Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bible Question

For some time now, I have had a great deal of trouble reconciling the story of God's commanding Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice with God's prohibition of human sacrifice as noted in such passages as Jeremiah 7.31 and 32.35. In those passages, God expresses his anger at his people's idolatry and their having adopted the practice of sacrificing humans to other gods, and he says that the idea of his people performing human sacrifices had never even entered his mind. If the idea had never entered his mind, how do we explain God's request to Abraham?

I suppose one could say that it never entered God's mind that Abraham actually go through with the sacrifice, but that answer doesn't satisfy me. If God doesn't like human sacrifice, why use that as the big test of someone's faith? Why go to the trouble of removing Abraham from his hometown where idolatry was the norm (and human sacrifice certainly could have been a common practice in culture's idolatry) to a place where he could be influenced to worship only one God, but then test Abraham by asking him to perform a practice that he had taken Abraham away from, a practice that we learn later in the bible that he actually detests?


Dr. Mike Kear said...

Theologian Leonard Sweet has suggested that God dearly wanted Abraham to object and to "barter" with Him for his only son in the same way he did for the people of Sodom. Althought Abraham literally obeyed God, he also disappointed God (not to mention Isaac) by timidly accepting God's command without as much as a questioning look. It is interesting to note that the Bible does not record a single conversation between Isaac and Abraham after that incident. It is as if they never spoke or even saw one another again - until he and Ishmael came home to bury him.

JMG said...

That's a good point you brought up about Abraham's bartering over Sodom. I had thought of that and all the other schemes he had pulled (like saying Sarah was his sister) and wondered why he didn't try to negotiate or at least question God in this case. It would seem to me that to make an A on this test he should have argued with God at least a little bit like he did in the Sodom incident.

Tony Arnold said...

I am surprised that you did not ask the bigger question of why God allowed part of himself to become human so that he could be sacrificed for all of mankind, especially if He hates murder, violence, and human sacrifice.

There are a lot of parallels between the Abraham/Issac story and God/Christ sacrifice.

I have asked several Bible scholars what they think would have happened if the Jewish nation/leadership had accepted Christ? Would his death have been necessary? What would have happened if the Roman government had refused to crucify or prosecute Christ?

I never got an answer worth remembering. There is so much mystery, mind-bending scenarios, and frankly, frustrating or down-right troubling events in the Bible.

I never liked the Abraham/Issac story. I always have struggled with it, even as a child. I dislike it even more and struggle with it more as an adult. There is a tremendous amount of deceit and ugliness in the OT by people we consider our spiritual foundation. But then again I look at my own life and other Christians and we are truly no better. Maybe the whole OT was meant to be a warning about ourselves rather than a story revealing God?

JMG said...

I am surprised that you did not ask the bigger question of why God allowed part of himself to become human so that he could be sacrificed for all of mankind, especially if He hates murder, violence, and human sacrifice.

I did not ask that question because I don't believe that's how it happened. I don't believe in the trinity, the idea that Jesus is God. Jesus was a man who was full of the holy spirit and who was sinless. As such, he had the right to be called the son of God. He came through where Adam failed.

I do question whether God really needed Jesus to die in order to forgive our sins. If God can do anything, then he could forgive without having Jesus die.

JMG said...

I think I should add that I am in no way minimizing the importance of Jesus. The fact that he was resurrected means that we all get to be resurrected as well. I'm just questioning why God would need Jesus to die in order to be able to forgive us.

Tony Arnold said...

I'm just questioning why God would need Jesus to die in order to be able to forgive us.

I think that is a valid question and one I don't understand. I can live with knowing that God's ways are not my ways, but it does not mean that His ways are not troublesome at times for finite minded humans. It also does not mean I don't pray with questions at times, or with pain, or with anger. I do. I also pray with joy and with subservience at times.

I don't feel that asking tough questions of God and seeking truth through study and prayer are a bad. It fact, I believe God challenges us to do just that. I do think we have to be respectful to God in the questioning. Also we have to be willing to accept truth when it reveals itself whether we like what that truth is or not.

Blind or absolute faith is a good thing (see James 1), but robotic living absent of any study, questioning, listening to God, and talking to God is not a relationship. It is a limited, and unfulfilling, form of existence. First and foremost, God seeks an active relationship with us as individuals.

JMG said...

Also we have to be willing to accept truth when it reveals itself whether we like what that truth is or not.

I agree completely, and I would add that sometimes, the truth that is revealed will alienate us from others who can't or won't accept that truth.

Tony Arnold said...

We all want the truth don't we, we just can't seem to agree on what it is. :-)

We, as Christians, also have to be willing to agree that when an issue is not clear-cut and there is some room for differences.

Disagreement does not have to mean disharmony or lack of unity, although it seems to be case too much in the world today on any issue. Expressing a counter-opinion is equated to saying you condemn me or hate me.

I really dislike that in our world. If I tell an atheist, "I disagree with you. I believe there is a God and I have a relationship with Him," that should not be construed that I am cramming my belief down his throat, but many would say that I am. Likewise, if an atheist says to me, "You are sorely deluded in your belief in a God," this does not mean I have to feel that my belief or the ability to practice it is under-attack.

This same principle holds true among differences among believers and even more closely, among congregation members.

Case in point, I can have a serious, civil, productive and educational exchange on differences of opinion with you whereas if I had a simmiliar situation in my church it could be stressful and hurtful. Funny but sad.

JMG said...

That's what I like about you, Tony. Even if you think I'm wrong (which I hardly ever am), you don't make a big deal out of it.


Too many people (and churches) have decided what the truth is and won't be swayed from it no matter what. To have a discussion about it is pointless because in their minds, the truth has been established.

We should always be willing to question what we have thought of as the truth just to make sure that it isn't just "truthiness" disguised as truth.

Tying this back to the original topic, many people won't even bother discussing God's troubling request in the Abraham story because "God's ways are not our ways!" I think that's just a cop out to keep from looking at God in greater detail and realizing the kinds of things he asks of us and acting the way he wants us to act.

Tony Arnold said...

Would your husband agree that you are rarely wrong? Sorry, but you pitched a softball on that one!

Amen on the rest sister, Amen.

By the way, I think the Trinity idea is an area where differences are to be expected and openly discussed, without fear. It deals with the nature of God which scripture makes clear is beyond us and not fully revealed to us. So we can tolerate a few differences in my opinion.

I am comfortable with understanding God in 3 parts making a whole. I like it and it makes sense to me and I find support for it in scripture personally. However, it is my limited attempt to understand the nature of God which I cannot.

Discussing sticky examples like Abraham/Issac can indeed provide insight into God's nature.
If a person forms knowledge in a vacuum, it is not knowledge, it is a completely isolated opinion.

JMG said...

Hey, my husband recognizes daily the genius that he married! Well, some days anyway.

Anyway, I just read two interesting theories, besides the one that Dr. Mike mentioned. One is that the narrator of the story deliberately left out any and all details that would detract from the reader recognizing Abraham's deliberate acting on faith. The other theory is that because human sacrifice was so prevalent in that time, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son so that God could intervene and make people realize just how horrid the practice was.

Interesting theories, but I still am left feeling as though something is missing.