I Could Not Do It

Between March 28 and 30 of this year, nine people were arrested in Michigan Indiana and Ohio for plotting to kill several law enforcement officers. The Hutaree group’s objective, apparently, was to help usher in the Apocalypse by performing mass killings of government officers and other law enforcement persons at the funerals of the targeted policemen. The group is a fundamentalist Christian militia group with the slogan, “”Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive.” They view themselves as completely devoted to Christ and engaging in the sacrifice of their own lives to keep the testimony of Christ alive during the End Times.

In northwestern Pakistan, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, such religious militia groups are not as unusual. There are many that appear ready to lay down their lives (and the lives of many infidels) in the name of their religion. Suicide attacks have become commonplace, and the Hutaree tactics are ubiquitous. While the Hutaree and the various Islamic fundamentalist groups have little in common doctrinally, they have much in common in terms of paramilitaristic behavior and methods. Further, as is common among extremists, personal codes of conduct resemble each other – an ascetic lifestyle, detachment from the physical world and a profound belief in personal/familial sacrifice for the greater good. In the big religious Planters tin, all the nuts start to look alike, I suppose. They all represent a heartfelt desire to return to the “fundamentals” of their religion.

In some ways the Hutaree group arrests provided me with a sense of reassurance: at least we know that religious terrorists aren’t a purely foreign thing, that religious extremism is a potential virus for North America as well as the rest of the world. This reassures me because we need reminders that we are human, that we are not above the foreign peoples whose war-torn lands we see on the nightly news. Yes, it is incredibly frightening to hear et in Arcadia ego, but the alternative — a fake sense of insulation and superiority — is not palatable, either.

On that note: a few weeks ago our Sunday School classes covered the sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of Abraham, that classic moment in Abraham’s life where he was called by God to put all that which he most prized – his son – on the altar. The story itself is full of contradiction: Abraham himself had been saved from pagan sacrifice at the hands of the priests of Pharaoh, and that same salvific God now requires at Abraham’s hand that which He had previously decried. It represents the pinnacle of Abraham’s devotion, as the old man who has suffered and waited for decades before the fulfillment of God’s promise must now be willing to abandon it all. As such Abraham represents the definition of a consecrated, holy life.

And yet, he is a monster, or at best a lunatic, by any contemporary standard. A polygamist, he is willing to commit infanticide in the name of his God. He shows little hesitation in binding and preparing his son to die. Let’s be clear – if a modern Abraham were to engage in this behavior, he would lose custody of Isaac forever and would likely be institutionalized. On this there can be little dispute, and I think that most LDS audiences, upon reflection, would agree with that analysis. I love the Gospel Doctrine manual on this lesson:

Attention Activity

You may want to use one of the following activities (or one of your own) to begin the lesson. Select the activity that would be most appropriate for the class.

1. Ask class members to think of a person they love very much or a possession they value highly.

• How would you feel if God asked you to give up, or sacrifice, this person or possession? What would you do?

2. Invite a few class members to tell about a time when they were blessed because they were willing to sacrifice.

After either of these activities, explain that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, whom Abraham loved very much. Although Abraham was not ultimately required to make this sacrifice, his willingness to do so was “accounted unto him for righteousness” (D&C 132:36). Because of Abraham’s righteousness, he and his descendants were greatly blessed.

Yes, that activity does indeed get my attention. It gets my attention because despite our protestations to the contrary, I believe there is a serious aspect of fundamentalism at the heart of being a Mormon (for clarification purposes: in this post I am using “fundamentalism” in a general sense, and not in reference to polygamist groups, although that is clearly an example of fundamentalism in action). We speak of the Law of Consecration, and covenant to obey that law. The Lectures on Faith famously summed up the Mormon position:

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things; it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.

When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain.

I find your lack of faith disturbing.

Modern Mormons are effectively torn between two worlds: we recognize the patent absurdity — and deepest immorality — of a Deity asking a follower to plunge a dagger into his son’s chest, and yet our lesson manuals, our covenants, our aspirational language all speak of total sacrifice, putting everything we have and are on the line for God… and not in an abstract sense, either: we have actually agreed to perform this Abrahamic sacrifice should the occasion arrive. In potentiality, we are Abrahams. We know, and perhaps look approvingly, at Joseph Smith’s testing of Heber C. and Vilate Kimball and others. And yet we instinctively and reflexively know that there is something very dangerous in this absolutism, this fundamentalist approach. We know that it is at the heart of much of the current terrorism and strife, both domestically and internationally. We know that it smacks of cultishness and blindness. And we certainly know that the ritual sacrifice of children is wrong! And yet, our lesson manuals invite us to ponder, “How would you feel if God asked you to give up, or sacrifice, this [valued] person?”

I reject that fundamentalism that leads people to fanaticism. I am not sure where this leaves me; perhaps this damns me. Perhaps it means that Krakauer is partly right about us. But I can tell you my answer to the lesson manual’s question: I could not do it.

Comments

  1. This is good stuff, Stephen.

  2. iguacufalls says:

    I was so mesmerized by the picture, that I couldn’t focus on the article.

  3. Yep, I don’t have a problem responding to that lesson manual thought exercise by saying “Nope. Wouldn’t do it.”

    But I think there’s a bigger, or at least more immediately practical, issue here: talking hypothetically about willingness to make big sacrifices can distract us from actually making the little sacrifices. Fantasizing about being called up to perform something monumental is attractive to some people because it relieves them from the guilt of not doing the little things they have already been asked to do.

    I remember one testimony meeting in the MTC in which one particular loudmouthed, lugheaded, disruptive, cocky, unteachable elder grasped the podium firmly in both hands and shed voluminoud tears as he testified that he would be honored to die for the cause of Christ. And I couldn’t help but think to myself “So why aren’t you willing to study Spanish verb conjugations for the cause of Christ?”

  4. Antonio Parr says:

    What Ronan said.

  5. Steve,

    Perhaps there are very few, such as Abraham, that can balance that faith and fundamentalism on the razor’s edge without going over into fanaticism and insanity, or not being willing to sacrifice all.

    This phrase from the Lectures on Faith that you quoted is what disturbs me:

    “The faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things; it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.

    The “sacrifice of all earthly things” does not worry me about the material trappings of life: cars, homes, etc. But my family I am not willing to include in that category of “all earthly things”, even though I know intellectually that temple covenants are supposed to bind us eternally. I’ll be the first to admit I am not an Abraham.

  6. “How would you feel if God asked you to give up, or sacrifice, this person or possession? What would you do?”

    I can’t believe we have it there. Maybe manuals should be reviewed by the Church’s legal department. And I’m happy we have The Articles of Faith now: “We believe… in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” and “We believe… in doing good to all men”. No killing.

  7. Also, Steve, I find it somewhat comforting, perhaps falsely, that the Lectures on Faith are no longer included in the D&C.

  8. Jeremy, certainly a life filled with drudgery has less romantic heroism than going out in a blaze of glory. We’re all willing to die for Christ, but not really living to live for him. But I view that as tangential to the discussion here – most religious zealots, true fanatics, also live day-to-day in a life of sacrifice. They’re willing to study Spanish verb conjugations, as well as aircraft operations manuals, weapons retrofitting wikis, etc., etc…

  9. Wow Evans — really good stuff. I completely agree with you.

  10. Kevinf, babies and bathwater there I think, because the LoF contain much to applaud. I view them as authentic to our faith as the D&C, personally. Now yes, there are problematic parts, but no more so than the D&C itself….

  11. Great article.

    I think there is a big difference between Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and Heber’s sacrifice of Violate.

    I don’t think Abraham had any doubt the command came from God. I suspect Heber had a lot of doubt. So, the question in the case of Abraham is whether you choose to worship such a God, and the question in the case of Heber C. Kimball is whether the commandment actually came from God.

    I believe I would have failed Heber’s test and passed Abraham’s, for the simple reason that I really do trust God, I just don’t trust my perception of Him.

  12. Martin, I’d have rather agreed to a polyandrous marriage than to kill my son. That’s just me.

  13. I couldn’t do it either.

  14. Gee, if that’s what everybody gets from my comment, I’m sorry I wrote it.

  15. Adam Greenwood says:

    I think you’re missing the import of the Abraham story if you read it and think, yeah, if God asked me to kill my son, no problem. Its supposed to be indigestible.

    But you’re also missing the point if you read it and think, what a wacko, no frickin’ way.

  16. Love the Star wars picture

  17. Oh, I think I got it, I am just poking fun at the apparent hole in there. Make the two sacrifices the same in your hypothetical and I think your point is a lot more clear.

    Although I am still not sure of your point – if you believe God is directly telling you to do something, whether it be offering your child up in sacrifice or entering into a polyandrous marriage, odds are that you are insane. At least if the prophet is there in front of you conveying the message you aren’t hearing voices (though the prophet’s sanity is obviously under suspicion, and yours for obeying).

  18. Latter-day Guy says:

    Being totally without doubt is not the same thing as being correct, I think. Doubt, faith, conviction, certainty––these are just matters of perception. There are plenty of stalwart, absolutely certain individuals, who also happen to be crazy. Heber’s doubts are evidence that he was not completely insane.

  19. Latter-day Guy says:

    #18 was referring to #11, btw.

  20. What would it take for me to murder my own son on an altar?

    Well, at a very minimum it would require God himself appearing to give the instructions. Further it would have to be a public appearance so I could verify that I was not having some kind of psychotic break.

    But honestly, even under those circumstances I would probably tell God to stop being lazy and do it himself if he wanted the boy back…

  21. Jonathan Green says:

    When the question came up in Sunday School, I answered that, like deciding to follow the Word of Wisdom before someone offers you a beer, this is one question where my mind is already made up: the answer is no, so don’t ask.

    Because isn’t that, like, the whole point of the story? Human sacrifice is an abomination sometimes practiced by surrounding peoples, but should not be the practice in Israel?

    I often find that the “how would you feel” questions aren’t productive, because I don’t see that Abraham’s emotional state (or that of many other scriptural figures) is something that the text cares much about.

  22. MikeInWeHo says:

    Great stuff, Steve. Thanks. I’m surprised that you didn’t make mention of the Atonement itself, though, when discussing this topic.

  23. Even God wasn’t asked to specifically kill His Son. He turned away when someone else did it, which must have been unfathomably difficult, but He didn’t do it.

  24. There is a tension between what we covenant to do and what we usually are asked to do. Few of us seem capable of being willing to sacrifice like Abraham, but many of us struggle to get our home/visiting teaching done.

    I think we are supposed to feel that tension, and have it trouble us, in hopes that we reach a little higher than we are accustomed to doing.

    But here is an aspect that I find intriguing. We have in our past what Steve was talking about when he referenced Krakauer. We have in the past been willing to kill on God’s command, ie Nephi, Moroni, Helaman, to name a few. And also Haight, Dames, and Lee. That’s what I meant by balancing on that razor’s edge, and I think that is what Steve is getting at.

  25. Helen Wheels says:

    Sacrifice one of my kids? Over the years I have considered the thought (about a couple of them anyway). (Joking here.) But my grandchildren; never!!! However, I could sacrifice myself in their place in a heartbeat. Ummm,come to think of it,isn’t that what mothers do anyway? Sacrifice health, time, ambitions, pleasures, dreams, worldly praise, money etc. (and sometimes their life) for their offspring.

  26. Aaron Brown says:

    On the one hand, I find the story of Abraham and Isaac as heinous as you do, Steve. On a very deep level, I reject the level of devotion to deity that this story requires and portrays as laudable. This surely makes me less devoted to God than I’m apparently supposed to be, but I really couldn’t care less. Chalk this up as another item on the long list of reasons I’ve not as fully engaged with my religion as I could be.

    On the other hand, ever since I taught this lesson a few Sundays back, I’ve tried to get worked up about it, but I just can’t. Not sure why. Perhaps because this story is just the cherry on top of a huge sundae of moral and ethical precepts in the OT I don’t accept as normative. Perhaps the whole book is similarly problematic, and it’s time to make Rene Girard an honorary Apostle. I dunno.

    Notions of collective punishment, hereditary punishment and divinely-sanctioned genocide pervade one of our canonized texts. Yet we don’t really believe in this crap, do we? No, of course we don’t.

  27. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 23 You’re splitting hairs there, if you believe Heavenly Father is all-powerful on earth. My point is that the Atonement (or perhaps more importantly the Resurrection) is what gets you out of this conundrum. If one believes in the Resurrection, then it isn’t quite so insane and fanatical to contemplate sacrificing earthly life for some greater good.

  28. Mike, I don’t think it’s splitting hairs. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice; no one took his life except He first gave it willingly. That notion of self-sacrifice vs. infanticide is pretty important in my book.

  29. Great post, but your fanatical devotion to the LoF is inexplicable. As authentic to our faith as the D&C? They are much less problematic than the D&C in the sense that the problematic parts can be ignored based on the fact that they were not given by revelation. But, if by “authentic” you mean anything akin to reliable, binding, or doctrinally correct, then I am stunned. Not sure what you mean by “authentic” though.

    I think the Abraham/Isaac episode works much better as a story challenging us to weigh our devotion to God than as a history of what happened exactly as told. I’m not saying it is an allegory, but that I hope it is an allegory. Or an exaggeration, or a story of what happened with a few crucial facts missing, or …

  30. As I sit here today, I couldn’t do such things without Geoff-J-like requirements. But I think another sentence in your post is what catches my attention more than any other:

    They all represent a heartfelt desire to return to the “fundamentals” of their religion.

    This is difficult for me, because I love the idea of returning to a time when I could learn at Joseph Smith’s feet or work on raising the Nauvoo Temple, or discuss doctrine with Brigham, the Pratts, or hear Eliza R. Snow recite her own poetry. I desire to see the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, exercised by men and women with faith in Christ, and to see revelation being received and enacted. And yet, I know that I can’t have those things without also realizing that, with them, I also get Heber’s world, which seems so horrible to me.

    And yet again, in a third direction, I feel such joy and pride (!) when I study my pioneer ancestors and their family diaries and records. My admiration of their faith in polygamy does not square with my own rejection of the idea of living in such a way myself.

  31. @27-28 I think it’s splitting hairs.

    You have no idea exactly how old Isaac was or how willing he was to be sacrificed. The whole thing was supposed to be a “type” of the sacrifice of the Son of God, and the type wouldn’t hold if Abraham were tying up a screaming child.

  32. Jacob, it’s clear you don’t know what I mean by “authentic.” Clearly the word is not synonymous with “reliable, binding, or doctrinally correct,” now, is it? This isn’t that much of a puzzler – the approach to religion in the LoF is contemporaneous with, and largely written by, those persons who figure most in the D&C. As such it is a great portrayal of what those men thought and their approach to God, both historically and culturally.

    In other words, “inexplicable” turns out to be pretty explicable when you think about it. “Inexplicable” is better applied to your assertion of my “fanatical devotion” to the Lectures on Faith.

  33. Martin, # 31, that is about how I have hoped this all plays out. If it is meant to be a type of the sacrifice of the Savior, then it pretty much requires Isaac to be of consenting age and agreeable to the sacrifice. Otherwise, it starts to look like that awful film about the railroad switchman and his son on the bridge, a false type that plays on emotional manipulation.

  34. It’s funny how you grow up in the church thinking everybody thought the same as you, and you realize that’s simply not true. I always assumed Isaac was willing (as was Vilate) and that it wasn’t even part of the discussion until I read this thread.

    Shows how unsophisticated I am, I guess.

  35. If one believes in the Resurrection, then it isn’t quite so insane and fanatical to contemplate sacrificing earthly life for some greater good.

    According to Paul, Abraham believed God would raise his son from the dead, and that’s why he was willing to make the sacrifice.

    An Abrahamic trial isn’t “give up what you love most.” It’s “believe God will fulfill his word even when it seems impossible.” God promised that Abraham would have numberless posterity through Isaac. Abraham passed the test of believing that promise even when God asked for the very thing that would make its fulfillment seemingly impossible.

  36. While Abraham might have learned post-hoc that the sacrifice was meant to be a type of Christ, he obviously didn’t tell his kids very much about it. Comparisons between Jesus and Isaac were created after Christ’s death, not before. Whether or not it is a false type is up to the reader and the Spirit to decide. But the point of types is that two events unfold naturally, and one is an image of the other. You can’t shoehorn events from one time period to forcibly make them a ‘type’ of the other. We simply don’t know enough of the Abrahamic sacrifice to really say how well the one sacrifice mirrors the other. Yes, we have two people involved in a sacrifice. But that’s about it, isn’t it?

  37. Right, what KLS said. As an addendum to my #36, I should note that most of our description and interpretation of Abraham comes via Paul. And he ought to know, right?

  38. Steve, fine, so it is not a later forgery. It is authentic in that it was written by leaders of the church and reflects their understanding at the time it was written. If you think the same of the D&C then it implies that the LoF are as reliable and doctrinally correct as the D&C. If you don’t think the same of the D&C, then kevinf’s comment in #7 to which you were replying makes perfect sense and there is no baby in the bathwater.

  39. BTW, if it wasn’t clear, the “fanatical devotion” comment was a joke with reference to the post. Not to be taken seriously.

  40. #26, ditto

    Some reading of Girard would certainly go a long way in getting rid of literalist, fundamentalist readings of the text.

    We should consider that human sacrifice was rampant in the ancient world and that the “gods” always commanded it. What is remarkable about the story to me is that Abraham didnt kill his son. That the true God did not allow him to commit the grievous mistake rampant in that time.

    I read the story as showing God’s end to human sacrifice rather than the institution or command of such.

  41. The #1 deciding thing for me: God is infallible, men are not.

    If God told me to do something directly, I would like to think I would do it, as my faith is in God. Perhaps shy away as did Nephi and Abraham, but ultimately, I would hope I would do anything He asked. This is the story of Abraham.

    If a MAN told me that God wanted me to do something, I would then have to determine my faith in that man. And men (even prophets and apostles) don’t always get it right. As Bruce R McConkie replied when asked about blacks and the priesthood after the 1978 revelation – “I was wrong”. This is more like the story of Vilate.

    So, to me, there is a tremendous difference between doing something that I thought came from God and something that I thought came from a man. With prophets, these are generally one and the same, but not always, and that tiny bit of doubt would keep me from doing something morally reprehensible.

  42. Jacob, I think you’re really committing some errors of logic there. I don’t think that the LoF are necessarily as doctrinally correct as the D&C (despite their former inclusion therein). I do think that they are historically and culturally authentic descriptions of faith, with some real gems in there. Isn’t that what everybody thinks about the Lectures on Faith? I guess I don’t get your point at all. If you have some specific problems in mind with the Lectures on Faith, go ahead and voice them.

  43. J.Madson, if that’s what God wanted, why didn’t he just tell them to stop? I mean, as such it sounds like an object lesson out of Arrested Development: “and THAT’s why you don’t engage in human sacrifice!”

  44. Good stuff Steve, indeed.

    And add me to the camp- I could not do it. I would happily acquiesce to a polygamous/androus relationship before I would ever sacrifice one of my children. Ever.

  45. The point about Paul in #37 is dead on. In addition, we might also note that in The Bible With Sources Revealed, Friedman lays out the case for the possibility that in the original E version of the story Abraham followed through with it and killed Isaac.

  46. Latter-day Guy says:

    hat the true God did not allow him to commit the grievous mistake rampant in that time.

    I read the story as showing God’s end to human sacrifice rather than the institution or command of such.

    I think that’s just mistaking the incidental for the essential––like saying September 11th is a day when the nation ponders building demolition. The fact remains that God commanded the killing. Without the command, Abraham wouldn’t have been on the mountain in the first place. It wasn’t as though he was confused regarding the morality of human sacrifice. If God tells a person to shack up with someone else’s spouse, but interrupts them before the actual coition, it would be a strange way to let folks know his position on adultery.

  47. #43

    Didn’t God tell Abraham to stop?

    The scriptures are not written like modern history. I tend to think that when the text reads that God wanted Abraham to kill his son that this was speaking to religious and cultural customs and beliefs of his time not to the true God actually speaking to him.

    The angel intervening on the mountain is God telling them to stop. Abraham is a singular and unique individual who heard God’s will while others did not and sacrificed their children.

  48. Assuming that the chapters detailing this part of Abraham’s life are chronological (that is not an absolute certainty), then, based on relative ages in this section, Isaac was at least 17 years old, perhaps much older. Isaac carried the wood for his sacrifice on his own back (Gen. 22:6), something no infant or child could do. Abraham was a very, very old man.

    In other words, unless Abraham was skilled in blitz attacks, Isaac submitted to his father.

    This is offered only in response to some confusion from posters and to contextualize the technically correct but somewhat misleading term “infanticide.”

  49. Steve see what you started? (@44).
    Anybody disagree with Tracy M? No? Me either.
    But that wasn’t the question, was it?

  50. Let me add that a short comment here will not do justice to those scholars and thinkers like Girard who have looked long and hard at this problem and come up with a very plausible if not probable explanation of the text.

  51. #47, God didn’t tell Abraham to stop — he told him to perform the sacrifice in the first place. Your interpretation is not something that comes from the text. The angel intervened (not God)… but a far more effective means of stopping a behavior is not to invite someone to engage in an attempt of it!

  52. #51

    Steve

    I am saying that it wasnt God that commanded him in the first place but the false god and gods of his time that commanded such

  53. PS yes, I have read Girard (and there are countless others!) on this, and many plausible explanations of the text. However, they are not Mormon, are they? What matters for purposes of this post is not how some scholars interpret this event to help us feel better about Abraham being a monster; rather, my point is for us to look at how we teach this story in the Church, and what it means for us within that context. The manuals don’t teach Girard.

    PS Caraway, yes, obviously Isaac was an older child. I guess it’s ok to kill an older child? It doesn’t repair the morality of the situation at all. Human sacrifice is NOT OK, even if the target is able to defend himself!

  54. #52, that would certainly help us sleep at night! But such is not what the text says, and it’s certainly not the LDS view of the text.

  55. When I was young, I was taught the moral of the story was that God does not require nor accept human sacrifice. As a result, if we ever felt inspired to sacrifice our child, we could be absolutely assured that the “inspiration” (even if it appeared to come from God Himself) was false, and could and should refuse.

    In my opinion, it is sad that in the predominant LDS worldview, the lesson of the story is that we should be willing to sacrifice our own children if God asks us to. That, in my opinion, is the wrong lesson.

  56. #53, 54

    Well yes if the point is how we teach this in the church and the common LDS view than yes God may ask us to kill our child.

    I dont agree with how we teach it but even if it was the case I would agree with you and not kill my child.

    I refuse to obey deity simply because it is powerful. Im much more concerned with whether God is good.

  57. Yes, JM – I think we are seeing eye to eye there.

  58. Also, a helpful friend points out that Paul isn’t the only person to see the parallels between Isaac and Jesus, Jacob in the BoM also pointed it out.

  59. StillConfused says:

    Maybe a lesson on the topic would be much more effective if there was an actual sacrifice in the room.

  60. If I felt directed to sacrifice someone, I would conclude without hesitation that it was false inspiration of the worst possible kind.

  61. This post, along with several other GC-induced posts on gender and authority from across the bloggernacle, resonate with something I’ve been trying to reconcile for some time. I feel like I am being asked, to a limited but still significant extent, to do something like Abraham. While I am not asked to take my daughter’s life, I take her every week to church knowing she will hear, see and learn lessons that threaten to smother sparks of brilliance she should be celebrating. I don’t tie her to an altar, but I immerse her in a culture where she will be fitted with a muzzle and have her feet bound. She is starting to recoil from the lessons, wonder about the muzzle and push back against the bindings. While I try to explain about eternal truths and limited earthly efforts to grasp them, I’m not confident I’m countering the relentless messages of songs and lessons and social pressure. And yet I keep taking her back right into their teeth. This is not Abraham and Isaac. But it is much too close for my comfort.

  62. Jon, she doesn’t just get that at Church – children are muzzled and taught everywhere. It is the nature of societal inculcation itself. While this isn’t the place to get into it, I have some sympathy for you (though I think you’re being overdramatic). Also, the comparison to Abraham really doesn’t fit.

    Anyways, not really the right post to complain about taking your kid to Primary.

  63. Nel Nodding discusses this story in her argument about the ethic of care. The feminist care perspective is critical of moral approaches which place abstract moral principles (whether they be justice, equality, liberty, utility, or community) above actual people and human relationships (imagine what the perspective might have to say about those who place deficits about human suffering). The willingness to kill your son in the name of obedience, let alone obedience to some abstract God, is the ultimate insanity from this perspective (and mine).

    Noddings, with a certain amount of humor, argues that only a father would fall for such a thing. Sarah would have said something like “Hell, no.” No woman would place such abstract obligations above their own child…their own flesh and blood. This may not be fair to men in general…but I enjoy it none the less.

  64. Sometimes you don’t get a choice. Sometimes He allows your loved one to die anyway. Then you’re only left to choose whether God is a sadist or a loving Father in Heaven. Until you have experienced it, you don’t know how hard it is to truly have faith. And you realize it doesn’t matter if you “can’t” do it, life goes on with or without you.

  65. Mark D (#60),

    That is very good to hear!

  66. I’m trying to recall if Jesus Himself ever endorsed Abraham’s sacrificial test. Or frankly any other prophet in scripture. Because the incident, as recorded, is so absurd, stark, and disturbing, we think there is some deep meaning behind the incident as if we are all to endure some form of Abrahamic sacrifice in order to be saved, or in order to triumph in eternity, as if it somehow applies to us in some way.

  67. Kristine says:

    Steve, I think Jon is spot on. He’s not talking about “children”; he’s talking about girls. Your daughters will be significantly more muzzled than your sons, and they will experience it much, much more at church than anywhere else in American society. I feel the same pinch as Jon, and I think this is a perfectly reasonable place to express it.

  68. “Or frankly any other prophet in scripture.”
    He seem to be found of Isaiah.

    BYW, I think that the Abraham story is meant to be a message about the sacrifice of Christ. I do not believe that the story ever actually took place.

  69. seemed…and…BTW…oh well.

  70. Steve,

    #28,

    Mike, I don’t think it’s splitting hairs. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice; no one took his life except He first gave it willingly. That notion of self-sacrifice vs. infanticide is pretty important in my book.

    What indication do we have that Isaac didn’t go willingly? I think he was a young man at this point, and not, say, a six year old boy or something.

  71. Well, the common sentiment of many seems to be just do it and worry about the fallout later. If I had a personal visitation, with such an instruction I would not only be inclined to doubt my senses, but in addition to require a compelling, non-faith based explanation for the command in the first place. And I would worry about being in proximity to anyone without similar constraints.

  72. Steve G. says:

    In Hugh Nibley’s book Abraham in Egypt, he references the idea that Isaac’s sacrifice was a type of substitute sacrifice and that the idea of a substitute sacrifice was taught in many ways throughout the old world including BC Jerusalem. This is where the practice of Levites laying the sins on a scapegoat comes in as well.

    Here’s a good place to start, but I believe this topic was covered over several chapters:

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=48&chapid=292

  73. Daniel,

    There is no indication that he went willingly, either. Their seems to be an LDS mythology about Isaac going willingly, but I see little evidence for it. While I think that this is symbolic of Christ, we should not try too hard to make it fit.

  74. Chris,

    True, after all, Isaac was tied up, according to the account. That doesn’t sound like someone going all too willingly to his death.

  75. Chris H, I guess you can count that as my way of saying that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that in this regard at least Abraham had lost his mind. Perhaps it was a convenient loss for future pedagogical purposes, but quite probably a loss nonetheless.

  76. This is a great post, but it should not surprise us that we feel like we “couldn’t do it” when we consider this story. I know I couldn’t, but I feel as though I have a lot more immediate fish to fry, too. I don’t need to go looking for hypothetical sacrifices I couldn’t make. I’ve got plenty of actual real life here and now sacrifices that I’m having enough trouble with.

  77. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that your reaction to the manual’s question does not damn you, Steve. I actually think it’s the reaction God expects of us in the abstract. That’s why the story is powerful.

    I like what Adam said in #15.

  78. Kristine, this (BCC) may be a fine place to discuss Jon’s concerns, but as post author I’m saying this (my post) ain’t.

  79. Daniel,

    I’m trying to recall if Jesus Himself ever endorsed Abraham’s sacrificial test. Or frankly any other prophet in scripture.

    I think Paul is the only one I’m aware of who mentions it.

  80. Oops, I misread Daniels comment.

  81. “As far as it is translated correctly” comes to mind – and I would add “as far as it actually describes historical events.”

    Given that foundation, I am fine with pretty much any interpretation that doesn’t lead to, “It’s OK to kill your kids if you hear a voice telling you to do so.” That’s a conclusion I choose not to reach, especially since there are so many other viable ones within easy reach.

  82. I get a little uncomfortable when people say things like, “A good/loving God wouldn’t command me to do ___”.

    It seems to make God’s goodness dependent, not on the witness of the Spirit and trust in Him, but rather on the level to which he conforms with my own cultural and moral assumptions, and my own limited understanding of the world.

    It seems to me like this question (‘Is Abraham a monster?’) is really a question of the goodness of faith and belief. The Joseph Smith quote is just a logical extension of the requirements of faith. If Abraham was insane, how is any person who practices faith in a God they can’t prove, or who prays and listens to the answers they feel they’ve received any less deranged?

  83. ‘ If Abraham was insane, how is any person who practices faith in a God they can’t prove, or who prays and listens to the answers they feel they’ve received any less deranged?”

    It might be different when the spirit prompts you to call one of the sisters you visit teach or the make a caserole for a struggling family.

    I believe that God acts only in ways which are consistent with morality. The attempts by ancient cultures to justify their own immorality in our scriptural narratives is in no way part of my faith or my relationship with God. This is why I worship Him and not the scriptures.

    Abraham is not a monster. The story is the monster.

  84. Jon,
    If you honestly believe that the church is bad for your daughter, you shouldn’t take her to church. I find, for all its flaws, that the church isn’t a net bad for my daughter, so I take her. FWIW

  85. “It might be different when the spirit prompts you to call one of the sisters you visit teach or the make a caserole for a struggling family.”

    I see what you’re saying, but I just think it’s too easy to say that the prompting you feel is the Spirit, as long as what you’re prompted to do makes you feel good, but it must automatically be nothing but voices in your head when you’re prompted to do something strange, unusual, and frightening.

    “I believe that God acts only in ways which are consistent with morality.”

    Whose definition of morality? My views of good and evil, right and wrong, are colored by my society. If there is some kind of natural law or universal code of morality, it seems strange that I would act according to my own understanding of it, rather than trusting in the omniscient God I believe in.

  86. I don’t know if this has been mentioned (I didn’t read all of the comments, sorry,) but I’ve always wondered what Abraham actually thought and went through. We make it sound like it was such a simple task for him, but I think not…any loving parent would have to think about that long and hard. I don’t think it was an easy choice for him, to be honest. The Bible can only tell us so much. There’s not enough space for all the “and he thought this, and then thought this, and then prayed about this” stuff. I think any loving parent would have to think about it before sacrificing their only child.

  87. jenni,

    But, your trust in God basically just your culturally informed view of what God wants.

    Anyways, I believe that God must be a Kantian and, therefore, when in doubt, I turn to the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Just kidding…sort of.

  88. Kristine says:

    Yeah, Chris, I would think the Prolegomenon would suffice.

  89. Kristine,

    Since you have heard The Great One lecture on Kant, I bow to your insight. :)

  90. So I only find two references in the New Testament to the attempted sacrifice of Isaac. Both are in reference to the question of faith. James asks in 2:21

    21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

    Paul writes to the Hebrews in 11:17-18

    17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
    18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:

    More importantly none of the New Testament writers seem to want their readers to note the relation between the almost-sacrifice of Isaac and the Sacrifice of the Son of God, or maybe they never got the connection and that only came later on in history. The only prophet I see noting the possible relation between the two is Jacob in the Book of Mormon. In 4:5 he says:

    5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.

    I tend to think that we’re putting too much on this particular story. I’m curious to know what non-Mormon bible scholars think about the relation between the almost-sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I’ve honestly not studied non-Mormons on that topic.

  91. “But, your trust in God basically just your culturally informed view of what God wants.”

    Oh snap.

    I think the question of Abraham’s sanity is a really interesting one.

    If you accept that he could have just been crazy, don’t you have to accept that Joseph Smith could have just been a really creative schizophrenic? How can you take any religious position beyond agnosticism?

    If I wanted to know if the BoM was true, or if I wanted to believe in Mormonism, it seems like I could either try to prove it true, or I could go with ‘Moroni’s Promise’.

    I think we’d all agree that there are plenty of reasons why the first option wouldn’t work. And I don’t know how I could trust anything else. Do I need to hook myself up to an EEG every time I pray? If I ever feel ‘the Spirit’ or see a vision, should I go get an MRI to make sure I don’t have a brain tumor?

    How do you guys practice any kind of faith, not just in Mormonism, but in Diety?

  92. #91,

    I having faith in dieting because when I try it I always lose weight. I just don’t have a lot of interest in being all Diety.

  93. Steve Evans says:

    Of course, if someone really wanted to seem smart, I guess they could have just read Kirkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and come out way ahead here. Mind you, Kierkegaard had no illustrations.

  94. How do you guys practice any kind of faith, not just in Mormonism, but in Diety?

    Because I am not a fideist, for one. I don’t believe that a viable faith can be independent of reason, and that for as many things as we do not understand, there is a higher standard of morality than any will can establish.

    Will without rationality is arbitrariness. The idea that anything that God commands is right simply because he commands it is Stockholm Syndrome theology. That is not God, but rather dictatorship. A being whose actions cannot be evaluated in terms of a standard of morality independent of himself is not divine, but rather something more like the opposite.

    Alternatively, if God condoned killing by people who felt like they had received a divine command, a lot of people would die unnecessarily, so it would hardly serve his purpose to set such an awful precedent. In practice, we determine that it is God speaking to us in part because he doesn’t tell us to lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and kill our friends and neighbors.

  95. wondering says:

    I don’t know what Steve is talking about. I mean, “all of us love the beautiful account from the Holy Bible of Abraham and Isaac. “ The prophet told us so.

  96. Steve Evans says:

    LOL, awesome.

  97. Ron Madson says:

    Provocative opening post and comments.
    I agree with Ray (#81) that for myself any explanation other then one that allows me to kill my child is okay by me.
    Girard’s perspective resonates with me, but Steve is correct that Girard is not what is taught in our manual/faith—too bad.
    We can only, as Thoreau would say, give an accounting for ourselves in the end.
    My accounting:
    1. I do not have the confidence to “know” the voice of God and my ability to discern with absolute metaphysical certainty if it came from God, my own tormented mind or an evil source (even freeze up when trying to remember the whole handshake test for evil spirits)
    2. Even if it was the God, I would either tell him I am just not Abrahamic material OR
    3. tell God that his idea of a test is not virtuous IMO and he can do his own killing—I do not believe that even asking such evil is worthy of a God that I would worship—
    Anyway, one of my favorite DVD is “God on Trial” –especially part 8. This Rabbi’s words is the “voice” I hear. It is only 9 minutes but the words of the Rabbi near the end commenting on the sacrifice demanded of Abraham resonates…and there I am also….http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PP4i6tRGw7Q
    And I agree with Josh Madson (surprise) that I personally do not believe that it was God but the commonly accepted religion of his day that was the voice Abraham heard—even if the text is written as if it was certainly the voice of God direct and not filtered through the religion of his day…I like to think so—otherwise if it was in fact God then I really do not appreciate the cruelty nor do I see virtue in having beings that place obedience over the virtue in their heart and conscience—so that God can stick it and my little intelligence will try to hide out in some remote area and stay out of his way.

  98. Ron Madson says:

    #95 /Wandering.
    God save us from a world and people who practice “unquestioning obedience.” Abraham was a model/study of questioning. He questioned and pled for the Sodomites…challenged even. You think he would have questioned/dickered at least for his only virtuous son.

  99. Christine says:

    Thanks for the clarity Steve. Your post has convinced me to leave the church and give up on the insanity of religion entirely. Free at last.

  100. “Perhaps it means that Krakauer is partly right about us.” Well, didn’t want to say anything, but… :)

    FWIW – in my experience with family, extended family, the wards I have been a part of – most mormons are very “fundamentalist” (though mormons are really really good at spinning things to look the opposite of what they are, see “patriarchy” and “presiding”). I would say many mormons would very much disagree with most of the comments here and say that visitation by Jesus himself is something that no only can happen, but they hope to have happen sometime in their life. I even knew a dude who had something in his patriarchal blessing about it and I have had more than one person actually bear testimony of visitations they have had. People you wouldn’t realize were crazy (until that moment).

    So, if you can be visited or spoken to – who knows what he will tell you or ask of you right? I mean, the only stories they have to go off are things like killing your kid, chopping off a drunk dudes head, taking lots of women to be your ‘wife’ etc.

  101. “A being whose actions cannot be evaluated in terms of a standard of morality independent of himself is not divine”

    If I understand what you’re saying, I think I agree with you. I’m not saying that something terrible is good just because it’s commanded by God, or that God doesn’t have to abide by natural moral laws. I’m saying that you can believe that, while also believing that God can command something which to you and me can seem terrible, but which is actually necessary and good. In fact, it seems like you’d have to if you wanted to be a Mormon or Christian.

    If you believe in an all-knowing, benevolent God, it doesn’t make sense to demand that anything he commands must be clearly, manifestly good to us, when our knowledge and understanding of anything is so limited.

    “In practice, we determine that it is God speaking to us in part because he doesn’t tell us to lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and kill our friends and neighbors.”

    How do you explain the extermination of the Amalekites? Joseph Smith’s polygamy? The killing of Laban?

    Polygamy, from what I know of it, was weird and traumatic for everyone involved, and there’s a lot about it that makes me cringe. Especially as it was practiced by Mormons, it seems to me to be inherently misogynistic and messed-up.

    Yet, if I want to believe in the Restoration and Joseph’s prophetic calling, I don’t see how I can just reject it as something wrong and carnal. I have to accept it, at least partly, as something necessary for its time and ultimately leading to some good end, the effects of which can only be seen and judged by God.

    I could say that, while Joseph was a prophet and was inspired in many of his actions and teachings, his institution of polygamy (and its continuation by others) was not inspired of God.

    But what am I basing that judgment on? I don’t think there’s much scriptural support for rejecting polygamy, and even if there was I’d have to ignore plenty of other scriptures and revelations. So I can’t trust scripture. I can’t trust prayer and spiritual witness. It seems like the only other basis for deciding what is “God’s will” and what is man’s corruption or errancy is my own personal feeling and judgment, which can’t be trusted, especially if I accept that there are things beyond the bounds of my knowledge. If I can’t say whether Mormon polygamy was godly or not, how can I say that Joseph was a prophet or not? How can I say that God exists or doesn’t?

    I’m pretty ignorant of philosophy and theology. Should I just go read Kant or Kierkegaard and stop bothering people?

  102. Chris Henrichsen says:

    jenni,

    The Kant stuff is more of a joke. I view much of this from a Kantian perspective, but that is just me. I haven’t read Kierkegaard.

    This discussion, for me, is more about how we make sense of such paradoxical stories. I do not see why we cannot have faith in God, while at the same time not be able to make sense of latter-day polygamy.

    The killing of Laban is not a story about why it is sometimes okay to kill. It is part of a narrative which explains why a peoples in the Americas had texts similar to our New Testament. That is all.

  103. I guess the dilemma that I’ve been trying to get at, and which I think the original post brought up, is that I don’t see how you can have faith without being a ‘fundamentalist’ of some sort.

    How can you arrive at any conclusion or firm belief, without trusting in the authority and reliability of some external source? How can you have a belief if you can’t ground that belief in anything?

    As a Mormon, it seems like there are a number of foundations I can rest my beliefs on. I can trust in scripture, personal revelation and revelation to prophets, and in my own reasoning and interpretation of the available ‘facts’.

    If I say that Abraham could have just been crazy (or that Joseph could have just been horny), I’m undermining the reliability of personal revelation and prophetic authority.

    If I say that the story could have actually happened differently than depicted in Genesis, or could never have happened at all, then I’m undermining the reliability of scripture.

    That leaves me with my own individual thinking and reasoning, which is biased and finite, and which can’t hope to grapple with something as incomprehensible as God or eternity.

    If we can’t trust in any of these things, then there’s no ‘iron rod’, and we’re all just fumbling around in the darkness.

  104. For me the critical question is how the lesson manual can ask about sacrifice of a person or possessions in the same breath?

    I have never read the Abraham Isaac story as a suggestion that I one day might be asked to sacrifice one of my children. Nor do I read it so now, even after the strange question in the manual.

    Jenni (102) the questions you raise are reasonable questions of faith that many grapple with. I suppose the question (and in part the resolution) for me has been whether there are certain things on which I can found my faith while there are other things that I do not understand; can I be patient enough to continue to learn about difficult points while trusting those that are not as difficult for me? Not a perfect solution for some, I suppose, but it allows me to sleep at night.

  105. Steve Evans says:

    Jenni, absolutely yes you should read Kierkegaard.

  106. #100 – Most members hope to be visited by Jesus in this life?

    If by that you mean more than just “wow, that would be a neat thing, so I hope it happens” – if you mean more like, “I have hope and faith that I will see Jesus in this life” (as the rest of your comment implies) – all I can say is that’s not my experience in the LDS Church.

    I also think most members wouldn’t kill their kids if they heard a voice or had a dream telling them to do so.

    We forget sometimes that it rarely is crystal clear in our scriptures (or even modern history) when a “visitation” would be described better in our terminology as a “dream” or “vision”. There’s nothing in the OT story that makes me read Abraham’s experience as a literal, physical visitation by God.

  107. I’m saying that you can believe that, while also believing that God can command something which to you and me can seem terrible, but which is actually necessary and good

    I believe that (in principle) – the number one problem is knowing that such a command really originates from God. Generally speaking, the suggestion that you should kill someone is prima facie evidence that it is not, and it would take a compelling explanation to demonstrate otherwise.

    How do you explain the extermination of the Amalekites? Joseph Smith’s polygamy? The killing of Laban?

    In my opinion, God did not command the extermination of the Amalekites. As for the others, polygamy hardly rises to the level of killing, and if Nephi felt sufficiently persuaded to kill Laban (based on the explanations given) that is his burden to justify.

  108. Of course, to the degree such commands really were of divine origin, God will justify Nephi et al in the world to come. In the mean time, if we were the authorities at Jerusalem we would have no choice but to throw Nephi in prison, and ultimately execute him as well.

    Self defense (against an unconscious person!) so long after the fact might fly in the law at the time, but I would be somewhat skeptical about that. The courts here on earth are hardly in a position to determine what is a divine command and what is not.

  109. Steve, I’m with you. I couldn’t do it, either. Olive (62), I understand what you’re saying. When my 2-year-old died (after blessings that she would live), it took a long time for me to stop feeling that God was just being a jerk. And I feel like now, nearly 5 years later, I’m almost at the point where I can accept that it was “for the best.”

  110. Here is a slightly different retelling of the story – one that, I think, relates more to the extremism you reference at the beginning. At the climax, the angel tells Abram to “Offer the ram of pride instead”

    But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

    And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

    In Britten’s War Requiem, as the soloist repeats the last line, a children’s choir begins singing “Quam olim Abrahae promisisti, et semini ejus” – refering to the blessings promised to Abraham and his seed. [ /tangent]

  111. “As for the others, polygamy hardly rises to the level of killing, and if Nephi felt sufficiently persuaded to kill Laban (based on the explanations given) that is his burden to justify.”

    The Fall issue of Dialogue will contain a really nifty little essay by Joe Spencer, of Feast Upon the Word fame, in which he tries out a Girardian reading of the Nephi & Laban story that I think is really convincing and provocative.

    /end shameless advertisement/

  112. I think it’s deliciously easy for us to sit around in our modern day, in our fancy offices or homes, on our computers, and say we couldn’t do it. We have no idea what Abraham’s experience was really like. We have only a very rudimentary account. (Interesting that even with the basic account we have, the similarities between God’s sacrifice and Abraham’s are there.) His culture, his experience with God, his world view, etc. Very different from ours.

    The thing I find fascinating about the Abraham story is that Abraham tells Isaac “God will provide himself a lamb,” but what is actually provided is a ram. Was Abraham referring to Christ as the lamb?

  113. The story of Abraham and Isaac has troubled me for awhile and I think it’s the kind of story that can be pondered for a lifetime with conclusions changing and altering over time.

    At times I thought the story was offensive and disturbing – but I’m starting to come around to appreciating the story of Abraham and Isaac again.

    I don’t think Abraham was warped like the Hutaree or Islamofascists – though I understand why the comparison is being made.

    The distinction I would make is that Abraham really was conversing with God – and he knew it – whereas these Hutaree or Islamic terrorists are basically caught up in an obsessive conversation with themselves that leads them down a road to random acts of violence. It’s a significant difference.

    Abraham is unique at this point – really unique. Abraham is a very aged man – he’s lived a long life and seen a lot – and he is well traveled. He’s been to Egypt and met with Pharaoh and in his dealings for the Cave of Machpelah he interacts with local dignitaries and they treat him with at least grudging respect (though he might be allowing them to rip him off).

    In his geographic context he’s at least something akin to the image of a wise, inspired, experienced Middle Eastern sheikh (by the way, I once heard Nafez Nazzal characterize Howard W. Hunter as being “like a sheikh”).

    I’m making that comparison to evoke a certain kind of image in our minds of who we might be talking about and the nature of his personality. He’s an obedient, sensitive, loving, faithful, abiding servant of God.

    He’s completely familiar with and attuned to revelation from God, too. He is a prophet and he is the prophet who is known as being “a friend of God” – even in the long distinguished history of prophets and scripture, the way the relationship between God and Abraham is described is clearly unique and a special bond. Which could be understood to mean that Abraham knows very well the difference between when God is speaking to him and when God is not speaking to him. He and God have already had a lot of conversations.

    That provides a different kind of context to this story. Abraham is a leader, prophet and patriarch, peculiarly alone and dedicated to God.

    In the test of Abraham and Isaac, we are getting a very special view into the unique testing of Abraham’s discipleship – and I think Abraham was obedient because he received a direct undeniable communication from God telling him to do it. Even though the instruction was deplorable to him (especially, based on his personal experiences with human sacrifice and attempted human sacrifice) – he surely knew it was God giving him the instruction and the personal unmistakeable manner in which the command was given to him left him with a horrible choice to obey or disobey.

    We have to remember that in an earlier story Abraham questioned God’s just-ness in destroying Sodom and Gomorrah and there was quite a discusssion that took place and God tolerated and entertained that discussion and Abraham was bold enough to play the role that he played in that discussion. If Abraham would have plead for those wicked cities (remember, that Abraham had even spoken rather contemptuously to the king of Sodom, about not even wanting a shoe-latchet of his possessions), how much more inclined would Abraham be to plead for the life of this special miraculous son and heir?

    But for some reason, at least as the text is provided to us, there is not a discussion that takes place. Why? This is a gap in the scripture and only Abraham and God really know the answer to that question – but based on what we know about Abraham from previous stories – we can make some calculated guesses.

    Perhaps the command was issued in a tone that was stern and unyielding – not the same tone of voice of the God he reasoned with in the Sodom and Gomorrah story … Abraham is thus left with no room to maneuver – just the stark choice to obey or disobey. This follows the logic that, based on his previous experiences, and based on the abhorrent nature of the command, if he had room to reason or argue with God, he would have done so, right? But he doesn’t argue – it’s not up for discussion – at least not a verbal discussion.

    I have heard some say that it still took him an awful long time to arrive to the specific site where he was told to make the sacrifice – so if he wasn’t arguing verbally he may have been arguing with his feet. He is dawdling(?).

    I sometimes wonder though, if Abraham was being subjected to a pass-pass test. In my hypothetical wanderings on this story, I have wondered how God would have responded if Abraham had said “I am devastated that you give me this command. You know I love you. But this is wrong and I refuse to do it.”

    Maybe God would have been pleased if Abraham had refused to do it.

    Or not. That kind of direct disobedience to God, knowing it is from God, is inherently dangerous and, based on Abraham’s extended profound experiences, wrong.

    If that is the case – then I think Abraham’s agency in some ways would be compromised – he’s not being given as much room to maneuver as he has been given in past conversations he has had with God – which in my current rash speculation, would mean that God is taking responsibility for what will ultimately happen – at least as long as Abraham is obedient.

    One of the things we have to think about here too – and this might hurt my stance on Abraham being like prophets we are more familiar with – but still, it’s something to consider … is that Abraham was commanded to be circumcised when he was in his late nineties … and he obeyed. Perhaps obedience to that difficult and painful commandment prepared him to make even more(?) painful decisions in the future – as acts of obedience.

    It seems like a very strange command/request for God to make, doesn’t it?

    Anyway, I’ve gone on awhile – but the story of Abraham will do that to someone who is trying to think it through.

    One other odd note – in the chapter right after the binding of Isaac we read, rather abruptly, that Sarah dies.

    I’ve seen at least one commentary that says she died from heartbreak, upon hearing what Abraham had attempted with their son. But it’s not in the text – it’s just speculation.

  114. Sooooooo . . . . Whaddy’all think of Jephthah?

    I think that Abraham’s story would be pretty pointless if more than .00001% of us COULD do it. Especially in a non-insane, measured, sober, faithful way like Abraham supposedly did. And if I’m not mistaken, thats kind of the point that Kirkegaard gets to (am I smart Steve?).

    I think if any of us can stand up and say “I would do it!” we miss the point of the story OR we’re not being honest with ourselves. Most likely the former IMO.

  115. Jason Anderson says:

    I taught that lesson. I can’t resolve the paradox inherent in this story so I gave the class a lot of theories and left most people unsatisfied.

    As I read the text, there is a disconnect between our ethical compass (the Light of Christ?) and God’s will. As if Abraham, as who would be a blessing to all nations needed to learn that God’s will falls outside of a platonic ideal of right and wrong.

    When I read the Old Testament, I always feel like God is not all knowing and all-good, but simply really powerful and mostly good and is working things out along the way.

    I can see a scenario where God theorizes that Abraham was a great instrument in his hand because of his experience when he was saved from his Father’s Priests. It would then follow that Isaac, if he is to be the heir of Abraham needs to experience the same transformative moment where God saves him from being sacrificed. There are no evil men nearby to do the deed so he commissions Abraham to make the sacrifice and an Angel to save Isaac.

    Underlying this story is the question: Does God decide what is good and bad or right and wrong? Or does right and wrong exist independant of God.

    I don’t have an answer. I just assume that God’s grace will be sufficient to save me in my weakness because I could not imagine making the sacrifice demanded of Abraham – even if I had faith God would stop my hand.

  116. Peter LLC says:

    I think it’s deliciously easy for us to sit around in our modern day, in our fancy offices or homes, on our computers, and say we couldn’t do it.

    I like to think that I don’t have any choice other than to do just that.

  117. Jason,

    I appreciate your last paragraph most of all. And I think that is an important attitude for us to have in our faith as we study scriptures that are not as clear as we sometimes wish they were.

    Again I’d say that as near as I can tell, I’ve never been asked to make a sacrifice like Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, nor do I expect to.

    I’ve had a re-think about the question in the manual since my earlier comment, too. I thought about those I know who are in 12-step addiction recovery programs. They are encouraged to change associates in order to avoid relapse in their addiction. In that sense they must “give up, or sacrifice” those people. Clearly not the same as Abraham’s challenge, but as i said, I don’t think any of us will be asked to re-enact Abraham’s attempt.

  118. “In my opinion, God did not command the extermination of the Amalekites.”

    I’ve always thought of ‘faith’ as the effort to search for and reconcile yourself with the transcendent truth. And statements like this one seem to try to deny that. It’s like you’re saying that nothing can be true or of God that isn’t comfortable or easily understandable by you. It seems to reduce faith to nothing more than wishful thinking, grounded only in your personal biases.

    If you can so easily dismiss any aspect of your religion’s scripture or doctrine you don’t like, how can you justify believing in the things you do like? How can you seek to find truth if there’s no reliable way of approaching it?

  119. “If you can so easily dismiss any aspect of your religion’s scripture or doctrine you don’t like, how can you justify believing in the things you do like?”

    …. cause it’s easy?
    I actually agree with you and think the answer is faith. Looking to God and asking in faith to try to understand, but also asking in faith knowing that it might not matter if you fully understand because it does not effect you, does not apply to you.

    It’s why, for me personally, I don’t get worked up by historical relics that have a lot to do with their place in history, and the interactions between people, cultures etc. If transcendent truths are supposed to be drawn from it, then I should think about it a bit more. But if its in the midst of a whole lot of history/culture, I think it’s almost impossible for me to fully comprehend as a person in modern society so far removed.

  120. 115. “Does God decide what is good and bad or right and wrong? Or does right and wrong exist independant of God. ”

    I’m not saying I’m committed to this answer, probably because I’m too lazy to stretch it out. But good bad vs. what God decides seems like it might be the difference of sin/transgression.

  121. Thank you @danithew! I found your comments really interesting.

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