After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him (Genesis 22:1-3).
Abraham's faith is anguished. Here we see that faith is serious business. Abraham not only has to trust God that God will fulfill his promise to make of Abraham a great nation, even though the one through whom the promise will be fulfilled (Isaac) will be killed. As I mentioned on several occasions Abraham and Sarah tried to take matters into their own hands and fulfill the promise themselves because they were too impatient to wait on God and perhaps didn't even believe God would keep his word at certain times in their lives. Now Abraham has to trust that God will keep his promise even without Isaac, and continue to have faith even in the midst of indescribable grief as he mourns the death of his son.
Just as Abraham is about to do what God commands, God speaks and tells him to relent, "But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.' And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place 'The LORD will provide'; as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided' (22:11-14).
There is a kind of pop theology in certain churches which believes that if we have faith and are faithful, things will always go well in life. So when things go wrong, these folks wonder if God is punishing them or they don't understand why God is allowing them to go through their anguish. We come to believe that the "normal" life is the "ideal" life. Perhaps we even come to believe that somehow we have a right to a life without risk, and life without disappointment. Perhaps that view is revealed in our societies' propensity toward frivolous lawsuits. Perhaps we feel if something unfortunate happens to us, someone else must always be to blame.
But nowhere does the Bible ever tell us that faith will always mean smooth sailing. In fact, the biblical writers warn us of the opposite. They remind us that happenings and events will come our way that will test our faith. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that in life there is a time for everything. We may not want to mourn, but at some point we inevitably will. We may not want to die, but that too will come our way. We place our trust in God, not so we will avoid the tough times, but so we can get through the tough times. And we have to learn to trust God when, like Abraham, the moments of life make no sense.
We may not understand, but we trust the God of the Universe who puts all things in cosmic order.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)