Oct. 27th, 2017 | Rev. Don Underwood
It is a terrifying story, its mystery and power simply beyond the capacity of the human mind or imagination. Almost every person who dares to read the 22nd chapter of Genesis will be repelled by both of the primary actors in this story. What kind of God would demand the only son of a loving father? What kind of father could even consider acquiescence? The journey Abraham and Isaac made to a place called Moriah defies comprehension: the boy carrying the wood for his own cremation; the father with newly sharpened knife hanging from his belt, the fire in one hand, the boy’s hand in the other. This scene sets the stage for what is surely the most dramatic and harrowing drama in all of literature. As Abraham raises his knife, we close our eyes in horror and denial.
And yet, when one thinks of it as a story about suffering, it is a journey we all make sooner or later. The question isn’t whether we will suffer, but rather, when we suffer, will we be able to trust God?
When the call comes in the middle of the night that your son is in ICU fighting for his life after the motorcycle accident (or because of the bite of a diseased mosquito or because of the random gunshot fired into a crowd), the journey to Moriah has begun. When your daughter or mother or wife receives the devastating diagnosis, or your niece has gone missing, you know that the worn trail to Moriah has nothing to do with gender or age. When the tornado turns your child’s school into a rubble of bricks and mortar, you understand that the journey to Moriah can be the torturous waiting for some word of life or death. There are a thousand ways in which we are tested by the inevitable suffering of this world. Even when the end of life approaches slowly and somewhat graciously, those final steps to Moriah come painfully.
I think it was T. S. Elliott who said all our grief and sorrow stems from something that ended before we were ready. True enough. But Franciscan friar Richard Rohr provides the most succinct definition of suffering: it is any time that we are not in control. And sooner or later we are all reminded in existentially powerful ways of that reality. We are not in control when the hospital calls. We are not in control when the hurricane hits, or when the shooter begins his deranged attack, or when the tumor begins to metastasize. We are no longer in control when we send our child off to college, or when we begin to notice the failing mental faculties of the one with whom we have lived half a century.
The truth about Abraham and Isaac is that no human love, no matter how deep or profound, can protect us from suffering. Sooner or later we confront the terrifying reality that our loved ones belong not to us, but to God. As people of faith we try our best to accept this early on, but mostly we fail at the task. We resist. We resist with heart, mind, and soul this painful truth until that moment arrives when we have no other choice and, like Abraham, we give them to God. Sometimes, as with Isaac, God gives them back for a time. But we will have learned, in our suffering, that life is a gift. That we have no claim on life, ours or others. In those moments we catch a fleeting glimpse of Abraham’s heroic faith, his total surrender to a God with whom he is willing to trust all that he is and all that he has.
Join us Sunday for a special evening with Ben Simpson, author of Committed to Christ: 40 Devotions for a Generous Life. Ben will be here to talk about how to live a life of fulfillment and generosity, a great segue into the season of Thanksgiving. I hope to see you there!