This is a short dialectic
on the sons laying on the table.
I am deeply indebted to Kierkegaard’s book,
Fear and Trembling,
for this post.
Philosophy is not particularly popular, especially amongst my tribe, christianity. Whenever I mention to someone that this is my major, they have one of two responses: 1.) laughter, because the only majors worth pursuing are the ones that make you a lot of money or 2.) joy, because I am going out in the world to take on those atheistic peddlers of worldly philosophies. Skeptically, people look and assume my sole purpose is to rescue the youth of the church from being robbed of their beliefs. Unfortunately, I have never found philosophy of religion to be profound or really that compelling. Even the best arguments for the existence of God are based in pure reason. In other words, philosophy of religion is more about seeing the brilliance in Augustine, Aquinas and Anselm than showing others what it means to have faith and be faithful.
Gilles Deleuze once said that Philosophy does not reflect, contemplate or even communicate, but is the creation and establishing of concepts for living. This is especially compelling for followers of Jesus because Jesus established Himself, not only as truth and life, but as the Way. Many in the Christian faith community might be surprised to find that in the midst of defending our faith through clever apologetics, the proclamation of the gospel has been buried underneath the veneer of “reason.” The only problem with modernistic Christian philosophy is that our faith is not reasonable! But, it is the only Way that brings life. You might be surprised to find that Abraham is studied at length in the academy, and I hope to merely open our minds to the possibility and the honesty of our faith; which is not rooted in the reasonable, but is rooted in God.
“‘Abraham is our father,’ they answered. ‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do what Abraham did.'”
“Son, today I shall murder you for God has asked me to,” said Abraham. Isaac, without bating an eyelash, responds to his father, “Well dad, I understand.”
Why wouldn’t Isaac do what we all would have done in that situation? In Abrahams time, men submitted their sons to the altar of the gods all the time. It was an every day occurrence! If Bill from down the sand dune was walking past and saw you carrying a bundle of sticks, with some ancient lighter fluid, this was normal. Sacrifice was part of the worlds value system (and still is?). Now why would an all-loving and all-powerful God ask of Abraham something so vile by todays standards? How does the Father of faith reflect justice? He would be a murderer, in fact, in order for his sacrifice of Isaac to be of faith, there could be no hesitation. Let’s be honest, real faith is only reasonable to those who defend it but hesitate to practice it.
The beauty of the moment was that God commanded Abraham as though He were an every day, run of the mill, god; through which mans sons have lost their lives (and continue to lose their lives). The gods had to be appeased! Appeasement was the center of the pagan worlds theology.
Just as Abraham lifts the knife, full of intent to slay his one and only son, Isaac would have looked deeply into his fathers eyes, as if to say, “Do it dad, I understand you have to do what is necessary. This is how we do things.”
The Lord stops Abraham and immediately reveals to him a ram in the bushes to take the place of the sacrifice. It was in this moment God confronted the world’s system of sacrificing its sons to appease the justice of the gods, by offering a sacrifice of His own to change the world.
There are scores of people of faith who look at this story in astonishment of Abrahams obedience to God, even in the face of a seeming contradiction, but what is God really up to?
“Abraham, you have learned war. You have spent your days in spilt blood at the hands of father and son. This is how the world works Abraham, but under this new thing I am doing, and this new world I (God) am creating, it shall be no more! No longer will you have to send your sons to die for the justice system of this world. I will provide a sacrifice, once and for all, so that your sons may get to the business I am about in this world: life.”
God would not replace the man with the knife, but the boy on the table.
What about the Hitlers of civilization? The Mao’s, Stalin’s and bloodthirsty dictators?! The better question would be, “What creates a Dictator?”
While the best ideas empire has offered up to the earth have more to do with death than life, if we were to embrace that one sacrifice, there would be no need for the sacrifice of our sons, by sacrificing other sons. God, with Abraham, changes the trajectory of the world as a foreshadow of whats to come by a God who becomes the sacrifice in the middle of the worlds greatest system of death and power…offering himself so we don’t have to offer ourselves to satisfy the bloodthirsty ground of ignorance and hatred.
Just as Abraham, we look to Jesus with the same starry eyed wonder at his obedience to His Father, and somehow we miss the point. The life Jesus is offering us is in complete subversion to the worlds system and ideas of human flourishing. He himself becomes the sacrifice on our behalf, but I often wonder if even the best of us would have stood to the left of Abraham, crying out, “Bury the knife deep within his chest!”
What are some ways to break the cycle of sacrifice in the world? The answer is simple: self-sacrifice. Dying to our own appetites and offense frees us from the cycle of violence (not just physical) that plague communities all over the world.
What god dies here? The god who needs to be appeased. The God revealed in Jesus Christ doesn’t need appeasement. He lays down his own life, and it can never be overstated that Jesus replaced Isaac on the table, not Abraham. God needs
appeasement nothing. We do not serve an idol, we serve our Father.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What is philosophy? New York: Columbia University Press.