Twitter in a Thicket

Let’s tweet Genesis 22:1-14:

God tests Abraham: tells him to sacrifice son. Abe does. God’s angel stops him. Abe sees ram in bush. Son lives; ram killed. God provides.

That’s 138 characters, including words, punctuation and empty spaces. Twitter’s limit is 140, so there’s a smidgen of wiggle room to make changes.

The 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for June 26, 2011

“Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son…” (Genesis 22:10)

How would you use 140 characters to convey one of the Bible’s central stories? Abraham—Abe to save space—was the faith “father” for the three great monotheistic religions. Moses was indebted to Abraham, as were Jesus and Mohammed. Abe’s trust in God, in a singular Creator, birthed faith traditions now exceeding 3,500,000,000 followers. Are they not (so Genesis 22:17 promised) as “numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore?”

Is my tweet a fair rendering of those fourteen verses? For me, what I kept seems bare-boned essential, and yet also includes key stumbling blocks to (my) modern faith.

First, here’s what I discarded…

  • The journey. Abraham takes Isaac, along with two servants, and travels quite a distance before the attempted sacrifice.
  • Bundles of wood, fuel to start a fire, a donkey and a sharp knife also didn’t make the cut.
  • Isaac, whose name means “laughter,” became merely “son.” After re-reading the story, I was reminded how passive (trusting or ignorant or submissive?) the boy called Laughter was.

What did I include? Even if I revised my tweet, I’d prioritize these four words: test, tells, sacrifice and provides. Without them, this central story of our faith—of my faith—doesn’t matter. With them, it equally undermines and undergirds belief.

Test and sacrifice trouble me. They are stumbling blocks.

In the ways I ponder/feel/glimpse the Holy, I no longer believe the Creator tests creation. But in Genesis, the Bible bluntly described God as Test-giver. So my view, while supported by some scholars, will always cause debate. I’ve had encounters in my ministry where a person—maybe a church member dealing with horrific loss or an argumentative student in a Bible study class—used Genesis 22 as proof that, “just like Abraham, God tested me.” They believed God placed obstacles before them to grade their faith. Nonetheless, I disagree. Instead, I believe the One Jesus called “Daddy” challenges, lures, loves, cheerleads for humans…rather than gazing upon us with a judgmental pass/fail attitude. I’m probably wrong.

Ah, sacrifice! No thank you. I see Abraham prepared to sacrifice Laughter less as depicting God’s ways and more reflecting his ancient culture of bloodletting and eye-for-an-eye vengeance. A knife plunging into the flesh of an animal or human to “please” Jehovah makes no sense to me anymore. I understand its historic context, but not its relevance for a vibrant, modern faith. I’m probably wrong.

However, tells and provides inspire me. Whether twittering or reading all fourteen verses (over and over), these words are foundations for my feeble, inadequate faith.

In the story, God doesn’t DEMAND Abraham sacrifice Isaac. There’s no blackmail or bargaining. God also doesn’t ASK. Instead, Genesis’ story reveals a transparent relationship between God and Abraham. God’s desires were clear. Can Abraham refuse? If the Holy made a demand, maybe not. If it were a question, their relationship might veer toward an unsettling equality between humans and the Holy. But God simply tells. When the Creator “speaks,” the creation is treated with dignity.

And God provides. A ram appears, fulfilling the need for sacrifice. I may not “like” test or sacrifice, but they are part of the story. Whether they are context to help a modern believer comprehend an ancient culture or literally pivotal for faith, the story still must unfold.

Nowadays, I spend time writing fiction. An unwritten rule (especially) for a mystery novel is authors should limit the use of “coincidence.” For example, in a novel I’m working on, the main character arrives at the same time/place where a motorcyclist crashes and dies. It’s a coincidence, triggering the hero’s next actions. After that, I better be careful. Most readers weary of too many “just happened to be there” moments. If a fictional crime is solved by serendipity rather than hard work, it’s as unlikely as it is uninteresting.

Was the ram a coincidence or God’s providence? Genesis doesn’t claim an angel in heaven plopped—abracadabra!—the beast into easy reach. Abraham had to see it (like Moses had to see the burning bush). I believe the “father of faith” experienced God’s creation as a place of options and choices. He kept alert to a world where God longed to provide humans with equal abundance.

And, yes, I could be wrong! Whether it’s ignored or embraced, viewed as literal or seen in context, Genesis 22:1-14 is undeniably a cornerstone of faith for 3,500,000,000 believers…

…and so I challenge you to “tweet” it.

Pare it to the bone. Where does it trouble or inspire you? How will it help you see Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers as interconnected family, and assist you to discern the ways God provides for ALL of us?

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  1. Dear Larry,
    Never occurred to me before that Genesis 22 is a second major test of mankind in Genesis, which is passed where the first in the Garden of Eden was failed. My most enduring impression of this pericope is that of Kierkegaard’s “Knight of Faith”. YWHW’s test is double-edged. Killing Issac not only destroys Abraham’s hopes and vitiates YHWH’s promise, but it is also immoral. This story could be taken as a paradigm of the Heart of Darkness of any religion, where faith trumps the sense of right and wrong.

    1. Thanks Douglas…nothing like a comment zooming across “the pond.” I too look forward to a tweet or two (though I’m still stumbling along with the whole twitter experience).

  2. This really puts a new outlook for me. Even if we use a longer version on a post on facebook, would it help us to understand these scriptures better? Thanks for some wonderful new insight for me.

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