It is a story of questions. Abraham’s faith, though certain and steadfast, has left us with more questions than answers. We are told of his actions, but not of his thoughts. We are told of God’s commands, but not of God’s reasons. We are left in wonder and wondering.
What was Abraham feeling as he struggled up that mountain, the knife cold and yet burning in his hand? As he staggered down that mountain, what was Abraham thinking?Was he trying to see, to discern, the gravity of what he had just done, or almost done?
Was there even a distinction to be made in his heart? Was nearly killing your child any better notoriety than being known as one who had killed his child?
What had he gained from passing such a test? Had he lost the intimacy he had with God; who would never speak to Abraham again? Or is it that Abraham would never speak to God again? Was it a relief or a loss to be without God leading him as he had done for decades? Was it a relief or a loss for God to not have Abraham as his friend, his confidant, his hero? Did Abraham even pass this test? Was this the response God was seeking? Or was God aghast at the lengths Abraham would go to obey? Would God have wanted Abraham to say no, instead? Is that why the two no longer spoke?
Was Abraham pleased with his own faithfulness? Did he go up the mount not knowing if he could heed God’s terrible call? Did he leave astonished knowing he could? Was that a comfort? Or was it a burden, a frightening, horrifying burden to discover that such unflinching faith was within him? Is that why the two no longer spoke?
Is this the reason Isaac also would never speak to his father again? Did Isaac, who was the fulfillment of a precious promise, last look upon his father with horror or with trust? Was he pleading or pleasing? Would either be more bearable? Could it possibly be more tolerable to know your son trusted you, even after you had bound him like an animal, even as you held a knife to his throat? Or would you rather know that your son was scandalized because he saw your fearsome conviction for the first time?
Could it be that Isaac was so terrorized by this event that he never could approach his father again? Could it be that Abraham was no longer able to approach his son, being so disturbed by the reflection he would see in his son’s face? Could it be that a child who had brought laughter to the heart of his mother, now brought loathing and dire deprecations to his father? Is that why the two no longer spoke?
What are the answers to these questions? We cannot know. But perhaps the wondering is the point. Perhaps by our questions we discover that this isn’t just a story of a man who could rise to stunning demands of faith. Perhaps we discover not just that God proves and pushes us to take steps of faith that may even amaze and stun God himself. Instead, perhaps we are also told of a God of passion and compassion, not simply of a God distant and impassable.
Perhaps we also see that our lives of faith are transcendent, defying easy platitudes and neat assumptions. Or we may see that we will never fully understand our God, that being uncomfortable is not the antithesis of being blessed, but even part of, even the result of, being blessed.
Perhaps we see that even in the horrors of life, even when we feel we are being faithful, even when we are on the heels of a terrible mistake, God is active and God is redemptive.
This is a horrifying, terrifying, puzzling story that defies many of our most humane and human instincts as well as our convictions of God. There is little comfort in these verses; instead, there is a swirl of questions.
But our lives are lives of faith, not certainty. The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty. There is no trust in certainty. There is no risk in a sure thing. There is no love, no devotion, no decision or conviction when the facts are solid and the ground is firm.
There is no faith without doubt, uncertainty and risk. Perhaps that is the mystery of our reading this morning: It is a story of one man’s faith in God, and God’s own faith in that one man.