Awakenings – Part 1
I am going to ask you to read a passage from the Bible. Many of you will find it to be immediately recognizable – a comfortable piece of the Universe that defines your existence. You would usually just read over it without a thought other than perhaps a reflection on the awesome plan of God for his beloved people; perhaps a quick warm memory of a flannel board from Sunday school. But I’m going to ask you to do something slightly different.
I want you to read this verse with the assumed knowledge that this is a true event that actually occurred in history. Pretend if you will, that this is an account of a real man – with hopes, dreams, and fears – just like you. Those of you who hail from more literalist interpretations of scripture already feel this to be true, but what I am trying to accomplish is for you to not distance yourself from this story. Place your neighbor in it, place your best friend in it – place yourself in it. For if the Bible is to be believed, this is a historically accurate account of an event that is the seminal moment for three of the worlds great religions. Without this real moment in time neither Christianity, nor Islam, nor Judaism would exist. And most importantly, in this real moment we have a picture of what Christianity defines as perfect faith.
Genesis 22 (RSV)
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He said, “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.” 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. . . . . 9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to killa his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “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.”
A man is asked by an invisible voice to take his only son, the miraculous offspring of he and his aged wife, to bind and kill him with a knife, and then to burn the body as an act of worship. Place yourself in the story . . . do you have children? Loved ones? What would you do? Would you have faith enough to carry through? Abraham did, and for this God rewards him.
I sat back in my chair, skin crawling, with the image of my unborn son in my mind as an object of sacrifice, bound and lying on a pile of wood thinking that his father was about to plunge a knife into his body. What monster would even consider such an act? Even more, what monster would demand it?
Mind reeling in shock, I, for the first time in my life, had actually read the Bible without preconceived thoughts. For the first time, I had applied rationality and my innate moral sense to an object of previous blind faith. I had read this story, like so many Christians, literally dozens of times but never once had the reality of the situation penetrated my consciousness and revealed the true horrifying amorality and bronze age barbarity of this moment in time. How had I missed this all of this time? How had I justified it?
I immediately knew that one of two things was true: either this was not truly a historical moment or that this story was a true account of a past event. If the story never occurred and the simple, declarative historical narrative of the Bible was not based in reality, then the Bible could not be an object of faith. If the story was true . . . well, if it was true then God was completely and ultimately evil. There were (and are) no other options that can rescue this situation. All of the Christian apologetics on this issue that I had read and absorbed simply missed the point – any being that demands such an act as a demonstration of faith can simply not be good. Any man that would submit to such an authority can not be moral. In fact, the opposite is true – our innate sense of morality rises in revulsion of such an idea. What would you think of any man who would willingly kill his child for an idea?
So what of my faith?
My faith demanded that I believe that this was not only a true historical event, but that it was initiated by God himself.
My faith demanded that I not only believe that this was initiated by God himself, but to declare it morally correct.
My faith demanded that I not only declare it morally correct, but that this should be an example of a moment of perfect faith.
A couple of verses from the 2nd chapter of James rang through my mind in that moment:
“21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.”
He was called God’s friend? Credited to him as righteousness? What in the hell was going on here?
At that moment my innate moral sense came into direct conflict with the presumptive authority of the received moral laws that I had learned at the knee of faith. In that split second of intellectual clarity I had to choose – my faith or my moral integrity. I stood at the fork in the road; one way led to the promised friendship of God and the gift of righteousness through blind faith, the other led to the road that is truly less traveled.
I arrived at this point, this nadir, after a series of events that I would like to offer to you, my gentle reader, as a sacrifice of my own. A sacrifice, in part as a catharsis, but also as an opportunity for you to re-examine any received faith that you hold – to see it through open and honest eyes. Perhaps you will find your beliefs reflect the truth and reality that you perceive . . . or perhaps you will find the world of faith to be dark and inhumane as I did on one warm fall day.