True confession time: I despise the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac. Every time I read it, especially when it comes up in the lectionary, my gut gets tense and I spend a good amount of my time grinding my teeth in anger and frustration. It is terribly difficult for me to find the same consolation as the writer of Hebrews: all I can see is a weak old man who doesn't have the spine to tell God to piss off when God demands Abraham and Sarah's promised son as a sacrifice.
I've always struggled with this story, but exponentially more now that I am a father of two children. To my way of thinking, any God who would demand such a sacrifice would not be a god worth worshiping, and I'm fairly certain that even the writers of Genesis missed the mark on this one.
Can I be completely honest? Equating Abraham's actions with faith is the same as equating the murderers in Northern Ireland this week with patriotism. It may look like faith/patriotism if one takes the absolute simplest interpretation of it, but anything more than a cursory glance reveals a dangerous lack of consideration and honesty in such interpretations. Patriots don't fire guns into crowds of innocent people. Neither, then, do men of great faith and integrity march off to kill their children without so much as a moment's hesitation.
Here's what I think: there is witness to our misunderstanding God's will time and time again in Scripture and throughout history. I think this was indeed a test of Abraham's faith - but rather than Isaac being the test, Abraham himself was the test, and he failed miserably. This is the ugly side of faith - the place where fanatics are created. I cannot, I will not believe in a God who toys with creation in such a way, who created humankind with minds and emotions but would have us discount both in favor of blind obedience. I don't believe Abraham is to be lauded here - and I don't believe God ever wanted us to think Abraham did well in this case. God allowed Moses to change God's mind; God allowed Abraham himself to bargain the salvation of Sodom & Gomorrah from 100 righteous to 10; now we're expected to believe that the same God wants the blood of Isaac spilled to prove Abraham's faith?
It makes a person wonder: what if Abraham had refused outright? What if Abraham had the chutzpah to say "No" to God's demand? Would God have honored Abraham's trust in their relationship? I think so. That would sound more like the God I've come to know - the God who desires us to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God. Humility and servility are not the same, and until I see otherwise, I'm going to go on hating this story and hoping that somehow, the writers of Genesis got it all wrong. God help me if they didn't - because if that's the case, then the ugly side of faith just got a whole lot uglier.