Thursday, October 20, 2011

How should we handle difficult passages?

The story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac has always troubled me. It is one of those passages in the Bible that I could do without. And in a certain sense I would be happier if it was completely absent. Of course the next best thing would to be able to explain it away somehow.

This passage was the passage that we looked at last night in Bible Study. We discussed a couple of possible lessons to learn from this story and one that was somewhat satisfying for me was that at the end of the day God will provide. He might not always do so as we expect but he will provide. But there was a large part of the conversation that centered on why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

And my conclusion is that I don’t know. This passage has all sorts of crazy in it. To me it seems crazy that God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It seems crazy that Abraham would go along with it. Just a few chapters earlier we see Abraham standing up to God when God declares that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. We don’t have any record of Abraham wrestling with God over this command which doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.  But we don’t see it and I want it in there. Finally it seems crazy that Isaac would go along with everything. Abraham is over 100 years old at this point and Isaac was old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice. I’m guessing that he would be strong enough to fight back against his father, which I think would be a natural and understandable reaction of self preservation.

It is very important to point out that from the context of the passage that God never intended for Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac. God was only testing to see if Abraham was obedient to God to the point of giving up the promise of God. Abraham was promised to be the father of a great nation through Isaac. It was quite a promise that contained a lasting legacy. To this day Abraham is known as the Father of Israel. God wanted to test Abraham to see if his obedience lay in the things that God could provide for Abraham or if his obedience lay in the fact that God is God.

But still. There are parts of this passage that just do not make sense and there are parts that I do not like.

And that is ok.

The Bible is the revelation of God and I cannot shape God in my own image. I cannot simply black out the parts that I do not like. In a certain sense I have to accept them and live with the tension. I also cannot sweep them under the rug. When someone challenges me on my beliefs based upon this passage it is perfectly fine to say that I don’t understand it and I don’t necessarily like it.

This is a passage that we need to take on faith. It is not a blind faith trusting that God will simply wave his hands and make everything disappear. But rather it is the faith that God was ultimately in control and that one day when we see him face to face that we will understand. There are difficult passages in the Bible that cannot be ignored or explained away. We need to face them head on and make as much sense as we can of them. But we should not ignore them or try to explain them away.

Further Reading:
Why did God tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

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