The testing of Abraham

By Greg Jones

Last Sunday’s story from Genesis may be the most vital story in the entire Old Testament. Commentators have long thought so, seeing in this strange, foreign, upside-down-from-what’s-to-be-expected-story-of-faith every nuance of salvation history.

This tale of God’s strange testing of Abraham, with its horrible potential, and Abraham’s choice to trust God through it (his choice to sacrifice even his son, his heir, his legacy) trusting that if God calls for it then somehow God will make it all well, this is a big story.

We cannot even begin to know what Jesus, the Cross and the Good News are about if we haven’t struggled a bit with this story. I’ve struggled with it for many years, joining twenty-five centuries of rabbis and twenty centuries of the Church, all looking at it, trying to make heads or tails of what seems an absolutely absurd request on the part of God.

Pretty much, the essential interpretation is that this story is about trusting God, against all the things that would conspire to make you lose that trust – even filial love, even reason, even common sense, even every bit of human knowledge about what’s what.

It’s about welcoming into your heart a God who is indeed very strange, very foreign, very other. It’s about taking the biggest chance of all – and giving up all control – and saying, “God, I trust that you will make alright something that to me looks very, very bad.”

Despite all evidence to the contrary in this story, Abraham chooses to trust that God’s way is the good way. He says, “God will provide.” Kierkegaard suggests Abraham’s faith in divine absurdity is – oddly enough – the saving faith God requires.

Yes, the Salvation history of Scripture is dotted with folks who said, “Yes, Lord, I trust that you will make alright something which looks rather bad to me.”

Consider those who said:

• “Yes, Lord, I will challenge the Pharaoh.”

• “Yes, Lord, I will fight a giant with a slingshot.”

• “Yes, Lord, I will bear this child named Jesus.”

• “Yes, Father, I will suffer and die.”

Actually, doing what God asks, being an instrument of salvation for others, isn’t hard. No doing what God asks isn’t hard, choosing to do it is. For, by Grace, God lifts up those who have chosen to be his instruments. God will provide those who serve Him.

Similarly, entering the Kingdom isn’t hard, choosing to enter is. For by Grace, Jesus Christ has opened the door to the kingdom, and is holding it open with the hard wood of the cross. What’s hard about choosing to serve God, to enter the Kingdom, is that you can’t bring your stuff with you.

Everything we possess from proud desire, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, whether financial, social or mechanical, whether emotional, intellectual or otherwise, all the stuff we possess from proud desire cannot come with us into the kingdom.

Maybe it’s a grudge, a sweet and sour grudge. Maybe it’s an ideology, that has proven successful in this world. Maybe it’s tribal or national or political convictions. No matter what, all of this stuff can become idolatrous, even one’s own household can be, and idolatrous stuff cannot come with us into the kingdom.

As Jesus said, “God must come first.” For, as Abraham said, “God will provide.”

Yes, God will provide all that we need to follow him and do his will. This is the witness of the faithful. This trust in the providence of God is what inspires disciples to take chances, risks and challenges for the sake of what’s right. It’s what allows us to welcome God and other strangers into our very midst – and it’s is how the Kingdom of God is grown.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) is rector of St. Michael’s Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at

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