I never liked exams. I am one of those people that has “test-itis” when it comes to taking tests. I didn’t look forward to finals week in school. I don’t like examinations by doctors. I don’t even like those electronic tests they do on your automobile engines. I’m always afraid it’s going to cost me a lot of money. The test that scarred me the most was when I had to drive to qualify for my driver’s license. I was intimidated, nervous and afraid of failing. In fact, in my first attempt to pass my driving test, I failed.
Do you have “test-itis?” Do you fear those moments in life when you have to make a decision? More importantly, do you have faith that the decisions you make are the right ones?
No story has puzzled people of the faith more than this story. Why would a loving God test a man’s faith with the sacrifice of his son? The whole incident seems strange. I can’t imagine being in a situation where I was asked to sacrifice one of my children.
Some scholars believe that the voice that told Abraham to slay his son was not the voice of God. Perhaps Abraham was listening to the voice of culture. At the time human sacrifice was a common practice. Maybe God wanted this story here to make a statement that human sacrifice was all wrong and therefore intervened to stop it.
I suppose that is a possibility but I think it may be just another way of rationalizing the story to somehow make sense of what happened. Since when does God make sense? Remember this is the same God who gave a son to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. That story was absurd, just as this one is.
God is absurd and the voice of God sometimes calls us to absurdity. This was the same God who told Noah to build an ark on dry land. This is the same God that will lead the Israelites across the Red Sea. This is the same God that will deliver his son, via the Holy Spirit, in the little obscure town of Bethlehem.
The God of absurdity puts Abraham to this horrific test. Fortunately, he passed and the story had a happy ending. God’s test of Abraham had to be one where there could be no question about his faith. God needed Abraham as a leader and God had to determine whether or not Abraham was up to the test.
But Abraham is not acting on blind faith. God has already demonstrated the impossible by giving him Isaac, his first born son, and followed through on that promise. God made a covenant with Noah and promised Abraham land and descendants.
This story is difficult for us to comprehend since it appears to put Abraham’s son, Isaac, in grave danger. I don’t believe that God ever intended that any harm would come to Isaac. God could have intervened at any point along the way. Why God created this scenario is offensive to us, but then sometimes the only way God can get our attention is to do the impossible, the absurd, the ridiculous.
When people ask me why I’m in the ministry, I look back and often wonder myself. God called me away from a successful business career. My first pastorate was in the middle of the corn fields of Ohio when my entire life had been spent in the suburbs. Talk about a test.
What Abraham demonstrated in this story is a complete surrender of the will. Abraham proceeded as instructed, without hesitation, without complaining, without debate. Abraham accepted the challenge, and ultimately passed his test.
One wonders why Abraham would consider such an absurd exam. But, it never occurred to Abraham that God would not provide for him. Abraham proceeded because he trusted in God completely. Notice that Abraham responded to God by saying, “Here I am.” He was ready and willing as he responded to the call.
For Abraham, there were no excuses. There is no other agenda. God called, Abraham responded. He prepared himself for the journey and proceeded. He didn’t look at his appointment book or ask his family if they had plans. He didn’t have to think it over or sleep on it. He didn’t say, “I’ll get back to you.” He didn’t say, “You know I’d really like to, but…” What God wanted was Abraham’s absolute commitment and unqualified faith and Abraham came through with flying colors.
Notice also that when Isaac questioned his father about the lamb, Abraham told him (verse 8) that “God would provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” Abraham had complete faith in God that whatever resources were necessary for the mission would be available. There was no reason to worry since God would provide for all his needs.
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Finally, it is not enough that Abraham just believed in God. Abraham has to make the journey, he has to go the distance. This is illustrated by the fact that they travel for three days. And God didn’t intervene until the very last moment when Abraham reached for the knife. God had seen enough. God was convinced that Abraham could be trusted. For it was then that the angel of God said, “For now I know that you fear God.”
Are we willing to go the distance for our faith? For Abraham, going the distance meant taking a test which could have had dire consequences. It meant trusting in God, who in the past had made extraordinary requests from other leaders of the faith, like Noah. It meant believing that God would provide all of his needs. It meant that the God of absurdity would call him to other ridiculous tasks in the future.
Are we up to such a test? I believe that most of us are creatures of habit and strive to be comfortable with the status quo. We don’t like it when we are asked to do things “outside the box.” We don’t want to be different. We don’t want to be known as people who do crazy things. We don’t like risks and we don’t like to lose. We would rather know what’s on the exam in advance or “cheat” our way through life.
This week is the Fourth of July. I seem to remember that some very insane revolutionaries decided to take on Mother England and fight for independence. They were greatly outnumbered, lacked training and resources and their government was fragile and unorganized. Yet, they prevailed. They passed the test because they were committed and had faith that what they were fighting for was right.
We all have dreams, beliefs and goals that are never reached because we fail to live up to the test. God wants us to have faith and support that faith with commitment. God wants us to trust that God will provide for us in the future just as God has provided for us in the past. God wants us to heed the call to service even when the voice we hear makes no sense.
––Copyright, 2002, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.