I had an a-ha! moment this week. I was sitting in my Tuesday evening class, listening to a lecture on source criticism in the Hebrew Bible. It is much more fascinating than it sounds, really. We read through a few passages in Genesis, observing the parallel stories and contradictions between them. This leads one to conclude that several sources were used in compiling the book since the style, vocabulary and details are quite different in different sections. The point is not the different versions of one story, but why the compiler felt it necessary to include multiple stories. It is not hard to see that each story reveals a different aspect of God's character in some way. These writings were never meant to be accurate scientific documents or historical databases, they were recorded to show us who this God is and how he interacts with humankind.
At one point, someone asked a question about the story of Abraham and Isaac. The ears of my heart perked up immediately. I have always found this story of God testing Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son as distasteful. What kind of God promises a gabillion descendants, makes someone wait decades for a child to be born, and when he finally appears, asks for him to be given back? It made no sense to me, and honestly, I did not like the God in this story. He was mean and unpredictable and not the kind of God I thought I knew. I have wrestled with this story for many years, even taught on it, thinking that would help me discover what it meant, and I finally made my peace with it by just shrugging my shoulders and admitting that it was a mystery to me. God is God and he can do what he wants.
And then my classmate asked the question. My professor said that this was a difficult story and one had to understand the time it was written in. At that time and place, Abraham was living in a culture where there were many pagan gods being worshipped around him. Many of these pagan gods, such as Molech, demanded child sacrifice. It was not an uncommon thing to be asked to burn your child in a sacrifice to appease the gods. So Abraham prepared his sacrifice. And God sent an angel to stop him. What was the point of this story?
God was saying to Abraham, I am not like those other gods. I do not ask you to sacrifice your son. I am different from those pagan gods who make these demands of you. Yes, I want you to dedicate your children to me, but I do not ask you to sacrifice them. There is only one sacrifice, and that is the one I provide, and he will be my son, not yours.
And when I saw what God was trying to show Abraham about himself, I breathed a sigh of relief. My soul suddenly felt lighter, like some edge or shadow of doubt had fallen away. Years of harbouring a sliver of mistrust disappeared and I thought, Yes, this is the God I know and love! He always has more love than I can imagine or see in any situation. He always shows himself to be far above anyone or anything else that I place my trust in. He never disappoints if I wait on him, and he never demands something just to prove that he is God. He will continue to show himself as greater and more loving and kinder and more wise and generous than I could ever dream up. If I just let him. If I will see. If I will hear.
I offer my sincere thanks to my dear professor and my curious classmate.
These are some pumpkins stuffed with flowers on my neighbour's steps. They always make me smile when I walk past them.