Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Here I am

I climbed into bed this evening and realized what I needed to write about.  Wasn't all that enthusiastic about climbing back out of my cozy bed, I am.

"Here I am."  These are words uttered by the faithful in the land through-out scripture.  When God--or His angel--calls, the faithful answers, "Here I am."  Abraham, Jacob, Samuel.  I am ready for whatever You might have for me.  The first time we read these words, it's in Genesis 22, where the chapter starts, "Sometime later, God tested Abraham."  God tested Abraham.  The very one whom He called out of Ur, promised a son, a nation and the entire world to be blessed through, this man who was the very father of faith--God tested him.  Of course, Abraham, like all people of faith, like all people, managed to be a sinner of great magnitude as well.  I mean, whoppers.  Passing his wife off as his sister, trying to solve the riddle of God's promise by fathering a son off his wife's maid.  Yep, a couple of such doozies, he'd make the news even in our very jaded, seen-it-all age.  But after these things, God still honored that promise, gave him (and Sarah) the long-promised son, and everything seemed hunky-dory, right?

Until 12 years later, when God decided to test Abraham.  And when God called, Abraham answered instantly, "Here I am."  Completely, utterly available to God. That's what happens when God calls.  It was an unmistakable command, too.  "Take your only son--the one you love--and go sacrifice him on the mountain as a burnt offering."

The next sentence, verse 3, begins, "Early the next morning..." but I wonder how Abraham spent that night.  Did he toss and turn.  Sob and cry.  Worry and stress about what he'd been asked to do?  We talk in theological circles about 'the dark night of the soul,' and I think we might trace this 'dark night' idea back to this night of Abraham's.  The text is silent about what he felt, but I obedience, I think, often comes after we've struggled through the night.

So Abraham got up the next morning, took his son up the mountain and lashed him to an altar.  That's the cliff notes version, anyway.  It actually took three whole days to get there.  Three whole days of cutting wood for the fire and walking with his son.  That's a lot of time to think.  To turn around, if he'd been so inclined.  To argue with God, at the very least.  Again, Genesis is strangely silent about any of Abraham's feelings during those days, and only notes the small verbal exchange he has with Isaac at the last moment, "God himself with provide the lamb for the offering."

Powerfully trusting words, aren't they?  Even as he laid Isaac on the altar, and raised the knife overhead.  "He reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son."  And only in that last moment did God stay his hand. An angel called from heaven and Abraham said, "Here I am." 

Here I am.  Between those two obedient answers, Abraham had laid his son--actually, his very life--on the line for God.  He had proven, so to speak, that he meant what he said, that he was present to God's call, and willing to do whatever God asked him.  No matter what.

I think there are a whole lot of Abrahamic moments in our lives.  We like to think that God doesn't test us, but here's this story to prove otherwise.  The reasons for His tests are not for His benefit, not simply because He can, or because He likes to jerk us around, but because something is lacking, or something is too important, or something is out of wack in our lives. And I think it's a cop-out to read this story and assume He'll always provide a ram in the thicket.  Yes, in one sense, this story is about the ultimate Lamb who takes the place of the Son.  Of course it is.  And we do well to remember Christ's substitution.

But we do have Abrahamic moments.  Each of us.  I think of God asking me to lay my book down.  To take a knife to it, so to speak.  There was no lamb waiting to take its place.  When God asked me to sacrifice it, He meant it to die. You probably have dreams that He's asking you to take a knife to as well.  Sometimes those are dreams you love more than life itself.  Love like your own child.  Hmm, perhaps it's even your own child He's asking you to lay on that altar with a fire burning beneath it (we forget that part, don't we?  Not simply a knife to the throat, but a fire to burn him to ash afterwards!).  The things we love most we must part with--this too He tests, apparently. Dreams, careers, children (or the hope of).  And anything else He thinks we just might love more than Him.  It wouldn't be an Abrahamic moment if it wasn't about sacrificing what is most precious to us and what might just interfere with our obedience and God's reckoning it to us as righteousness, as He did Abraham's--both his faith and his obedience (the phrase is about both!).

But my hunch is you know this.  You've heard Him call you in the night--when you're trouble by things you hold too tightly and put in His place.  It's okay to wrestle with Him.  But you must also say, "Here I am, Lord."  Then do the hard thing He asks.  It's the only way through.

Here I am, Lord.

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