One of the most terrible stories in the Bible is the near sacrifice of Isaac. It’s hard to read and it can be difficult to think about. At the same time it is an important story and worth some discomfort to think about it.
The start of the story tells us that what follows is a test. Which raises the question, why does God test Abraham?
What do you think?
Can it be that God doesn’t know how obedient, how faithful Abraham will be? Is God trying to figure out if Abraham is trustworthy? Is God trying to figure out if Abraham thinks God is trustworthy?
When we read this story we have to wonder, what does God know? Can there be things God doesn’t know?
It is common for Christians to believe that God knows everything. Some of us even believe that God knows the future. And not only that God knows the future, but God has planned the future. However, is that what we find in the Bible?
The book of Genesis is full of stores about God not knowing everything. It is full of stories where God does not control everything. And there are stories where God changes God’s mind.
God asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”
God looks at a corrupt humanity and regrets creating us.
Then God decides that the flood was wrong and promises not to do that again.
Abraham convinces God not to destroy Sodom if there are 10 righteous people there.
We’re not even halfway through Genesis yet.
In the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, God needs to figure out if he and Abraham trust each other.
There are a couple (at least) ways to think about this test. One is that God already knows the outcome but wants Abraham to know for certain that God is trustworthy. That may be, but wouldn’t the whole of Abraham’s experience with God tell him that? If God already knows the outcome, putting Abraham (and Isaac) through such a test seems cruel and arbitrary.
On the other hand if God doesn’t know what Abraham will do, does that mean that God isn’t in control of the world and of our lives? If God isn’t in control, who is? Or perhaps we might wonder, is anyone in control?
On the other hand, if we have the ability to freely make choices then hasn’t God given up some control?
It is difficult, perhaps impossible for us to know what God knows and doesn’t know, what God controls and doesn’t control. But is it a bad thing if God doesn’t control everything? Perhaps God’s giving up some control a reflection of God’s trust in us? It seems that God wants us to participate freely in God’s plans for the world. For that to happen, God has to allow some space for us to act.
It is a risky thing God does when God shares control with us. There seems to be no end to the ways we can mess things up. The Bible is full of stories where we didn’t keep up our part of the bargain. Our lives are full of stories where we didn’t keep up our part of the bargain.
We get scared and don’t act. We get cocky and try to control too much. But God doesn’t give up on us. God keeps working with us, encouraging us, guiding us. Sometimes, every now and again, we pay attention and we remember God is present to help us, to work with us, to work through us. So sometimes we can listen and act in harmony with the Spirit. But our actions are never coerced. They are not forced. Does God have a plan for our lives? I think so. Does God force us to participate in that plan? No.
That’s God’s dilemma isn’t it? God is trustworthy. Us? Not so much.