God has never asked anyone else to make the kind of sacrifice he asked of Abraham. So why should I?
An elder at my church years ago prayed the same prayer every time he presided at the Lord’s Table. “Dear God, I can’t imagine giving up my daughter, watching her suffer and die, all for the benefit of someone else. Thank you for giving us your Son.”
A longtime Christian leader spoke with me about Abraham’s response when God told him to sacrifice Isaac. “If God asked me to give up my son,” he said quietly, “I believe I would need respectfully to decline.”
And as I think about my son, and now his 1-year-old son, I must confess similar feelings. Take a butcher’s cleaver to the throat of this child who is my delight? Oh, God, please don’t ever ask me to do that!
And, of course, we don’t expect he will. Generations of faithful God followers since Abraham have never heard a call to such sacrifice. Uncounted millions have obeyed God with all of their heart without needing to confront such a wrenching command.
But that doesn’t mean life was easy for them. Examine the stories of other Bible heroes, and time and again you’ll see them demonstrating remarkable faith.
Joseph, for example, stayed pure even though it meant losing his position and languishing in prison.
Daniel kept praying even though he knew to do so would lead to the lions’ den.
The prophets proclaimed God’s warnings even though their people would not listen and did not obey.
Noah obeyed God by building the ark even though he’d never seen a flood and his neighbors said he was crazy.
Job worshipped God even though his children were killed, his wealth was taken, his body was riddled with pain, his wife suggested he curse God, and his friends told him his suffering was his own fault.
Mary submitted to God’s will even though it promised something unknown and unimaginable.
Peter kept preaching even though the authorities said stop.
Ananias visited Saul even though Saul had made a mission of killing Christians.
Each of these trusted God by obeying him even though their own comfort, sometimes their very life, was at stake. Each of them reflected the character of Christ who submitted to Calvary even though his agonized prayer was to avoid it.
But none of these was called to sacrifice their own child to please God. None of these, after waiting decades to receive God’s promise, was told to destroy that gift and believe the promise would somehow be fulfilled even later in another way.
No one else is like Abraham, the one who received God’s great covenant. Abraham’s story is unique. We should not expect that God would ask us what he asked of Abraham.
But, having said that, still we are left with all those other remarkable examples of faithful obedience recorded in God’s Word. And when we close our Bibles and stand to see our own image staring back at us from a mirror, we ask, What have I done, what have I given, where have I gone simply to obey God even though it would have been easier to avoid his command?
“But God has never spoken to me,” we may respond. “If he had come in a vision or sent an angel or appeared in a dream, of course I would have done whatever he asked.”
Maybe. But let’s remember Moses who argued with God at that miraculously burning bush. Let’s not forget the old man Zechariah who questioned God’s plan even after a lifetime of serving him. And then there’s Jonah. When God told him to preach to the Ninevites, he ran the other way.
We understand. Bound by pride, stymied by fear, or motivated by comfort, we too might resist the very voice of God.
He Has Spoken
And, in fact, we have. After all, God has spoken to us. Probably not with an audible voice, but he has marvelously made sure we know his will by providing and protecting his written Word. When we read it, we see God’s ways, we hear his command. And every page pushes us to demonstrate new levels of faith and faithfulness—in the daily doings of our lives long before we come to dramatic turning points like those mentioned above. For example . . .
• “Do everything without grumbling or arguing,” the Scripture says (Philippians 2:14). Everything? Even when my spouse is unreasonable or my boss is too demanding or none of the other church volunteers shows up on time?
• “Hate what is evil,” the Scripture commands (Romans 12:9). But the headline isn’t enough. I liked that celebrity, and now they say he’s a pervert. I want to know more. Who can blame me for clicking on the link?
• Give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7) “in keeping with your income” (1 Corinthians 16:2). But I worked hard for this promotion and we’re depending on this raise to put our kid through college. Does the church really need this money as much as I do?
• “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Ah, but you don’t know the guy who lives next to me! His music’s too loud, his kids are pests, and he won’t keep his dogs out of my yard. What I’d “love” is for him to move!
• “Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16). OK, I can admit most of my sins, but I have a few secrets no one will ever know! My life would be ruined if people found out.
• “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34). But you haven’t heard about my illness. You haven’t seen how little I have in the bank. If you had my problems, you’d worry too!
You get the point. We could fill a book with God’s commands that we avoid or ignore or explain away. One scholar compiled a list of 1,050 New Testament commands, and every one suggests new ways for faith to grow.
Toward the end of the New Testament, the writer of 1 John surprises us with his assessment of these requirements. “This is love for God,” he writes, “to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:3, 4).
There we find a hint at how Abraham could bind Isaac on the altar. Evidently he believed God would finish the story in a way unlike anything the world understands (Hebrews 11:19). And that is exactly what happened.
Here we get a glimpse of how we can trust God with our tomorrows. It won’t happen through earthly reason or experience. When we’re faced with a devastating diagnosis, an overwhelming debt, an incurable conflict, or any other scene that seems hopeless, we look beyond the world for our solution. When we’re confronted with a command that seems impossible to obey, we don’t trust ourselves to see a positive outcome. Instead, we discover peace and purpose—and victory—by trusting that God’s way will be best.
We take faithful steps of obedience. And, like Abraham, we overcome the world.
Mark Taylor served as editor of The Lookout from 1976-1990. He retired as editor of Christian Standard and publisher with Christian Standard Media in 2017.