by Jack Hoehn, February 25, 2015: What happened on Mount Moriah? Immoral religion, or immortal revelation?
Why Worship This God?
|(Detail of a ceiling fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1729, Udine, Italy)|
You can admire, respect, appreciate, long for, hope for God, in the absence of final evidence. And most humans do. Even atheists mostly rebel against a God they don’t approve of. “I could never worship a God that….” It is hard to be against gravity, but it is quite possible to be against a false or unsatisfactory explanation of gravity. So is God a fact, like gravity?
God is not a recent development. The most ancient forms of humanity have been found to believe in God or gods. “In the beginning God…” is a true statement for whatever form of humanity we discover.
Two possibilities–one, there is an external Reality to nature, self-existent, transcendent, and we struggle to understand and know this Reality because we were created in its image. The second, all humanity has an inborn need for a god, so all humankind everywhere has struggled to create god in our image.
The weakness of the second possibility is, where does the universal ‘inborn need’ come from? How have we come to such concord in belief, if every one made up his own god de novo? The weakness of the first possibility is, how can Creature ever comprehend Creator? How can the pancake ever understand the cook?
We Hear Notes We Cannot Sing
I am a mediocre 2nd tenor or baritone. I can sing the lower tenor notes or the higher baritone notes. But when singing the bass part, and the notes drop below the 2nd line from the bottom I know exactly how I would sound, even with my vocal cords incapable of sustaining that note. I am capable of hearing that note or knowing in my mind exactly how it could sound, and I am able to recognize the sound when a true bass or grand piano reproduces it. I can hear notes I can not sing.
Though I am not capable of sustained goodness, I am capable of recognizing it. An imperfect creature can still worship a perfect God. A fallen being can imagine life before the fall. A creature can admire its Creator, if any contact with that Creator is possible. So what kind of God was revealed on Mount Moriah?
Cat comes to the screen door. The night is warm and only the screen separates my bedroom from the yard. The cat’s call is warm and short and proud. It is a different sound from hunger, from hurt, from aggression. It’s the come-and-see-what-I-have-done call. I know what I will see. A smaller animal will be lying in state on the doormat. It is a cat’s offering. A mouse, a mole, or something feathered. My cat is well fed and this is not about hunger. It is a triumph; it is a victory celebration. It is an act of homage but also pride. Cat is paying rent. Cat worships with sacrifice. Cat needs to be stroked and praised.
Imitating a cat, the Ur pagan offered his god an enemy taken in battle, a paw of a lion, the tail of a giraffe. My courage, my might, paying god his rent.
Till one morning before dawn God wakes a man from Ur and says, no more cat-afice. I don’t want an Egyptian captive, a Canaanite donkey, a Philistine bird, I want something closer and dearer. I want you. I don’t want pride; I want the death of pride. So take your pride Isaac and come up to the mountain.
It was severe. “Horrible,” “absurd,” “cruel” are thrown against Abraham’s God. It made no sense; it was a contradiction; it seems immoral. Sons and daughters revolt against being bait in a divine ploy. Holier than Yahweh we claim we would never agreed to murder, no matter what God asked.
Baal accepts the sexual sacrifice of someone else’s daughter. Moloch accepts the group offering of someone else’s son. Ishtar, Isis, Anat accept your corn, peaches, and pomegranates.
Yahweh alone refuses to be bought off. He will not accept what Cain found in the garden; he is not interested in your captives or your prey, your conquests or your boasts.
Isaac Was Already Dead
Throw away the pride of the hunt, the joy of abundance, the honor of prowess, and bring to me a broken heart. Give me your worst grief, the fear that underlies fears, the failure that overshadows success. Give me the worst thing that ever could happen to you, bring me the death of your son, your prime and beloved son. Find a mountain, build a table of stone, and lay it out before the Lord.
Isaac was dead for three days in his father’s eyes. I don’t think any options existed. Only those who have not heard the Voice that knows no disobedience, the Word that creates its own reality, can imagine that Abraham had a choice.
Isaac was dead from the moment of command. What choice is there when the knock on the door brings a telegram that starts, “We regret to inform you…”? “I’m sorry but your biopsy shows it is far advanced …”? Abraham spent the journey to the mountain not questioning IF, but searching WHY his son was as good as dead.
God requires of Abraham and his son their deepest terror, their ultimate fear, the worst thing in the world that they could imagine: to be laid out on a table of stone on Mount Moriah. They must sacrifice their worst. And by rote as in a dream Abraham raises the knife over the son who did not run away, and brings it down…
Stopping the Unstoppable
Only a hand from Heaven could have stopped that knife. It was on its way with a father’s love to make it quick and deadly sure. Every muscle, every tendon, every power of a great man’s body was determined to assure death on the first plunge. There would be no second blow, no painful prolongation. For 120 years he had practiced killing animals, and fighting men. Isaac will not suffer from Abraham’s hesitation.
So by faith, the Book says, Abraham offered up Isaac. And by obedience Isaac permitted the offering. Not faith in reason, not faith in fairness, not faith in understanding–faith in God.
He made me, He gave me an untimely son, He has required that son back. It makes no sense; it isn’t fair, and I don’t understand it, but I know God and I have faith in Him, as my son has faith in me.
When Gabriel grasped the knife and halted the unstoppable hand of Abraham the universe gasped in horror. For they all realized that no angel would stop the hand of the heavenly Father in the sacrifice of the heavenly Son. No lamb in a bush could prevent Calvary.
Abraham rescued from filicide, and Isaac resurrected from suicide, understand for the first time the meaning of animal sacrifice, “God will provide Himself, a Lamb.”
Abraham and Isaac having given God their worst, He gave them his Best, the mysterious plan of salvation of the guilty by the Guiltless, of the sinner by the Savior, of the broken by the Whole. They did not descend the mountain grumbling.
What Happens Next?
Saint Isaac becomes the rare monogamous ancient. While preferring Esau, he never retracts the blessing destined for Jacob. Whatever he plants grows a hundredfold. Where he digs he finds water. For 180 years.
Saint Abraham becomes the father of the faithful — faith in the transaction painfully revealed on Moriah. Calvary forever illumined by an ancient scandal. God had no need of Abraham’s son, but Abraham and all his spiritual sons and daughters need to know exactly what Moriah has to teach. God asks for our worst and gives us his Best. We may not like the story, but we should at least respect it.
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I think this article has been commented enough for readers to get the ideas of those who do and do not like Abraham’s and Isaac’s God. I have tried to keep comments on topic, but some commentators have fixed ideas they try to promote on every article published. And some of the conversations have become personal and not really comments on the article as comments on the editing. I have removed those comments. Consequently some of the comments on comments below may be out of order. I am sorry for that technical glitch.
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