Abraham and Isaac

If you haven’t noticed from my posts, there are many issues which I haven’t thought about in great detail or depth, but that I like to pontificate about anyway. One such issue is the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac in the book of Genesis.

I’m no scriptorian or scholar of any kind of the Old Testament. So my hope is that some will be able to shed a positive light on what strikes me as an appalling story – at least the way it is used in the Church. Given that much is made of Abraham’s tremendous love of Isaac, I assume the story is one of the importance of submitting to God’s will and being obedient. The obvious allusion to the sacrifice of Christ is also present. Yet this particular story carries some very unpleasant baggage with it about the nature of God and what he might ask us to do.

For my part, I picture the story in today’s time and world, and any attempt to make it personal leaves me sick. If any parent attempted to sacrifice their child by claiming God told them to do it, would any of us have any doubt that they were nuts? Would any of us hesitate to contact the proper authorities if a relative, friend, or neighbor mentioned they needed to sacrifice their child? Can any of us imagine raising a knife to our own children, ready to cut their throats or stab their hearts? Such an image is fairly graphic, but I think if we embrace a literal interpretation of these scriptures, we should be aware of precisely what such a sacrifice entails.

Certainly there are better ways to teach us about the importance of obedience, submission to God’s will, and the importance of the Savior’s atonement. I can’t fathom feeling too kindly towards anyone or anything that demanded I kill my own child. How would one worship God in confidence after such an event? If God is our parent, shouldn’t he of all people understand? Can you imagine telling your own child to get ready to kill a beloved pet or possession, only to say “Just kidding! – I just wanted to test you” at the last minute?

I have yet to find much that is positive in the story. I love the words of Clifton Jolley at the Sunstone symposium in Dallas: “There’s only one answer a parent should ever give when asked to kill a child – N0! You respond to the request by saying, ‘You’re God; give him cancer, and his mother and I will take care of him before he dies.'”

Comments

  1. “…and yet, if God Himself had had that attitude, we wouldn’t have a Savior nor an Atonement, would we?”

    Sure we would!! Christ offered himself up — God didn’t kill His Son. The parallels between the two sacrifices seem really obvious, but they are fundamentally different in their principles.

    Your story shares that same flaw — it ignores the fact that the 19-yr old and Christ are both independent, free actors with the ability to choose for themselves. Would the dead missionary agree to get time turned back too, in your scenario? Unless you can address this big distinction, your comments aren’t quite on target, IMHO.

    That being said, it’s great to see Kevin Bacon posting on BCC. One less degree of separation for all liberal mormons!!

    Danithew, I think, has come up with something really interesting, btw, regarding these long periods of spiritual silence by OT prophets. Inactivity by the prophet?

  2. “…there’s a very big difference between sending a son off to war and lifting up a weapon to strike the son down yourself. Sending a son off to a mission is even farther away from being a useful example.”

    But it’s not JUST sending a son/daughter off to war or a mission, it’s either sending them off KNOWING (through some means) that they were not going to come back alive and being willing to send them anyway, or (as in my first example) having the choice to ‘do over’ given to you after the fact and still deciding not to…

    In both cases, even though the parent may not be the one (as in Abraham’s case) DIRECTLY responsible for the child’s death, the choice of them living versus dying is given to them and thus controlled by their decision (albeit indirectly).

    True, there is a big difference between making the choice that leads to your child’s death and actually plunging in the knife yourself, so that’s notable. I still think generally the question ‘would you sacrifice A to gain B?’ is the relevant lesson to be discussed from the story of Abraham, and relates to situations we face in modern times as well…

  3. “God the Father was the one who allowed it to happen by making the final decision”

    Kevin, I’m not sure that is really supportable. God allows lots of things to happen, and they don’t seem to be the direct result of any final decisions on His part. Now, since Christ has told us that all glory is to go to the Father, we may safely apply all credit to Him for the Atonement. But that doesn’t help us understand the role of personal choice and free will in this context.

    You’re continuing with the analogies of sending people off to war, sending them on missions, etc., but these aren’t torpedoes being loaded into tubes, or automatons obeying the will of their parents — these people have made choices to perform these sacrifices. You’re still not accounting for this adequately, IMHO.

  4. “I further went onto say that I thought the story of Isaac and Abraham was fairly revolting and I’d be happy to rot in hell if that’s what it would take to spare my child…”

    …and yet, if God Himself had had that attitude, we wouldn’t have a Savior nor an Atonement, would we?

    Aren’t we perhaps taking the lesson of Abraham/Isaac too literally? Here’s a different view:

    A righteous mother has one son, whom she loves dearly. When he turns 19 he says he wants to go on a mission and serve the Lord. She says she’ll miss him but will support him going. He is soon called to a far away country. For a year and a half, he does great work in bringing many, many people to the gospel. Then, one day while preaching he falls among some evil men who don’t like his message and he is murdered. The mother tearfully receives the body of her son back home and asks God in anger why she had to lose her son. Immediately, she is caught up in a vision and hears the voice of the Lord who tells her because of her righteousness and faithfulness her prayer will be answered, if she chooses. Her choice is as follows:

    (a) If the mother so desires, the Lord will use His power to turn back time to the day where he asked his mother if he could serve a mission, so that the mother can keep her son at home instead, thereby never being killed, but also undoing all the good her son did before his death.
    -or-
    (b) she can allow her son to serve his mission anyway, bringing many souls unto Christ, but also accepting his inevitable death by doing so.

    Which one will she choose? And how would this question of ‘sacrificing your child’ be any different than what’s at the heart of the Abraham/Isaac story?

  5. “it’s unclear why an omniscient God needs to test Abraham’s faith.”

    Perhaps it’s not a test of faith, but a chance to exercise faith.

  6. … still clean and pure of the crime of shedding innocent blood.

    If this is the case, then God is not cruel. Rather, God is the cosmic neurosurgeon and psychologist, omnipotent and omniscent, performing a task that is absolutely necessary to turn the heart of a very special child towards his fathers. This isn’t elective surgery, but a necessary procedure for Abraham and his family to undergo.

    We might ask, what about Isaac and his well-being and his relationship with his father. If Isaac was a mature adult male in his thirties (as has been suggested) he might have been in a place where he had the spiritual discernment and insight, at least after the fact, to see how a merciful God was exercising his power to heal longstanding family rifts. From this perspective, Isaac truly could feel love and gratitude for God for performing this “cosmic intervention.”

    OK … either I’m nuts or I’m on to something here. I’ll probably know in a little while how I really feel about these ideas … but for the moment it’s really helping me to see the Abraham/Isaac story from this perspective. Sorry to be such a major comments hog.

  7. D. Fletcher says:

    A group of LDS friends met each week about 10 years ago to watch Bill Moyers’ chat sessions on Genesis. One of the more heated discussions among us was the Abraham/Isaac story.

    I still feel today that most of the stories in our scriptures (and I include those in the Book of Mormon, as well) are specifically designed to produce a reaction. In the case of the Old Testament, an important reaction may have been fear, as in, ‘if we do not follow God to the letter, our lives and families will be forever altered. We may in fact, lose our children.’ Notably, Job loses his entire family.

    I can only guess that there was great spiritual significance in making an alter sacrifice with a child (as opposed to a goat).

    One of the panel in Moyer’s program (maybe Elaine Pagels?) suggested that Abraham would have sinned had he actually slain Isaac. In other words, he was being taught how to understand morality without having to be told.

    My own mother has said to me that she would commit the ultimate sin, presumably lie, steal, or murder, in order to protect or sustain her children, and she doesn’t consider this against the gospel. It is… the opposite of the understood point of Abraham/Isaac, which leads me to believe that we don’t really know the actual point because we are too culturally removed.

  8. A somewhat off-the-wall thought, and I do not know if someone else has already suggested this alternative. I apologize if this has already been discussed.

    We learn in the Joseph Smith/Martin Harris story that sometimes God will let us have our own way, if we are sufficiently insistent.

    Do you suppose it could have been Abraham’s idea to offer Isaac as a sacrifice? We know that in other religious faith traditions of Abraham’s time, fathers would offer up their sons as a human sacrifice (because it almost happened to Abraham). Could Abraham have thought–“I wonder if I believe in my God as much as my father believed in his? I wonder if I love my God as much as my father loved his, enough to offer up his own flesh and blood? Would I be able to exercise the same faith as my father did in his god?”

    As others have noted, Abraham offered no argument when he received the instruction to sacrifice Isaac–he simply proceeded to attempt to do so. And, as others, including Professor Fox point out, it seems quite out of character for Abraham, the bargainer, to quietly acquiesce when he had gone to the mat with God over Sodom and Gomorrah.

    It doesn’t seem so incongruous if it was Abraham’s idea. Perhaps he asked God enough times, and God finally said, “All right, if it will make you feel better, go ahead and prove your faith to yourself.” But as much as God appreciated Abraham’s love and faith–and absolute commitment to God–he simply could not accept a human sacrifice in that circumstance, and put a stop to it by sending an angel, but complimented Abraham when he did so.

  9. Mephibosheth says:

    About that extra-Biblical material: I seem to remember an apocryphal (read ‘may or may not be true’) account of the story (Book of Jasher perhaps?) where some details are added that make things a little more interesting. For example, that Isaac was over thirty years old at the time, and went willingly with Abraham to the altar, and requested that Abraham bind him with cords so that as he was being killed with the knife he wouldn’t thrash around too much, etc.

    Also, remember Facsmile #1 in the Pearl of Great Price? What could you guess to be Abraham’s own personal opinion of human sacrifice having been on the business-end of the knife?

    Criticizing the moral character of God or Abraham in this matter kinda rubs me the wrong way given that our Heavenly Father has not only demonstrated His willingness to offer His Son, but He actually went though with it. How fair or moral is that? The only way to save a sinful earth is to horribly kill and punish the only One that didn’t deserve it?

    Having no children myself, I can’t and don’t know the other side of the story, but God certainly does. Remember your children were His before they were ever yours.

  10. Mephibosheth says:

    Ann –the accounts that refer to Isaac having cognizance of the sacrifice are apocryphal, but the way it happens is Isaac asks about the animal, Abraham says “You, Isaac.” And then Isaac says “No worries, let’s do it.” I found it online, it’s in the Book of Jasher, chapter 23, around verse 49:

    http://www.nazarene.net/jasher/Book%20of%20Jasher.htm

    It’s pretty interesting actually.

    On the topic of God sacrificing His Son vs. Christ giving himself up willingly: Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught that the message of Gethsemene is the sacrifice of will. It was NOT Christ’s will to suffer and die that way. In fact, he prayed to the Father asking Him if it be possible “remove this cup.” And He follows it up by saying: “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”

    I believe that the “moral of the story” is that Abraham was learning in some small way what it was like for our Heavenly Father to sacrifice your only son.

    I’m not so sure about the theory of God testing Abraham by commanding Him to do something against His will. In fact, whether an act is or isn’t right depends on what God’s will is for the particular situation. For example, killing is the same act whether it’s done to procure Brass Plates or to get Uriah the Hittite out of the way.

    Who are we to question God? We do it naturally, prideful creatures that we are, but if God was standing there right next to me, commanding me to offer my son up for sacrifice, and I knew for a fact that it was indeed God Himself, then I daresay I am left with a choice to obey and be blessed, or disobey and be cursed.

  11. CTK, I can conceive of sacrificing my family relationships for God, but not my family members! Jesus’ teachings are (IMHO) more consistent and more sound than the Isaac story.

  12. CTK: “in their historical context.”

    So this story really happened, and in the way the OT says? (I know I’m putting words in CTK’s mouth, but it’s interesting to think about)

  13. danithew sums up the moral of the story as: There are commands God might give you that should not be carried out.

    An excellent, if controversial, reading of the story. It is confirmed by other OT stories, such as Abraham arguing with God’s decision to destroy Sodom and getting God to agree to not destroy the city if Abraham could find ten righteous men there, and Moses arguing with God to not destroy the Israelites for their disobedience. These accounts show Abraham and Moses presupposing that God could be wrong as well as that God could be convinced to act otherwise. [It just won’t do to say God was right in the first place and was convinced by them to proceed in a faulty manner!]

    Alternatively, one might argue that the human messengers who convey God’s commands might simply misunderstood or get it wrong sometimes. Perhaps Abraham was mistaken in thinking God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac, but God credited his well-meaning if rather brutal display of obedience to Abraham’s faith while still saving poor Isaac.

  14. Danithew with Steve — can any power resist the awesome might of this super-team??

  15. David,

    Thanks for pointing this idea out, that in the textual record God and Abraham stopped communicating. That is an important point to consider. You’ve kind of led me down some paths of thinking I haven’t gone before, based on that idea.

    One possibility is that there really was a silence — that feelings were hurt and that quiet was needed. Another possibility (a reason scriptures go silent sometimes) is that perhaps Abraham started receiving revelations that weren’t for the public record. And maybe there was a mix of these. All of this is speculation based on what the text provides and doesn’t provide. Sometimes the scriptures become most interesting when we recognize the gaps or silences and try to imagine what reality lies beneath those silences.

    One comforting extra-Biblical text that is helpful is Doctrine and Covenants 132 that explicitly states that Abraham has been exalted. If God and Abraham stopped talking at some point, in between this test and this exaltation, then we know for sure there was a reconciliation.

    Still, the silence you are talking about is interesting. I sometimes wonder why the brother of Jared stopped praying for an extended period of time and the Lord had to come to him personally and rebuke him (push forth a reconciliation).

    I can imagine that this experience Abraham had was incredibly traumatic, for everyone in the family. In the very next chapter we simply read that Sarah has died, without any explanation as to what happened.

    One thing I think is that even if Abraham was wrong to go through with the order he was given — assuming that is correct (and it might not be) — it would be hard for God to condemn or punish Abraham for being obedient to that extreme. In some ways, the way this test is set up, it appears that God might actually be quite constrained in his responses. I’m not sure that God could really condemn Abraham for going either way (obeying or disobeying the test). This might have been a pass/pass test.

  16. Fair enough, Christina, but I’m not sure that Jesus is requiring us to shun/sacrifice our family relationships per se because they are the offering He desires; they are sacrificed because they may get in the way of our worship of God. I think it’s Jesus’ way of saying that all ties and relationships should be secondary to our relationship with the Father.

    Whether or not that’s easy or desirable is another question. But I don’t think it’s as strange as Isaac, because we can’t understand why on earth God would ask Abraham to do this sacrifice in the first place. There seems to be no real reason.

  17. Fundamentalists take the tale of the near-sacrifice of Isaac as a literal event, part of a literally true, inerrant Bible. As such, it presents real moral difficulties. Abraham was just a little too willing to put Isaac on the altar, and it’s unclear why an omniscient God needs to test Abraham’s faith.

    Alternatively, a good liberal Christian can reject the story as a literal account and dwell on the symbolic meaning or meanings. But rejecting the literal interpretation raises other questions about the overall status of the Bible and its claim on us. Sound familiar? It’s the same set of choices Mormons face about the Book of Mormon narrative, although the stakes are higher in the Mormon debate, I think.

    At least for the Abraham story, I think I’d rather jettison historicity, thereby saving both God’s and Abraham’s character, and take my chances on the slippery slope of an errant Bible.

  18. Funny you should bring this up. I got myself into all sorts of hot water in RS about 2 months ago when the teacher showed a Church movie, the one where the mother is taking her last morsel back to her son to eat it together and prepare to die when along comes Elijah demanding that she feed him instead. Of course, good pious woman that she was, she does and the Lord provides for them and they don’t die.

    Well I hated that movie. I came right out and said “Well I guess I’m never going to the Celestial Kingdom because no way, no how could anyone, ever, get me to take food from my son that he needed to live and give it to anyone else.” Of course I couldn’t leave well enought along (and I am, self-admittedly, something of a Lioness Mother (as Christina will attest to)). I further went onto say that I thought the story of Isaac and Abraham was fairly revolting and I’d be happy to rot in hell if that’s what it would take to spare my child.

    Needless to say, I did not win the award for Pious Mormon Sister that day and the President is just dreading what other heresy may spew forth from my mouth in any of my own future lessons.

  19. I don’t have a problem with the idea of atonement or sacrifice per se. I’m just not particularly moved by the increasingly Protestant-like testimonies I hear with much weeping and gnashing of teeth over the fact that *I* caused Jesus pain.

    I’ve never particularly felt like I’m a bad person, or that the things that I do are bad, so I haven’t been able to make a connection to Gethsemane the way some people seem to have.

  20. I don’t know that it will solve any of the objections raised here, but I would highly recommend J. Scott Bronson’s short play “Altars” — which is about this story.

    It’s one of the finest works of Mormon drama, imo. “Altars” has been packaged with “Tombs” — a play about Christ’s relationship with his mother — as “Stones” in a couple of stagings that occurred in Utah over the past few years.

    “Altars” appeared in Sunstone [don’t have reference handy].

  21. I hope I’m not guilty of blasphemy either. I believe the scriptures provide difficulties and challenges and that we are expected to go by reason and the Spirit and really think about them.

    The Abraham & Isaac story is one of the most respected and beloved and quoted stories we have in the Church. I wonder if as a result we resist analyzing or probing the story too much — but the story presents some very serious problems.

  22. I really liked (well, that sounds too happy–accepted/found intellectually appealing) Kierkegaard until I had a baby. When Peter was about six weeks old, I wrote in my journal that I was pretty sure I’d never be exalted, because there was no chance I’d ever love God more than I loved this baby. It’s still true–I would flunk an Abrahamic test. I take some small measure of comfort in the fact that Sarah wasn’t asked to do it.

  23. I recognize there are moral and legal implications in the Abraham-Isaac scenario that aren’t present with loving God more than family. But I don’t think my mother would be any less hurt if I shunned her in favor of God. Jesus has some questionable moments there, in my opinion.

  24. D. Fletcher says:

    I think I mentioned this very conclusion in my post. Some of the thinking about this story (from Moyers show) suggested that the moral of the story is… one must learn to discern morality without God’s intervention — telling you what to think. Killing Isaac was a sin, something that Abraham had to figure out for himself. I guess he failed.

  25. I’m with Steve on that one … there’s a very big difference between sending a son off to war and lifting up a weapon to strike the son down yourself. Sending a son off to a mission is even farther away from being a useful example.

  26. I’ve always liked Nibley’s take on it. I don’t know if it has been reprinted by FARMS yet, but it is in his A New Look at the Book of Abraham. His take is that the test wasn’t of Abraham but of Isaac. We read it as of Abraham, but the extra-Biblical material goes that other way in an interesting way.

  27. I’ve heard (but haven’t verified for myself) that some extra-Biblical accounts say that Isaac was killed and brought back from death.

  28. If we’re willing to be critical of Abraham or of the child-sacrificing aspects of culture Abraham was exposed to or if we are willing to interpret the test/trial results differently (than is the tradition) then we might not need to jettison the historicity of the story at all.

    In my Quranic Studies course today the professor talked about how one of the first things Islamic scholars used to do was look at a test and idenityf the problems/challenges/dilemmas that were imposed on the reader by the text.

    It would be refreshing if in Gospel Doctrine we were allowed to ask what intellectual problems a text poses to us as readers. Some people see this as faith-defeating but I think honestly confronting the problems/difficulties of a text would get people much more involved and interested in what is being studied — which might result in more faith as a result.

  29. In the interest of not committing blasphemy, let me rephrase: Jesus’ teachings as they are recounted are troublesome to me, in light of how we understand our relations and obligations to our family members.

  30. John H.,

    Have you considered that part of the reason that you find the story difficult is that you have similar difficulties with the Atonement as understood by the mainstream of the church?

  31. John,
    I assume you’ve read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, which opens with a study on this story, so I won’t plagiarize the ideas he puts forther there, but they are instructive. One meaning out of this awful and awesome story is that love of God requires us – when commanded by God, and under no other circumstance (arguable?)- to move beyond the everyday morality that the gospel teaches us. Christians lived monogamy until God revealed a polygamous plan to JS for a particular time and place. Nephi knew it was against the commandments of God to kill, yet he obeyed God and murdered Laban (see Gene England’s essay on this story for a different take, however). I won’t even attempt to touch on the practical issues of who gets to talk and listen to God and then use that direction to affect other people — too thorny to even begin to discuss — but I’ve always taken the Abraham-Isaac story to mean that at any time and place, we should be spiritually aligned such that should God call us to move beyond morality, we could do it.

  32. John, you’re not the first person to have difficulty with this story. There are lots of great ideas about it, but in my opinion most of those ideas are just great thoughts existing semi-independently, and the relation to the story is ancillary.

    Here’s what I take from it, when I think about it — obedience to God means sacrificing things, and the commandments won’t necessarily make sense or be easy to follow. I know that’s not a very grandiose theme to draw, but it’s as far as I can go personally without having some of the problems you bring up.

  33. Kaimi,
    God knew what Abraham was going to do, but Abraham didn’t know what he himself was going to do. So God was trying to let Abraham know, through one of the worst trials, what was Abraham going to do. Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham. So, what Abraham needed to learn about himself was,” Do i love Isaac more than my Creator, the Most High God?”

    Furthermore,(to the others) how could God’s morality be brought into question? God knew he wasn’t going to let Abraham actually kill Isaac. So there was no problem for such a request. Although, you might argue, Abraham didn’t know that. For all he knew God was serious and determined to see this child sacrificed.Therefore the question that might have been in Abraham’s mind was, “which is more abhorrent, to obey the Lord God Almighty or to disobey Him, as if the Supreme Being has no concept of boundless parental affection?”

  34. Kristine- agreed (I don’t have a baby even) – I brought up Kierkegaard not because he totally satisfies, but because he provides an avenue of exploration better than merely that Abraham was a deranged lunatic. As you aptly hint at, there may be something to it being the father of the child and not the mother who was commanded to murder. We have to remember this, and all scriptural stories, in their historical context. Abraham did not have nosy neighbors or child welfare authorities around to question his jurisdiction to do what he willed with his own child, and Sarah was in no position, as a woman, to question his authority (at least legally). Without those factors, this story wouldn’t even get off the ground.

  35. Marvel Comics used to have a “What If?” series years ago that would deal with alternative storylines or oddball approaches to particular superheroes. Maybe I read too many of those as a kid.

    Here’s my “What If?” question about Abraham.

    Due to the ability to look back and see what actually happened, one might wonder how much of a sin it would of been to disobey an order that God would not have allowed to be fulfilled.

    What if Abraham had disobeyed? What punishment could God have given Abraham for refusing to sacrifice his son Isaac? Could God have maintained the order if Abraham had reasoned, argued or resisted more than the text actually reveals?

    Except for the delayed traveling time to get to Mt. Moriah, we really don’t have much to go with here.

    I confess too that I’m not too crazy about the idea that Isaac knew what was going on and went along with it. Why should he acquiesce? What would be the point? How noble is it to meekly submit to something that obviously counters everything that should be true between a father and a son?

    The fact that God prevented the human sacrifice from actually happening, in my mind, gives us the right to second-guess this story, to question Abraham’s willingness to go forward here. God is conceding that to allow this step to go forward would be wrong.

    The lesson I draw from this story is that even obedience to God has its limits. There are commands God might give you that should not be carried out. This seems to me as logical a conclusion to draw from this story as any other.

  36. Professor Everett Fox in his Five Books of Moses makes the following interesting observation about the story:

    “The chapter serves an important structural function in the Avraham cycle, framing it in conjunction with chapter 12. The triplet in v.2 (“pray take your son, your only one/whom you love”) recalls “from your land/from your kindred/from your father’s house” in 12:1; “go-you-forth” and “the land that I will tell you of” (v.2; the latter, three times in the story) similarly point back to Avraham’s call (12:1 “Go-you-forth …to the land that I will let you see”). There he had been asked to give up the past (his father); here, the future (his son). Between the two events lies Avraham’s life as man of God, ancestor and intercessor. After this [the sacrifice of Isaac story] God will never speak with him again.”

    As already discussed, the Book of Abraham give us additional information making the story even more poignant and pointed for Abraham. (Regarding Abraham’s faith in Isaac’s potential resurrection if he were sacrificed, see Hebrews 11:17-19).

    I have not double checked, but I believe Professor Fox is correct that the Bible records no subsequent contact of Abraham and God after this incident.

    Do you suppose Abraham was angry, and stopped praying or listening? Or do you suppose God was disappointed with Abraham for almost sacrificing Isaac (perhaps Abraham had misunderstood God)? Or were God and Abraham so pleased at the outcome that there was no need for further communication? Or were there further communications that simply are not recorded?

  37. Some time ago, over at T&S, I unloaded a ton of baggage I was carrying regarding this story. I always wondered what God would have said to Abraham if he refused.

    God: Get up and sacrifice your son at Mt. Moriah.
    Abraham: No way. My father tried to do that to me once. There’s no way I’m putting Isaac through that.
    God: This isn’t up for discussion. Get up and sacrifice your son. Now!
    Abraham: No way. Sariah and I waited until after she had passed menopause and it required a miracle from you for Isaac to be born. We all had a good laugh then but this isn’t funny.
    God: You’re making me mad.
    Abraham: Look, with all due respect, I’m just not going to do it. If you think I argued with you about the inhabitants of Sodom, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
    God I’m going to count to three.
    Abraham What’s up with this obedience testing??!? You asked me in my old age to get circumcised and I did it! Even I have my limits!
    God 1 … 2 …
    Abraham (twiddling his thumbs) … Bring it on God. I’m at the jumping off place about now anyways.
    God: OK Abraham … you passed the test. You’ve been so obedient up until now. I was starting to worry that you’d really do anything.
    Abraham: Phew! I was getting worried there for a second.

    Instead, I think this is what happened:

    Sariah: Where have you two been for the past three days?
    Abraham: You had better sit down. God told me to … (he begins to explain)
    Sariah: THUD! (drops down dead of a heart attack)

  38. Sorry for throwing yet another comment on the heap… but I just had some thoughts about the Abraham story that are really helping me out.

    We read the following in the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price:

    Abraham 1:1
    1) IN the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence;

    I think this first verse in this chapter is deliciously understated. Abraham’s life was in danger, and that is why he had to get out of there. Why? We find out in the following verses:

    5) My fathers, having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice;
    6) For their hearts were set to do evil, and were wholly turned to the god of Elkenah, and the god of Libnah, and the god of Mahmackrah, and the god of Korash, and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt;
    7) Therefore they turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto these dumb idols, and hearkened not unto my voice, but endeavored to take away my life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah. The priest of Elkenah was also the priest of Pharaoh.

    Abraham isn’t just talking about his own father. He says “my fathers.” And clearly Abraham is describing a culturally embedded and institutionalized system of child murder. And Abraham isn’t just an observer but a victim that escaped.

    So we can read into this that Abraham was absolutely thoroughly disgusted with his family. He is a convert to the truth who probably feels he had the door slammed behind him or that he had to slam the door behind himself. We can only begin to imagine the hurt and the pain that Abraham carried around with him, the psychic relationship that Abraham had with his family, particularly with his “fathers.”

    So if we whisk away much later to “the day after” Abraham tried to sacrifice his son Isaac. We have to ask what is happening to all those doors that were shut. Earlier David suggested there is a silence in the text between God and Abraham after the attempted sacrifice of Isaac. Perhaps somewhere in that silence, Abraham was only beginning to be reconciled to his own family — because suddenly (and this is a bit weird, but I think it could be true) for the first time he could identify with them and even sympathize with their plight.

    This would have to be some kind of cosmic place where forgiveness is possible even where the murder (and attempted murder) of children is involved. Shockingly, Abraham is suddenly shoved (by God) into a place where he is forced to identify with his fathers that went before him. No longer can he point the finger accusingly at them and say that he is so different from them. At the same time, Abraham is legally and lawfully an innocent man — perhaps very traumatized … but still clean and pure of the crime of s

  39. Steve- even if the story didn’t happen “historically” it is set in that context and has to be understood in that context. I don’t imagine what it is like to have to sacrifice for God from a child. A couple thoughts do come to mind. We pay our tithing, taking often 20% of our take-home pay and giving it to the church. We could put that money into a college savings account for our children or any other of a number of beneficial uses for our families, but we don’t. I think a lot of us would say that we are actually helping our families by sacrificing for/through them. This is a less stark example of the issue, but is it any less apt?

    Second, we do have scripture which demands that we love God more than man and that we be willing, as Jesus taught (symbolically?) to rebuke our mothers and brothers to follow God. These are so contradictory to modern-day LDS values, which see our lives as coming closer to God through our living and serving our families. What of that?

  40. There’s no indication in the text that Isaac knew what was going on, and some indication that he did NOT know what was going on – he asks where the animal is for the sacrifice, and Abraham tells him God will provide one. Which God then did.

  41. What about elder Bob Dylan’s take — that obedience was out of fear rather than love:

    Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
    Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
    God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
    God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
    The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
    Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
    God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

  42. When was it conclusively decided that Isaac had no say in the matter of his being offered as a sacrifice? How do you know he wasn’t willing to do what the Lord wanted, even as his father did? Isaac wasn’t an infant at the time, according to all accounts…

    The question of ‘personal’ sacrifice is a good one–i.e. if you knew going on a mission would result in your death, but you could also accomplish much good, would you still do it?–but somewhat off-topic from the current discussion which has centered specifically around the sacrifice of a child instead of oneself.

    Christ was willing to be the sacrifice for the purposes of the Atonement, but God the Father was the one who allowed it to happen by making the final decision, and if God had shared the view of many here that ‘under no circumstances will I allow MY child to be sacrificed’, he would not have allowed it, despite Christ’s willingness…and thus, no Atonement.

    Most people would be very reluctant to give up their own life, or the life of their child for ANY cause (and would probably be more likely to do the first than the second) but that’s exactly the point…God wants us to consider under what condition X (i.e. what could be gained or accomplished) would we be willing to sacrifice Y? People send their kids off to war…and missions…all the time and have to consider this very question. If I KNEW my son/daughter wasn’t going to come back alive, what purpose/goal could they have accomplished in order for me to consider it to have been ‘worth it’–enough so that I’d do it over if given the choice? If the answer is ‘NOTHING’, what does that say?

  43. D. Fletcher says:

    Would you jettison historicity of the Book of Mormon, Dave?

    Just wondering, don’t yell at me.

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