Our dialogue with Anaiah, an educated Jew from the 500’s B.C., continues.
Anaiah: We have been talking about how God has chosen to bless all the families of the earth not by a supernatural display but through the modest, even unknown figure of Abraham. There is an important point here. Suppose you are a botanist and you discover that one desert plant blooms every year while another blooms every fifty years. You do not criticize either plant for behaving incorrectly. They do what they do. The same is true of God. We listen to what God says and discover his character. If God chooses to act through Abraham, we must not criticize God for acting unexpectedly. We must watch and learn what God does. There is this difference between God and desert plants. When God acts unexpectedly, we usually discover that he does it out of love for us, and that he is more loving than we could have imagined.
St. Barnabas Blog: You were going to tell about the time God asked Abraham to sacrifice his child. Does that sound like a loving thing to do?
Anaiah: Wait and see. Here is the story. Remember that God’s promise to Abraham was about his descendants, who would form a mighty nation. Well, there was a problem: Abraham had no child. After several twists and turns, Abraham finally had a son, Isaac, in his old age. It looked like the promise of a posterity was now coming true. But then (Genesis Chapter 22) God made a startling demand: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
SBB: Did Abraham argue about this?
Anaiah: Interestingly no. Abraham argued with God at other times, but here he simply obeyed without question. He took his son and the materials for sacrifice to the mountain and actually raised his arm with the knife before God stopped him: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And God renewed the promise that Abraham would have many descendants “and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”
SBB: What do we learn about God from this episode?
Anaiah: We learn that God’s relationship with us is dynamic, interactive, that our obedience and loyalty are part of God’s plan for bringing a great blessing to all people of the earth. God’s plan may be difficult for us to discern, as it certainly was for Abraham, but even without our understanding God brings life from death. We learn that all of our own plans and potentialities, all of the things we are tempted to hold dear, like Abraham’s son, must be sacrificed, renounced, in favor of God’s plan. We see that when Abraham has been willing to sacrifice Isaac, he receives Isaac back as part of the promise. In general, when we sacrifice our lives to God, we get them back, blessed by God.
SBB: What happens if we don’t sacrifice our lives to God?
Anaiah: We give in to the temptation to make idols of ourselves or our worldly goods, to treat them as having ultimate importance. When we do this, we find that they are ultimately unsatisfying and harmful. Rather than clinging to these things that cannot satisfy, it is better to trust God and obey him.
SBB: So what is God up to in this story?
Anaiah: God is saving Abraham, and through him the world, from the empty idolatry of self. God, the creator of the world, who has made the earth and the sun and the moon and the stars, nevertheless cares for us, who wander the earth, out of love. But he knows, as we so often forget, that the only way to save us is to bind us to his own perfection through obedience, submission, and sacrifice.
SBB: You say that God wants to save us. Save us from what?
Anaiah: Ultimately from sin (idolatry of self that causes alienation from God), evil (forces in the world that frustrate our plans and warp our wills), and death.
SBB: How did the world, created by a good God, come to be a place where sin, evil, and death are found?
Anaiah: No one knows. I can tell you a story, however, about Adam and Eve that tries to address this mystery.