Abraham's new intimacy with God

Reflection on Second Sunday of Lent (March 12)

By Edward T. Brett

The readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 22:1-18
Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
Romans 8:31-34
Mark 9:2-10

The full text of the readings can be found here.

This Sunday's reading from Genesis is perhaps the most puzzling and disturbing passage in all of the Bible. How could the God that we believe in, the God of compassion, mercy, and love, ask someone to murder his only son? But this is exactly what Yahweh commanded Abraham to do. And why? Because Yahweh seems to have some twisted need to be shown that Abraham so feared him that he would be willing to go against his own conscience and commit the most heinous and repugnant crime of all--filicide, the killing of one's own child. The fact that God stopped Abraham just as he was about to slit his son Isaac's throat is beside the point. God had demanded that Abraham kill an innocent child and since such a murder is a sin, it seems that God had asked Abraham to sin.

And how must Abraham have felt? Not one word of protest came from his lips. He didn't question Yahweh's command because he so feared the Lord. And yet as he grasped the knife and made ready to plunge it into his son's body, Abraham must have hated the Lord. He certainly could not have loved a God who demanded such a reprehensible act.

In the second reading from Romans, St. Paul is obviously trying to relate in some way to the Abraham-Isaac story, when he tells us that God so loves us that he was willing to sacrifice his son, Jesus, for us. In other words, he was willing to go farther than he asked Abraham to go in the human sacrificing game. But this explanation, if that's what it was supposed to be, does little for me. Just as I don't understand why God would command Abraham to kill his son, I also can't comprehend why it was necessary for God to have his son, Jesus, sadistically tortured and murdered so that I can be redeemed. Perhaps this is no problem for Mel Gibson, but it certainly is for me. Instead, for me it seems more plausible that God sent Jesus to us so that we could come to know him and so that we might find in his life of compassion, service and mercy a blueprint for how we too should live lives of self-sacrifice.

But even though I admit that I don't know why God would act as he did with Abraham, let me at least give it a shot, albeit a highly speculative one. In the time of Abraham, men and women feared God. They believed that God had to be appeased and if he was not, you could expect to have a poor harvest or be defeated and enslaved by your enemies. In other words, you worshiped God because you feared his wrath. This was a primitive form of religion where there was no sense of intimacy with God. God craved human love, yet all Abraham and his peers could give him was blind, unquestioning obedience based on fear. Thus, when Yahweh commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son to him, he forced the Hebrew patriarch to feel hatred. Then, when the Lord stopped him from killing the son he loved, Abraham was able to gain an insight into God's goodness and with that new insight Abraham was able to bring the primitive religion that had been based on fear to a new spiritual level, one that was premised on intimacy. A new relationship between God and humanity had begun with Abraham, one that would set the Hebrew people apart from their polytheistic neighbors and culminate centuries later in God's gift of Jesus to humankind.

This is just my speculation. What do you think?