I'm doing a lot of reading as part of my Ignatian Spirituality Small Group, and one passage that has stuck with me recently is Genesis 22:1-19 It's a passage that I used to like, but now have conflicting opinions about. God decides to test Abraham buy asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac to him on Mount Moriah. It takes 3 days to get there, and on the third day, whilst carrying the wood for the fire Isaac finally asks the question that has been on his mind. "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham responds "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." When they reach the mountain top, they get everything ready and then Abraham quickly ties up Isaac places him on the Altar and raises his knife. It's at this point an Angel tells Abraham to stop. He tells Abraham that the scenario has been a test to see whether Abraham really does fear God. A ram is found caught in the thicket that is used for the offering instead.
I'm guessing Isaac was in therapy with trust/daddy/God issues for quite a long time!
There is some evidence that Child Sacrifice was as an Ancient Near Eastern Practice of both the Moabites and the Ammonites. It's fascinating to read how people have wrestled with interpreting this passage. Click here for a good summary.
According to Rabbi J. H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually "rife among the Semitic peoples," and he suggests that "in that age, it was astounding that Abraham's God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it."
That interpretation appeals to me because it opens me up to my own assumptions about God. Abraham is shown that his God is different to the Gods of the cultures around him. YHWH prevents an act that may have been a common occurrence in the culture and shocks Abraham in the process (it would be like God stopping the offering plates from being passed around in the middle of worship!). YHWH Suddenly becomes a lot different to what Abraham expects.
I wonder how much my culture has influenced my understanding of who God is.
Imagine you had grown up only playing Euchre, a trick taking game that uses a deck of cards consisting of 9 through Ace in 4 suits. All you know is a deck of 28 cards and one rule set.
Then someone hands you a deck with 52 cards and teaches you Poker, Bridge, Rummy, Hearts, etc
Suddenly the size of the deck and the possibilities for games has gotten a lot greater.
That's what my Spiritual Journey has felt like. The shift from '28 cards to 52 cards' was quite an adjustment in the spiritual realm. A lot of who God was for me shifted, and that shift felt as surprising as God interposing to prevent the sacrifice...
...and then I discovered and even bigger world of card games, stepping beyond my deck of 52 cards. Games involving decks with 5 or more different suits, and sometimes as many as 18 or 19 cards in each suit.
The possibilities are overwhelming.
God keeps getting bigger...
...and every time I wonder if I am crossing over the line from orthodoxy to heresy. I thought I was open about God, then I discovered that all I was doing was shuffling the 'cards' I already had, unwilling to admit that there might be more. I still find myself wanting to speak with absolute certainty about divine mystery.
I need to realize that when it comes to understanding God, none of us are playing with full decks.