Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Father Abraham

If you would understand God, consider Abraham, a friend of God, told to sacrifice his son. His only son. Not his only son though, as Jesus was not God’s only son. Each however was an only son of promise -- Isaac a promise of love -- Jesus a promise of love as well.

But it doesn’t help us, the fact that Abraham was given a son that he could love. And what of unloved Ishmael? God too must have children He does not favor.

That’s not it either though. Take your son, your only son, and go to a place I shall show you, and sacrifice him. We say it was a test, of obedience: which does Abraham love more, his Lord or his son. Adam faced the same question and chose Eve. Abraham must have had more life experience.

We say it was a test, then. But it wasn’t. It was a lesson. The innocent die, unjustly, under agencies answerable to a different urgency. Justice is not the most immediate law of the universe. Sometimes we never see it or its effect. It wasn’t a test, it was a lesson, and not even really about life, and the universe, and being a father. It was a lesson about God.

In a tangle of brambles and horns a sacrifice was found, on a mountaintop. Innocence is redeemed by righteousness. We look at ourselves, and understand that we have no innocence, or righteousness. Only desire and resolve, imperfect. Since it’s all we have, it has to be enough.

Redemption is a bloody thing though, and perhaps not the very Cross, but crosses in general, of thieves, say, must have been splattered with feces. A dirty business. Holy altars on which unblemished lambs were offered would have stunk like any other abattoir. That must be why they were made of stone rather than wood. Easier to wash.

The idea that blood can cleanse is only a metaphor. Blood cannot cleanse. Blood, like any vitiated protein-rich substance, putrefies. What we’re looking at then only seems to be blood. Somehow, even spilled, it is life.

Abraham knew of the resurrection, as did God of course. So slaying their sons, each, respectively -- Isaac and Jesus -- the consequences were less somehow than we might suppose. A moment or some hours of pain, however sharp, a period of separation, and then life again, and more abundantly. What’s the big deal? For Abraham, the big deal was that it wasn’t Isaac who died. It was Abraham. He cut out his own heart, bloodless.

Every father would sacrifice himself in place of his child. You know it’s true. That’s not how it works. We have to give up the thing most dear. That is not our lives. It’s our love. For all that we may say, take me instead, some sacrifice cannot be vicarious.

What is it God wants? It’s not really about obedience. He wants to be loved, and obedience is the action that proves the feeling. It’s simple and it’s complex, and resolves in the central fact of my faith, which is that God is human.


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