Thursday, November 26, 2009

My God, good or evil!

In what had surprised me by becoming my most controversial post, I once observed some of the peculiarities of the way the writer of Hebrews goes about telling the story of the great heroes of the faith. I failed to mention one of the strangest ones:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
“That’s not faith!” I always wanted to protest. "You're messing up the story! Abraham is our model of costly sacrifice; if he thinks God is going to raise Isaac from the dead, it's no longer costly!" After all, isn’t the story commonly understood as God’s testing of Abraham’s faith and Abraham passing the test by sacrificing even when it was costly? How would it be faith without sacrifice?

But now I wonder... what if the writer of Hebrews was onto something? What if Abraham showed faith not by being willing to suffer for God, but by following a God he knew to be good? I had always assumed we are to follow God simply because of his authority; maybe Abraham showed faith because he insisted on following a God into a place where God's goodness would be tested (and God passed the test! Huzzah!). Maybe faith is not saying, “My God, good or evil.” Maybe Abraham’s obedience was holding God to his goodness.

And on that note, the Psalmist’s words come to mind on this Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. May we all offer to God this ultimate “sacrifice,” like Abraham before us.
Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.