"Life, you see, is also a gift, and it is to be received and participated in with gratitude."

And God said to Abraham:  “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.”

This is clearly one of the most troubling stories in all of Scripture.  It raises unthinkable questions, particularly for anyone who has lost a child.
 But as horrific as the dilemma is that God placed Abraham in, it is important to heed the opening sentence of the reading:  “God TESTED Abraham.”

This episode is a final test that God uses to validate Abraham’s obedience, and like any test, it is the teacher who knows how the test will unfold, not the one being tested.

But let’s put that fact aside for the moment and examine what human reactions are possible to draw from this story.  I think that there are three possible reactions for a human being to adopt in an effort to rationalize what God appears to be doing here.

The first might be called the path of unquestioning resignation.  How many times have you, in the face of tragedy, been counseled not to question God, been told that we have no right to inquire into the ways God deals with humanity?

In this reaction, we are told to simply submit to the circumstances as acceptance of God’s omnipotence.

I have come to believe that the worst thing to say to someone who is suffering is “that it’s God’s  will.”

Such a statement reflects mind-numbing ignorance regarding the nature of God.

Now there may be wisdom of a sort down the road of unquestioning resignation.   The only problem with it is that it is not Christian wisdom, and in fact, it denies the very heart of our faith.  To put it bluntly, this sort of silent submission undermines the most precious dimension of faith, the belief that God is love.

What’s more, where in Scripture are we instructed not to question God?   Didn’t Job cry out to God for an explanation for his misfortune, didn’t Job attempt to interrogate God?  Didn’t Jesus Himself cry out to his Father for an explanation in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Would the verse, “Ask and it shall be given to you,” ever have appeared in Scripture if unquestioning acquiescence had been the Christian way to meet tragedy?    There is more faith in the act of questioning than in silent submission, for implicit in questioning God is the faith that there is an answer to be given and more important, there is one to give an answer.

The second possible reaction to rationalize what God appears to be doing with Abraham, and with inexplicable tragedy in our own lives  is intellectualizing the circumstances.  Implicit in this reaction is doubt about the very existence of a good and all powerful God.  Intellectualizing rejects faith and revelation and employs solely human reason to explain the circumstances.

This reaction was observed often in interviews with survivors of those lost in the World Trade Center.  The only problem with this course of action is that it institutes a hopelessness that also contradicts the premises of Christianity.

Those premises include the fact that a loving God died on the cross for our eternal salvation and that in sacrificing Himself, God proved that out of death comes life.

So at the end of the day, intellectualizing and unquestioning resignation are both reactions that fail to comply with Christian faith and which ultimately offer only hopelessness in the face of inexplicable misfortune.

The third option is the road of gratitude and it is basic to the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Perhaps the real essence of the story is not another test of Abraham’s obedience to God.  Perhaps what God is really trying to teach Abraham, and us, is that life is a gift—a pure, simple, sheer gift—and that we are to relate to it accordingly.

The promise that came originally to Abraham from God was literally out of the blue. Abraham had done absolutely nothing to earn the right to a land of his own or to have descendants more numerous than the stars.

The promise came as a pure gift from God

Abraham was called on to receive it, to participate in it joyfully, and to handle it with the open hands of gratitude.

And this, of course, is a picture of how mankind is meant to relate to existence itself.

Life, you see, is also a gift, and it is to be received and participated in with gratitude.

But here is the problem.

Mankind had lost this view of life as a gift from God and instead had convinced itself that life was something created by man and woman, and that it was to be possessed by them totally as if it belonged to them alone.   Sound familiar?

This view of life not only served to separate God from mankind, but also to erode the right relationship between God and man.

The whole point in the Abraham saga lies in God’s efforts to restore humanity to a right vision of life and a right relationship to it.

Only when life is seen as a gift and received with gratitude is it the joy it is meant to be.

This, I think, was the truth God was seeking to teach Abraham, and still seeks to teach us.

This was the truth God was trying to emphasize when He waited so long to send Isaac to Abraham and then asked for him back.

The hard lesson Abraham was to learn, and which we too are called to understand, is that all of life is a gift, not something to be possessed by us, but to be participated in with gratefulness.

A story from my youth may help to demonstrate the point I am trying to make.  When I was about 7 years old, one of my father’s friends went out of town for the summer and lent us his small boat.  We used that boat often and because of that boat I learned to love to fish for spot tailed bass.  In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that my love for being on the water was born in that boat.

When my father’s friend returned and took his boat back, I was very upset and I said so openly.

But my dad took me aside and said, “wait a minute, son.  That boat never belonged to us. The fact that we got to use it at all was a gift.  So instead of being angry that it was taken away, we should be grateful that we ever had it at all.”

Life too is a gift, one that we should participate in with joy and ultimately, with gratitude.





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