Last week we started talking about how our need for “sureness” often collides with a God who can ask us to take incredible risks at times. I told you I wanted to highlight three instances I had found where this collision occurred. We started with a story about Moses that taught us that the proof we want of our success often comes after we act on God’s word and character.
Our second story actually ties in to Moses’ encounter with God. When Moses asks God who he is, one of God’s responses is, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” By saying that, he was telling Moses, “If you want to know who I am and how I work, remember the stories of these guys.” That’s exactly where the scene of our second collision takes us, to the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Abraham was far from perfect, but he’s remembered for his faith. For whatever reason, God chose to engage Abraham and promised to make him the beginning of a great nation. Of course, this was ridiculous because Abe and his wife physically could not have kids. Decades later, (and after many bad decisions on Abraham’s part) God made good on his promise and gave Abe one child: a son named Isaac. Beautiful story, right? And they lived happily ever after, a good time was had by all, so on and so forth. Not quite. One day out of nowhere, God interrupts Abe and Isaac’s game of catch. He says, “Hey Abe, like this kid I gave you? I can see how much he means to you…. Soooo, I’m gonna want you to kill him.” What?!
The Bible doesn’t tell us if Abraham says anything back, but you can imagine his jaw dropping when he hears this. It doesn’t make any sense. God had singled Abraham out of the population of the earth to be his friend. Why would a friend tell another friend to kill their child. And further, God said that he would give Abraham tons of descendants through Sarah. At this point, it had been a little over 25 years since that promise and Abraham is finally seeing that promise fulfilled. The vision God gave Abraham hinged on Isaac having children to continue Abraham’s legacy. God wanted to snuff that out before Isaac even got married?! Abe probably had questions like these swirling around in his head, but here’s what steadies him: he had gotten to know God’s character enough to know that this story had to end well. So he does what God asked him.
He sets out with Isaac, two servants, and goes to a mountain God had instructed him to go to. The entire trip, Abraham watches Isaac walk ahead and is probably trying to figure out how this is all going to go down. Not having the answer doesn’t turn him around or stop him from continuing on. When they near the mountain, Abe turns to his servants and tells them this statement of his faith, “You stay here. The rest of this journey is for me and my son. We will both come back after we have worshiped the Lord.” He gives Isaac the wood and he carries the knife: the killing instrument. Somewhere in their ascent up the mountain, Isaac makes a discovery. “We don’t have a lamb to sacrifice,” he tells his dad. Abe says, “Don’t worry, son. God will provide.”
They arrive at the top and Abraham sets up the altar. Then he ties up Isaac. At this point, the lights probably go on for Isaac, but he let’s his dad lay him down on the altar and says nothing. Both men, knowing that these are the final moments of Isaac’s life, do not complain, bargain, or seek a way out. Abe knows what God had told him to do, sets his will on it, grits his teeth, and raises the knife.
At that moment an angel appears and stops him. Abraham, both bewildered and relieved, looks around and sees that God has provided a ram to sacrifice instead of his son. This is the part that I love. The teller of this story stops right there and explains, “And that is why they say, ‘On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided’.” That statement tells us that Abe and Isaac’s story spread, and so did a truth about walking with God. Sometimes it requires you to act out of trust in the character of God, even when you don’t have the answers to some very important questions. The thing that you need the most will often only be provided after you’ve shown your resolution to trust God even when he doesn’t make sense. God sees that Abraham loves him and believes in him this much, and his affection gushes out over Abe. He is so emotionally moved that he can’t hold back. Twice, he explains that it is because Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son that he will make him great on the earth and a blessing to everyone. As history unfolds, we come to understand fully why God asked Abraham to do this unthinkable thing and why it meant so much to God when Abraham obeyed. Abraham couldn’t have known it, but thousands of years later God would lead his son, Jesus, up on a mountain, lay him down on an altar and sacrifice him, because it was the only way that he could make a sacrifice big enough to atone for the sins of everyone who ever lived. We can see that the thought of doing this was already breaking God’s heart and he just wanted to share that with his good friend, Abraham.
So when you are bewildered by something God has asked you to do or just can’t see how it’s going to work out, remember three things:
- Your story is bigger than you. After you make it through a difficult time, you are going to have something to tell people, and they will talk about it.
- When you don’t have the answers, act out of trust in the character of God. You will find that as you prove your resolve to trust him, he will provide what you need the most.
- God wants you to know him as a person. The only way to know someone is to experience life with them. Life isn’t just laughter and good feelings. Heartache, anger, sorrow, rejection, and loss are a big part of life, and God knows them very well. Sometimes God doesn’t want to teach you a lesson or make everything work out okay in that circumstance. Sometimes he just wants you to know him a little bit better. Maybe the profound answer you are looking for in a difficult or confusing situation is just that God feels that way too. It’s wonderful to share in someone’s joy, but it’s an deep honor to share in their sorrow.
We’ll be leaving the country on Sunday, but I’ll try to post our last “collision” before then, so stay tuned. Here’s a hint, it also ties in with Moses. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think about this story. What have you learned about who God is through your painful and confusing experiences in life?