April 26, 2016

Traditions, convictions, and truth

Today’s devotional reading pushes me to ask: what convictions or traditions do I hold that could interfere with my relationship with God? Chambers uses Abraham as an example of a person who obeyed God even when it seemed God was going against His own commands.

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 of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

Pagans sacrificed their children, but God forbid such a thing. Yet God asked Abraham to do what He Himself said was evil. If Abraham held to his own convictions, he would have said this was the devil and God was not in this at all.

But Abraham knew God. He was not listening to Satan or following pagan practices. By doing in faith what God asked, Abraham came into a deeper knowledge of God. Of this, Chambers says, “Character determines how a man interprets God’s will. Abraham interpreted God’s command to mean that he had to kill his son, and he could only leave his tradition behind by the pain of a tremendous ordeal. God could purify his faith in no other way. If we obey what God says according to our sincere belief, God will break us from those traditions that misrepresent Him.”

At this point, I’m not getting it. What was Abraham’s ‘tradition’ that misrepresented God? Chambers says that this man was prepared to obey God, no matter what. That was a good thing. Was his ‘tradition’ the idea that God would never ask him to give up something he dearly loved? Did he think that God was harsh and demanding and that he must do what he was told so as to please Him, no matter what it was?

Isaac, the son to be sacrificed, asked his father about the sacrificial lamb. Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8) so did he have an idea that this was a test and that he would not need to kill his son?

Just as the knife was about to fall, God said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:12)

The New Testament says this was an act of faith. Abraham knew God’s promises about the world being blessed through his seed, and he believed those promises would be fulfilled. He could obey this command because he trusted the word of God.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

Perhaps Chambers is reading into the actions of Abraham those thoughts that would be common to most of us in such a situation. If God asked me to dishonor my parents, or murder someone, or divorce my husband and take up with another man, I would suspect that this was not God at all, but Satan’s false and evil ideas making an appeal to my sinful flesh. If it were actually God asking these things, it would challenge all my convictions about Him.

The Bible gives no indication that Abraham had this sort of wrestling match. It says that he figured God would work this out to be okay. He could raise Isaac from the dead, a faith that echoes what God would do with His own Son when He put Jesus to death on the cross.

Again, I ask myself about my own convictions, and conclude these must be convictions that hold me to faith in God, not convictions that I must drop. Abraham obeyed God because he knew that no matter the road he was asked to walk, God would get him to the promised destination. This ‘test’ was not about dropping a traditional belief or a misplaced conviction, but about hanging on to what he knew was true. The God who asked him to do this strange thing was the same God who made a covenant with him, and who never failed to keep His word.

Abraham knew his God. While he didn’t understand why God asked him to do this, he believed God was faithful to Himself. Even though the outcome was not obvious and seemed dire, his God would bring good out of it. Just as God would eventually bless the world through His Son, He would keep His promise to bless the world through Abraham’s son.

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