Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Abraham's moment

Genesis 22.
God calls Abraham. And like the best moments when God calls in scripture, Abraham's answer is, "Here I am."  Simple, concise, and obedient. Called by name, called by God, the only answer is, "Here I am." No matter what the call, this is the answer.

"Take your son, your only son whom you love--Isaac--and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you."

Talk about a call. This is a doozy. The doozy of all doozies. And Abraham is no stranger to hard calls. He's already lived a long life full of such difficult calls that most of us would buckle in the face of them. Leave your country. Believe that you'll be the patriarch of God's people and that ALL the people on earth will be blessed through you. Trust that though you're an old man and your wife is ancient she'll bear a son.  Okay, so he slipped a few times. You try believing such things without running for your life.  Tell me you wouldn't. Tell me you wouldn't think you'd been slipped some kind of drug in your lamb stew and were merely hearing voices.

Now this. Take that long promised son, that only son, through which the apparent dynasty was supposed to come and kill him. And don't turn away from that word because that's the bald fact of it--Abraham was told to kill his son as a sacrifice to God.  Yikes. Double YIKES and then YIKES again.

But he didn't hesitate...at least as far as we're told. And given what he's done to hedge his bets earlier in his story, we know he's given to hedging. This time, however--FINALLY, perhaps--Abraham simply loads up the donkey, takes a couple of servants, kisses Sarah goodbye and leads Isaac up the mountain.

Then Isaac asks a question begging to be asked, especially by a 12-year-old looking around for a lamb because he's no dummy and knows his traditions. "The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
"God himself will provide the burn offering, my son."  I imagine Abraham stroking Isaac's hair as he says this.  Maybe cupping his cheek. Tenderly, half wanting to hang on for dear life.

But he doesn't. He just moved on. And when they get  to the top of the mountain (where such things tend to take place in scripture), he built the altar, having already sent away the servants. Arranged the wood just so. Stalling a bit, perhaps. I would have. Maybe an hour or two. Maybe a day or two. Maybe as long as I possibly could. But finally Abraham bound his son, his only son--Isaac--and raised the knife to kill him.

It's right here I want to stop. Make some observations.
I believe--no, I am convinced--that in one way or another many, if not all of us have such moments in our lives. We believe something, perhaps are CALLED to something, we are certain is God's will for us. We have been earnest in following Him in that thing. Obedient in stepping out in faith to follow that call. Faithful in walking in a manner worthy of it. This maybe a  profession, a relationship, a hoped for relationship--becoming a parent comes to mind. Dreams for our children, dreams for our spouses. I cannot begin to list what God might call people to, because He's personal and imaginative with us and so are His calls. But my personal example is my novel. There was a clear and certain call to begin it. More clear than any I've ever experienced. Even now it's hard to write about how beautiful that moment was, how full of Him.

 But sometimes comes a point at which, inexplicably, He asks us to sacrifice it. To make an altar and lay it down. And we have a choice at that moment. To answer, "Here I am," or to resist.Three things stand out about Abraham's call to lay down Isaac that may speak to such moments when we are asked to surrender.

1. Abraham's complete obedience.  Despite his earlier waffling, Abraham didn't waffle here. From the first, "Here I am," to the raising of the knife, he moved forward. He put one foot in front of the other because God asked him to do so.  Without knowing what the ending would be, He simply obeyed. His first act of surrender was His obedience.
2. Abraham's keeping of God's confidence. By this I mean, he played it close to the vest. He didn't divulge to ANYONE what God had asked of him. It was between him and God. Not his wife, not his servants, not his son knew what he intended to do that day on the mountain. An act of surrender comes privately, not asking those closest to us for their opinion, not announcing to the world what we intend to do.
3. Abraham's total faith.  From the beginning to the end, Abraham trusted God. We don't see this in every movement, but it's implied. When Isaac asked him where the lamb for the sacrifice was, Abraham revealed that trust overtly. "God will provide the lamb."  He laid his son on the altar in faith. Raised the knife in faith. We can guess by his actions to that point that he could have slain his son in the same faith. He didn't know WHY God had asked him to do this, but he trusted God. Surrender involves our complete faith in God, no matter what we are asked.

We know the end of the story. We know that God did intervene, did spare Isaac and provide the lamb. But we never know the end of our stories when we are asked to surrender. This morning I am thinking of two different situations which had very different outcomes.  My novel, again, is the first. Four years ago now, God asked me to surrender it. To take it up the mountain and lay it on an altar. Burn it. I was reluctant to do so. Not instantly obedient. Nor did I keep God's confidence. I spoke to many and varied people about the word He clearly and profoundly gave me. As a result, He finally took it from me in a wrenching and ugly way. He did not--will not, I think--ever provide a substitute for that novel.  It is done. The end.

The other example is that of a person close to me who has waited a decade to become a parent. Waited with faith and hope. And, I believe( though I do not know the whole story) surrendered this desire for the sake of a spouse uncertain about being a parent. Laid it on the altar. Let it go. Said, "So be it." Didn't talk about it, didn't ask advice about how to move things along, simply let it go. And God took that sacrifice and said, "I will provide a lamb.--this is NOT a sacrifice you have to make." And now that person is rejoicing in parenthood (as is the spouse!). Rejoicing in a way in which you would be so in awe, you would surely bow because God has done mighty things. Because of a person's complete obedience, keeping confidence, and total faith.

If He's asking you to surrender. To lay something on the altar, which of these stories do you wish to be yours?

But here's the thing. You surrender without knowing the ending. You must. There is no out in surrender. No, "I know you'll give it back." It's all or nothing. That's what we learn from Abraham.

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