Wednesday 28 June 2023

Taking the Test?

Like any good library, the Bible is full of a great variety of literature. Historical stories, myths, legends, fantasy, romance, instructional texts. There’s poetry and songs, biographies and letters, and much more. Not a lot for children, but there’s some stories and parables here and there.

There’s a few holes, of course, especially when it comes to things that we’ve become more open about, issues that have become more topical, but it’s an ancient library. The librarians may have tried to anticipate what we’d need, but even then, I wonder if they could have foreseen today’s world. Thank goodness we have so many other books, along with newer stories and contemporary writers. I don’t think the Bible is the only library, I think it inspires us to be open to others and look for what is true, creative and life-giving in every story.

That doesn’t mean we have to like it. Being challenged and uncomfortable is part of the journey. So when I think there’s more than a few stories in the Bible that I don’t like, that make me uncomfortable and challenge me, I know that’s a good thing. At least, I try to know that’s a good thing. Ok, sometimes I really struggle with finding it to be a good thing, but I hope that I get there and find some good in it.

Pretty much at the top of my list is the story of Abraham and Isaac. Famous or infamous, depending on your perspective, equally horrifying and reassuring, it’s the story of  God testing Abraham by demanding that he sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham seems willing to go through with it, but at the last moment, an angel stops him and a ram appears and they sacrifice that instead.

There’s a variety of interpretations of the story, from it being about faith to it being about putting an end to human - especially child - sacrifice (it was the ancient world) to the idea that it represents the disconnect between young and old and the willingness of one generation to sacrifice another. There are hours of worthwhile bible study here.

I have trouble getting past the first line. “After these things God tested Abraham" (Gen. 22:1).

Does God really test us? I wonder about that. I think we test ourselves and I think the world tests us. And we naturally compete with each other and the world around us. God is with us at all times - in all "tests" - but I have trouble believing that God tests those to whom he offers unconditional love and grace.

I think God wants us to succeed at living. And dying, whenever it's time, death is a part of life. I think God wants us to have the fullest, most complete and whole life we can in the time that we have, whatever that time is. That time that is so dramatically impacted by our relationship with the rest of living things.

But we have the free will to choose our path. So I wonder that maybe sometimes we needed to tell stories where, instead of us being made in the image of God, we made God in the image of us. So we gave God the need for proof and the power and control that comes with the obedience of others. That way, we'd know that the right path was doing as we're told and following the word of the law. Maybe we still do it.

But the Word became flesh, as John says, and we had a living example to follow, a life that showed us God's love and grace is offered to all, whatever their journey. However life tests us, challenges us, breaks us or rewards us, God is with us.