GOD ABHORS anyone who hurts or takes advantage of children. In the Old Testament, He voices his hatred of pagan child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21, Isaiah 57:5, and Ezekiel 16:20-21). And in the New Testament, Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” To state it unambigiously and emphatically—God loves children and hates those who hurt them.
Now with this understanding clearly in mind, it’s puzzling then why God would command Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14). This test seems completely contrary to the character of a loving, faithful, and compassionate God.
When I became a new father, I can recall the difficulty I had with this passage. Imagining myself in Abraham’s shoes was heart-wrenching. And after some honest soul-searching, I concluded that my response to this test would probably be confusion and anger at God. But Abraham trusted in God. And his trust went way beyond what he could see or even understand of the situation around him.
In Hebrews 11:17-19, the Bible credits Abraham with being a tremendous man of faith. And this faith was based on a firm belief that God would raise Isaac back from the dead if he was sacrificed. But there was, I believe, a much deeper faith occurring here that is more fundamental (and foundational). Abraham’s bold and radical faith was also this: he believed that God was always good. Despite the extremely unusual and morally difficult nature of this test, he still fundamentally believed that God was good!
So many times when God allows bad things to happen to us, we throw questions at God: Why God? Do you love me? How could you allow this to happen to me? In other words, we question God’s goodness and sovereignty. How could a good and all-powerful God allow this to happen? But Abraham did not question God’s goodness. There was an underlying belief that, no matter how bad the situation looked on the outside, God would always remain faithful. Even after God provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac (which foretold of Christ’s substitution for us), the disturbing moral questions surrounding this test were left unanswered in Abraham’s life. Indeed, Abraham likely went through the remainder of his life never understanding the ultimate meaning or purpose of this difficult test. But he still trusted in God’s providence and provision.
So what is the purpose of this test. Many have offered some good and biblical answers. Here is one possibility…
When Abraham finally died and met God face-to-face, I can imagine that one of his first questions to God might have been, “Lord, I know that you are good, but why did you ask me to sacrifice my son?” And I can imagine God responding something like this: “Abraham, the anguish and pain that you felt for Isaac is like the pain that I felt when Jesus cried out to me in Gethsemani. The only difference is that, in the end, my Son willing endured the cross for the sins of the world. Abraham, I used your suffering to show the world our suffering. I used your pain to show the world our pain. Allowing my only and beloved Son to take on the penalty for all the world’s treachery was not a cheap gift. I wanted the whole world to know of our tremendous love and sacrifice. You, Abraham, were a magnifying glass to the world into the heart of the Trinity! Well done good and faithful servant.”
Is this the reason for Abraham’s test? I don’t know…But I do know this much: God was asking me similar questions he asked of Abraham—Will you trust me? Even when this life doesn’t make sense and the world is fill with suffering and injustice, will you trust that I love you and that I am your good Father? Will you place all your faith and hope in me?”
We have mentioned that worship is much more than just Sunday singing. There is a type of worship that feels altogether miserable but may be ultimately more honoring to God than a thousand years of worship during plenty and abundance. What I am referring to is trusting God through our suffering. In the face of great trials, we simply put our faith in Him and say like Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemani, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.”