Abraham: The Rationalist?

or

"Awkward Father's Days of the Old Testament"

When Abraham went to kill his son it was not a blind "Leap of Faith." Many people (including Kierkegaard) see Abraham's act as an act filled with despair, where Abraham makes a long journey to the top of a hill in a confused daze (perplexed by God's command), fighting off the unparalleled emotion of the impending task. The main idea behind these interpretations is a particular view of faith. Namely, that faith is strongest when it requires us to believe the most absurd beliefs and to be willing to do the most irrational acts. The command to Abraham to kill his son (whom he had waited so long for) has been championed as the epitome of absurd belief and irrational action, and therefore the ultimate act of faith in the Old Testament.

But read the story for yourself (Genesis 22). Abraham seems mostly calm. He acts without delay. He acts with creepy efficiency. He seems almost sociopathic: no sappy good-byes, no lamenting, no grief, no anger. Why the lack of emotion? Why the cold and calculating nonchalance as he approached such a wicked and gruesome act?  

The answer, I think, is because Abraham's faith was not a faith based on spiritualized mystery (like Kierkegaard's). Abraham's faith had real content with specific beliefs. Abraham acted the way he did precisely because he did not judge the situation as being so outrageous. Hebrews 11:19 says that Abraham "assumed God would raise Isaac from the dead"! Abraham was NOT going up to the mountain "blind" or hopeless. He went there with a highly articulated judgment about God's character (ie, that God would not order Isaac's death without some follow-up resolution), and with this articulate set of assumptions Abraham acted accordingly. 

And God, it seems, did not order Isaac's death because he wanted to see if Abraham would be willing to do something "absurd" or "irrational." On the contrary, he was testing the authenticity of Abraham's trust. He was testing both: what Abraham knew in his mind (about God), and what Abraham would be willing to do based on that knowledge. God was testing the integrity (short for "integration") of Abraham's knowledge and conduct. It wasn't so much a test of Abraham's "faith," but rather a test of Abraham's "faithfulness." Abraham passed the test.


  • CATEGORY: theology for your God-shaped hole

  • 11-02-2012

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