Letâ€™s tweet Genesis 22:1-14:
God tests Abraham: tells him to sacrifice son. Abe does. Godâ€™s angel stops him. Abe sees ram in bush. Son lives; ram killed. God provides.
Thatâ€™s 138 characters, including words, punctuation and empty spaces. Twitterâ€™s limit is 140, so thereâ€™s a smidgen of wiggle room to make changes.
The 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time â€“ for June 26, 2011
â€œThen Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his sonâ€¦â€ (Genesis 22:10)
How would you use 140 characters to convey one of the Bibleâ€™s central stories? Abrahamâ€”Abe to save spaceâ€”was the faith â€œfatherâ€ for the three great monotheistic religions. Moses was indebted to Abraham, as were Jesus and Mohammed. Abeâ€™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 â€œnumerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore?â€
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, hereâ€™s what I discardedâ€¦
- 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 didnâ€™t make the cut.
- Isaac, whose name means â€œlaughter,â€ became merely â€œson.â€ 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, Iâ€™d prioritize these four words: test, tells, sacrifice and provides. Without them, this central story of our faithâ€”of my faithâ€”doesnâ€™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. Iâ€™ve had encounters in my ministry where a personâ€”maybe a church member dealing with horrific loss or an argumentative student in a Bible study classâ€”used Genesis 22 as proof that, â€œjust like Abraham, God tested me.â€ They believed God placed obstacles before them to grade their faith. Nonetheless, I disagree. Instead, I believe the One Jesus called â€œDaddyâ€ challenges, lures, loves, cheerleads for humansâ€¦rather than gazing upon us with a judgmental pass/fail attitude. Iâ€™m probably wrong.
Ah, sacrifice! No thank you. I see Abraham prepared to sacrifice Laughter less as depicting Godâ€™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 â€œpleaseâ€ Jehovah makes no sense to me anymore. I understand its historic context, but not its relevance for a vibrant, modern faith. Iâ€™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 doesnâ€™t DEMAND Abraham sacrifice Isaac. Thereâ€™s no blackmail or bargaining. God also doesnâ€™t ASK. Instead, Genesisâ€™ story reveals a transparent relationship between God and Abraham. Godâ€™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 â€œspeaks,â€ the creation is treated with dignity.
And God provides. A ram appears, fulfilling the need for sacrifice. I may not â€œlikeâ€ 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 Iâ€™m working on, the main character arrives at the same time/place where a motorcyclist crashes and dies. Itâ€™s a coincidence, triggering the heroâ€™s next actions. After that, I better be careful. Most readers weary of too many â€œjust happened to be thereâ€ moments. If a fictional crime is solved by serendipity rather than hard work, itâ€™s as unlikely as it is uninteresting.
Was the ram a coincidence or Godâ€™s providence? Genesis doesnâ€™t claim an angel in heaven ploppedâ€”abracadabra!â€”the beast into easy reach. Abraham had to see it (like Moses had to see the burning bush). I believe the â€œfather of faithâ€ experienced Godâ€™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 itâ€™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 believersâ€¦
â€¦and so I challenge you to â€œtweetâ€ 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?