destroy a city for their extreme lack of hospitality, Abraham bargains and argues with God. Saying such things as, "Will you destroy the city if there are 40 faithful people?"
"What about 30? Will you destroy the city even if there are 30 faithful people?"
"What about 20?" And so on.
Back and forth with God, bargaining and pushing back for strangers.
But then--- after this test, after Abraham mutely does what he believes God is asking, Abraham who has spent a fair amount of time chatting up the Lord, after Abraham silently acquiesces to sacrificing his son—after the Angel of the Lord stops him from doing an unspeakable deed, never again in scripture does God speak to Abraham.
Sarah—his wife—in the text the very next chapter after this insane event in Moriah—Sarah dies. Midrash says, she dies of a broken heart. She cannot believe that Abraham would even think of doing such a thing.
And Isaac, his son, the one whom he loves, no recorded conversation between Abraham and Isaac ever takes place. In fact we never see them together again. In fact, Isaac becomes the most passive of all the patriarchs. He doesn't go and find his own wife, Abraham sends a servant to do the choosing. The next time he actually speaks and is anything more than a recipient of activities, he is old, frail, blind and being duped by his wife and youngest son into giving his blessing to the wrong child.
Isaac, has not recovered. Isaac has not moved on. Isaac is scarred for life.
Abraham failed the test.
And let's be clear, some tests should never be made, some tests should never be taken, some tests should not exist at all. If God did do this thing, if the Holy of Holies did ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, then shame on God.
Shame on me for granting these words Holy status.
Instead, I believe this test did not take place, this exam did not happen.
This is one of several reasons why, though I believe scripture to be written for our learning and inspired by God, I do not believe in its inerrancy. Scripture was written by flawed, frail human beings, scripture is read by flawed, frail people like me.
The people who composed the bible and we who read it all have a perspective and we usually read scripture to confirm our previously held beliefs.
To paraphrase, African Biblical Theologian Masiiwa Ragies Gunda, "Rarely do we read the bible to be afflicted or to change our minds. Instead we read the bible to comfort us, to support our previously held beliefs."
At some point in time, an author of this text, had a reason for wanting to portray Abraham as a person of unfailing faith and unquestioning loyalty to God. And this story came to be.
And you and I, as flawed and frail as we may be, you and I as faithful people need to call this scripture what it is: unholy and inhumane. Faithful people, question and wrestle, we are made in God's image and likeness so we use our minds and our hearts to, as best we can, to offer God's hope for our world: even if it means wrestling, prodding and questioning tradition.
Abraham failed the test. And so did the ones who wrote about it.