Lent and the unexpected (not knowing where we’re going)

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Last Sunday our Old Testament reading was perhaps the hardest passage in all of scripture (or the second hardest, I would say), when God commands Abraham to sacrifice the only son, whom Abraham loves, Isaac, as a whole burnt offering to God. He would do so as with a lamb or ram, killing them with a knife first, before offering the sacrifice in fire to God. A terrible story. I was the one reading the passage, and it took grace to get through it.

Father Michael reflected some on this passage, mainly with questions. It’s not the kind of passage where you’re going to figure out answers (a story almost as difficult runs along that line: Job). He stated that such passages can cause us to search and study and grow thereby. It does stretch one well beyond the breaking point for sure. This was the epitome of Abraham not knowing, but by then Abraham in his faith had evidently developed a knack for that. In the Hebrews passage from which is the quote, above, it is said that Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Nice, but still did Abraham actually have to kill his son? Yes it is true, the angel of the Lord stopped him as he was raising the knife to do so, but the whole story seems unreal. Not that I’m questioning whether it happened, and that’s just the problem. I’ve wanted to read Soren Kirkegaard’s Fear and Trembling for some time, a classic on this story, but someone gave me one of the earliest English translations of it, which is not nearly as good as recent ones and so I hope to get to a most recent translation of that book soon, so I can read it.

Awhile back, recently, the Lord seemed to impress Proverbs 3:5-6 on my mind, and I’ve found it helpful along the way, when I simply didn’t get it, couldn’t make heads or tails of what’s going on or what I’m supposed to do:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

I am learning to keep going with much prayer (as much as I can muster, much for me) and also finding in that, that the Lord directs and gives peace, something of the straight path spoken of in Proverbs 3. And then I run up against something else that seems harder yet. Surely this was something of what Abraham went through. It was a test, and while the text in Genesis makes it look like Abraham wasn’t flinching or struggling inside, I have to wonder. He certainly had learned the importance of implicit, unwavering obedience in the walk of faith. The New Testament reading last Sunday, speaking of God not sparing his only Son, but giving him up for us all, while it certainly is wonderful, still does not take away the awfulness of what God commanded Abraham to do.

When the disciples were following Jesus up to Jerusalem to meet Jesus’ death, they were astonished and others who were following, afraid. Somehow faith requires tests which bring us to a new place when we’ve gone past the breaking point of where our faith was before. And during this Lenten season we seek to grow in our embrace of the way of the cross, becoming more like Jesus in his death. Something certainly beyond us.