Christians are always speaking of God as being a loving Father, but is He? Some would argue that He isn’t. Some would actually say He condones abuse. In fact, Richard Dawkins makes the claim that God is an abusive Father because he sacrificed His Son on the cross. What about God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as an offering? That certainly sounds like abuse. CPS would have been knocking on God’s door in a second had they been around in ancient times (for all those social workers out there, think of trying to file all that paper work on tablets or scrolls???).
Let’s take a look at the often misunderstood and confusing story of God commanding Abraham to kill his son as burnt offering, as is reported in Genesis 22. First, we are made to understand that God is testing Abraham. Now, Abraham was not privy to this fact, but we, the reader, get to watch the story unfold from a unique perspective. God was not testing Abraham to find out how he would respond. God already foreknew exactly how Abraham would respond, and that Isaac would walk away unharmed. So the test was for the benefit of Abraham along with the countless people that would read this narrative. God is communicating something to all of us through this passage.
We also know that God is against the taking of innocent life. We see in the Ten Commandments (or Decalogue if I need to make this article sound a tad more scholarly) that God explicitly states, “Thou shalt not kill” (I love reading the Ten Commandments in old King James. The language seems to give them more bite). We also can remember that one of the very transgressions that God judged the Canaanite people for was child sacrifice. God has never condoned or promoted child sacrifice anywhere in scripture; it has always been strictly prohibited. We must read this narrative with this in the forefront of our mind.
So what do we know about Abraham’s son, Isaac? We know that he is a child of promise. Everything is wrapped up in Abraham’s only son. Back in Genesis 12 God makes Abraham a series of promises, one of which is that he will be made into a great nation. At this point Abraham was childless. Having children is a crucial part of being made into a great nation. Finally, a child arrives late in life. God’s promise rides on this one child, Isaac. All the chips are on this one boy, and the betting has been called. If something happens to Isaac, then God’s promise is off.
All of this is not lost on Abraham. He is fully aware that God’s promises rest on his only son. Abraham looks into his past, and he sees nothing but God’s faithfulness, so he trusts. He knows that God will provide a way. How God will do it is unknown to Abraham. Perhaps God will restore Isaac from the dead or provide a surrogate sacrifice. There is no way for Abraham to know. All Abraham knows is that God has proved to be faithful. As Abraham ascends the mountain to takes his son’s life, we see his confidence in God as he states to the men with him, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” Abraham had complete confidence that God keeps his promises, is trustworthy, and always acts according to His perfect nature.
We know the rest of the story. Abraham is about to slit his son’s throat (that looks harsh in print, doesn’t it) when he is stopped. No harm befalls Isaac. God provides a ram to be sacrificed in His stead. No abuse actually happens here. Wait, hold on, what about psychological abuse? God put Abraham through a lot here. Yes, I am sure Abraham experienced a certain degree of psychological and emotional unrest, but Abraham was also aware that it would work out. Father Abraham was confident that his son would live, and that one day, he would have many sons. He was singing this song long before you and I learned it in Sunday School. While Abraham probably experienced some cognitive dissonance, I feel it strains the limits of credulity to label this as abuse.
The interesting thing about this narrative is that it foreshadows another who will be sacrificed. Jesus Christ, God’s only son is to be sacrificed for the sins of the world. Abraham proves his faithfulness to God in his willingness to sacrifice his only son, and God proves His faithfulness to mankind in his sacrificial act on the cross. We find in Abraham’s story a reminder that God is faithful to keep His promises, and Abraham held onto God’s faithfulness. God also promised us a way back to Himself. He fulfilled this promise in His Son’s death on the cross.
So was the death of Jesus child abuse? Did God kill His Son? No, we find that it was a selfless act. Jesus willingly went to the cross. He laid down his life of His own volition and proved that God remains faithful. His death brought us life, if we are willing to trust in His promises as Abraham did. It turns out that God is a loving Father after all. Let us always remember the depths of His love.
No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. –John 15:13
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.
In what ways has God proved His faithfulness to you personally?