Thursday, September 10, 2015

For love of Isaac......

The last time I went to Sunday School was over five years ago, in early 2010. Just a few months prior, I had allowed myself to entertain the notion that the church was not true. In that time, I had begun to see the stories of my religion in a new light, and not necessarily a favorable one.

The topic in Sunday School that year was the Old Testament. I had read the Bible as a missionary, but had skimmed over the juicier parts, looking only for those faith-promoting tidbits offered up as testaments of God's love and concern for the well being of His children. And as I'd read the stories that were best known to us, as Latter-day Saints, I had accepted the interpretation given by our leaders, that the events as they transpired pointed to a loving God, one who wanted only for His children to return to Him. The way He interacted with the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament was appropriate for the times in which these stories occurred, or so I'd been taught. I didn't allow the heart-wrenching details to penetrate my heart or my mind. I accepted the notion that His ways were not our ways, that times had changed, and that the stories were meant only to serve as guideposts, leading us back to Him.

Then came that lesson on that fateful day. The story highlighted was the well-known tale of Abraham and his son, Isaac. Abraham had been commanded by Jehovah to take his beloved son into the wilderness, and to offer him as a sacrifice to God. And it hit me, that day, what a horrific proposition God had laid out for Abraham.

"Abraham, if you love me, prove it. Kill your son."

It doesn't really matter what words are recorded in the Bible. God asked Abraham to kill his own son. Sacrifice him, as a sign of devotion and perfect obedience to God. He, whom Abraham worshipped.

"Abraham, if you love me........ kill your son."

Never before had I experienced such an intensity of emotion in Sunday School. As I listened, I placed myself in Abraham's shoes, and for the first time, I considered what had been asked of him, by the God he loved. And my heart broke for Abraham, and for Isaac, and for Sarah, Isaac's mother. And I wanted to raise my hand in class, and demand to know why this story was being heralded as an example of perfect obedience to a commandment that should have been spurned as ungodly. Is obedience greater than love? Why?

The story was being used to illustrate the requirement that we, as God's children, be willing to do as He asks, in all circumstances, and under all conditions. But what it meant to me, that day, was that a loving father had been asked to do the unthinkable, and take the life of his son. And he was being asked to do so by someone he worshipped, to whom he had devoted his life.

I looked around me at the others in the class, at their thoughtful faces as they contemplated the lesson. And I wondered how many of them were thinking of their own children, and the terrible consequences of following God's commandment. I wondered if any of them asked themselves, that day, if they could do as Abraham had done, and take their child into the wilderness, with the intent of giving him up as a sign of their devotion to God. Could they willingly sacrifice their own flesh and blood, to prove to God that they could be strictly obedient to His demands? Of course I don't know what they were thinking, but I do know that the comments offered were in support of the doctrine of obedience. Unquestioning, perfect, strict obedience.

Remember, Abraham didn't know the rest of the story. He didn't know, at the time he set out for the wilderness, that God would step in and stop him before he could complete the sacrifice. He didn't know that it was a test. All he knew, according to the story, was that he must sacrifice his son, as a similitude of the sacrifice God the Father would one day make, when His own son's life was taken. Or did he even know that? The bible doesn't tell us what Abraham was thinking. We only know that he was commanded, and that he obeyed. He passed the test.

But........ what if the test wasn't about Abraham's perfect obedience, but was instead seeking to prove Abraham's perfect love? What if the answer God was looking for was..... no?


"No, I will not do as you command, and take the life of that which is more precious than my own breath. No, I will not plunge a knife into my son's body, spilling his blood on the ground. No, I will not offer him as a burnt sacrifice to your incredible hubris.

"No, God. I will not kill my son."

That day, sitting in that class, I knew I was done with that god. A god who could ask such a thing is a god not worthy of my devotion. He is a god I will not obey, a god I cannot love. I do not want to return to such a god, and I do not want to become such a god.

Why do the Latter-day Saints not disavow such a god? Why do they continue to use this story to illustrate a principle that separates us from our humanity? Why, for the love of god, would I be asked to place the lives of my children, my blood, on an altar dedicated to a god who could ask such a thing?

Those who continue to perpetuate this notion of perfect obedience to a narcissistic, egotistical, maniacal father are really not so far removed from those who would fly planes into buildings.

Killing in the name of God: it's a time-honored tradition.