Ah, the bane of the preacher’s existence: the testing of Abraham, or the binding of Isaac, or as it is sometimes called, God help us, the sacrifice of Isaac. Thankfully, the only sacrifice here ends up being a wayward ram, but even though Isaac is spared at the last minute, neither God nor Abraham come off looking very good in this story. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that the point of the story is Abraham’s all-encompassing, unquestioning faithfulness to God. If so, it’s a point made with an unthinkably cruel test and a father I wouldn’t hesitate to report to CPS. The narrative centers God and Abraham, but I can’t stop picturing Isaac, wild with terror as he’s tied up and laid across an altar. He knows what happens on altars, knows the purpose of the wood and the knife his father holds; he has asked about the lamb.
Is this something God would ask, and something we should be applauded for being willing to do?
Faithfulness at what cost?
If Isaac is merely an object, albeit a beloved object, a story that asks Abraham whether he’s willing to sacrifice even this most beloved thing makes sense. But Isaac is not a thing. He’s not a prop for his father’s show of faithfulness. He’s a human being, powerless as a pawn when his father responds to the incomprehensible divine ultimatum: who do you love more, him or me? Abraham would surely be hurt by the death of his son, but it’s Isaac who would lose his life. There is good news in this passage, and I will find it for Sunday, but in the meantime this horrifying story has reminded me of some more current events.
Committed Christians are by definition people who want to be faithful to God. But can our desire to be faithful ever go too far? I recently watched as a large segment of the RCA’s General Synod got really concerned about faithfulness, to Scripture, to a definition of marriage, to God. They did their best to lock down a definition of sin, and I have gotten the impression over the years that they have perceived the struggle over sexuality to be a test of faithfulness – not just the faithfulness of LGBTQ+ people and allies, but also of their own faithfulness. Their own willingness to give everything to what they thought God was asking them to do.
But what about Isaac?
So you’ve shown your faithfulness through holding to this principle. But it’s not your life that will be lost in your quest to be faithful. It’s LGBTQ+ people who lose life in these decisions. But we are not things. We are not props for your demonstrations of faithfulness. We are human beings in our own right, not pawns for you to prove that you love God more than you love us. We already know that, because you are so very willing to watch us die in order to be counted faithful.
The tiny but significant piece of good news in Genesis 22 is that in the end, Isaac lives. It doesn’t solve the problems, but he lives. Even the extremes of faithfulness can’t kill him off. And maybe that’s the little bit of good news for LGBTQ+ people too. In the end, despite all efforts to the contrary, we live.