Releasing Those We Love to God
We read the “Abraham almost kills Isaac” story in church today, and I have thoughts. Mostly on what this Genesis story says about releasing those we love to God.
Mother, her children, and God
When my mother was a young widow, she had her children baptized. She had returned to her native Mississippi where she’d given birth to her last child. Prior to the baptism, she spent hours on her knees asking for the strength to actually give her children over to God. That’s what baptism was: trusting God to take her most beloveds successfully through life. Pair this with her husband having just died in a violent train wreck. Would you trust a God to protect these children from random harm? One can only admire her insistence that she needed to do this thing.
Abraham wasn’t so different from my mom. Life—in the form of his jealous wife—had already stripped him of one son. Ishmael, sent away with Hagar. Can we imagine how tightly Abraham held onto the remaining son? Especially since God told him to listen to Sarah and send his son Ishmael away. How would a call to release Isaac to God sound to him?
When God calls us to release those we love
The figures in the Bible are exactly like us. What they hear from God has as much to do with them as with God. Abraham’s fear of releasing his son might have transformed the call for his son to “go with God”…into feeling like God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. So Abraham sets out to do it. Surely most of us have done the same. We actively hurt ourselves to prove our fearful view of the world is correct.
What was the “test” the Bible tells us was in process? Was it to see if Abraham would kill his son in obedience to God? That’s the traditional reading. Reinforced by the angel’s message that causes the last-minute stay of the knife: now I know you fear me.
But what if the message is in the last part of the message: “Because you have not withheld your son, I will make sure your children flourish.” What if this story is a complicated interplay between Abraham’s fear of releasing control over his son and his desire to obey God? A hard-fought struggle that ends in his breakthrough moment when he realizes this situation he has set up cannot be the correct course of action. And so he hears God rejoicing because he has come to the place he can trust God with his son.
How do we all release those we love to God
I don’t know. But we all, ultimately, must grapple with releasing those we love to God. Because we can’t and don’t control what happens to them. We can gently set them into the stream and work with the wisdom we receive from God to help their lives be the best it can be. Or we can fight, obstreperous, and demand that we get to decide. The latter won’t work out well. We are too ignorant and have too little control over that stream.