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From the April 2008 issue of The Christian Science Journal

What was he thinking about?! For three days, Abraham walked, until he reached Moriah, the place God told him to go. The Bible leaves no record of what he said or thought during those three days. All we know from the account in Genesis 22 is that Abraham heard God tell him to take his son Isaac, whom he loved, and offer him as a burnt offering on top of a mountain there. When he arrived, Abraham bound Isaac and was all set to follow through with the sacrifice, when he heard God's angel tell him to stop and release his son. "For now I know that you fear God," the angel said (Gen. 22:12, NRSV).

Generations of scholars have taught that Abraham's experience exemplified his profound faithfulness and obedience to God. But more recently, some have argued that far from being a hero, Abraham was a heartless, cold father whose example validates a level of violence that is totally unacceptable today. Indeed, what father today could lawfully get away with walking off with his child, probably without even consulting with the child's mother, and planning to kill the child in order to gain special favors with God? Yet, when families erupt in violence, or have been unfairly separated, the victims may feel as demoralized as Abraham probably did when he got the news he was to give up his son, and they may think that God has somehow treated them cruelly. But there are some clues in the Bible that unlock a spiritual perspective on this otherwise perplexing story of Abraham and Isaac. Instead of reinforcing what some view as being evidence of Abraham's violence and selfishness toward his son and wife, these clues reveal not only God's love for Abraham and for his dearly loved son, but God's love for all humanity, and of the promises God kept for them. For example, God did make "a great nation" of him and blessed him (Gen. 12:2); and that Isaac was to be evidence that Abraham's descendents would be as many as the stars (see Gen. 15:5). A glimpse into Abraham's spiritual journey illumines our own, and shows there is hope for the healing of broken hearts and broken families.

Many centuries later, Jesus' teaching sheds light on the story of Abraham, when Jesus stated that he was not bringing peace but a sword to family relations (see Matt. 10:34–36). Without reading further, we might conclude that Jesus was justifying violence, just as Abraham appeared to be doing. But a few verses later, Jesus explained that those who want to "find their life"—or paraphrased, those who seek peace in their own earthly ways—would end up losing their lives; and those who would seek God's kingdom by following him must first lose their earthly lives (see Matt. 10:37–39, NRSV). To emphasize the distinction between the everyday life of mortals and the life lived in God's kingdom, Jesus says we get from one to the other by taking up a cross—another way of saying, I believe, that we need to sacrifice our personal sense of life in matter.

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