In the book of Genesis, God tells Abraham to get up and leave his home and everything he knows for the promise of many heirs, and Abraham does it. After years of waiting, God finally delivers on that promise and gives Abraham a son in his old age. But then God turns around and orders Abraham to sacrifice Isaac – and Abraham obediently goes and prepares to do it! Biblical scholars tell us that this shows Abraham to be a man of great faith.
In that same story we also learn that while waiting around for this promised child, Abraham’s wife Sarah tells him to get her servant pregnant so that he will have an heir. It doesn’t appear to take much convincing for him to comply. Later, in a fit of jealousy, she orders him to cast that same woman and her child out into the wilderness. Once again, he bows to her command. These don’t seem like the actions of a person with great faith in God, more like those of a milquetoast who can’t stand up to his overbearing spouse. So is Abraham actually just the first yes-man?
I often wonder about this disconnect and what the story doesn’t tell us. Was Abraham angry when God told him to move to a strange land? Did he rebel? Did he argue with Sarah? Did he mourn the distance between him and his son Ishmael? Did he beg for Isaac’s life? Did he offer to trade places? He bargained with God for the lives of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah – did he do the same for his own son?
The biblical writer(s) chose to leave out those details to to make the case that Abraham showed unflinching obedience to God, and God in turn placed continual faith in him. But that absence of any questioning or cajoling by Abraham has often made me wonder if I somehow fall short of being eligible for the same unfailing faith of God. I just can’t seem to muster up the same level of blind faith that Abraham seems to have.
In addition to a couple of reviews of some great resources on further study of Abraham, this issue of Connections offers some astounding reflections on his faith. Bishop Breidenthal reminds us while Abraham made his way toward Mount Moriah he clung to hope that God would spare him the horror of killing his own son, just as Jesus prayed to his Father to spare him from his fate. Author Richard Schmidt asks us to take a look at the story of the sacrifice of Isaac from a different perspective, one in which God as victim is very familiar with having to face pain and despair. Artist Karl Stevens hauntingly depicts the story through the eyes of Sarah.
Taking some time to reconsider the story of Abraham in preparation for this issue has given me the feeling that there is hope for me yet. Through great love, God continually has faith in a man who, while flawed, remains faithful to him. Surely I, with all of my questions and doubts, am just as deserving of that same continuing faith and love.
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Connections editor Julie Murray serves as Associate Director of Communication for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.