Earlier this week, I was talking to another mother that I know and our conversation very briefly landed on theology. I mentioned Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a part of this conversation and she asked me, “So, what do you think of that anyway? If God wanted me to sacrifice my son, I think I’d say ‘Hey, God – you’re kinda creeping out.'” I laughed, but it’s a fair question. Setting aside all the New Testament parallels, what do I think about that? My initial thought was that Abraham’s experiences with God had given way to complete trust. I still think that’s true, but I must admit, I can’t fathom sacrificing my daughter for anything.
And then I started thinking about other reasons God might have used this method to determine the depth of Abraham’s faithfulness. My hunch is that God uses our ideas about society and culture to get through to us or to help us understand certain things. Baptism, for example. Why, when the disciples started baptizing people who were newcomers to the faith did these people not say, “Huh?? You want to do what?” Numerous historical sources tell us that baptism was not originally a Christian practice and had, in fact, been around for a long time before Christ. Of course, it meant something new when Christians incorporated it. I know that some people will get prickly about this, but why should it be at all diminishing to think that God would use an existing practice to help people identify with and understand the step they were taking?
I also hear people attempt to discredit Christianity based on the fact that the story of Jesus closely parallels stories of pre-Christian religions. But again, it makes sense to me that God would help us to identify with Christ by using familiar elements.
You would have to research further to confirm, but I have heard that even circumcision was a custom prior to God’s instruction to Abraham.
So, back to Abraham and Isaac. I think it is safe to say that at the very least our forefathers had familiarity with polytheism. It is referenced throughout the Old Testament. Indeed God addresses it directly with the commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” -Exodus 20:3. (It is interesting to note that God does not say that there are no other gods.) If the culture and religions of the time dictated that the people appease their gods to avoid mayhem and disaster through methods such as sacrifice, God’s order to Abraham to sacrifice his son may not have seemed quite as unbelievable as it does in our current culture. In the end of course, we must remember that God did not actually require such a sacrifice.
Just a few thoughts…