‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3:16
The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. I used to be disturbed by what I read in Genesis 22, which describes God’s testing of Abraham with regards Isaac. Offer your son, your one and only son, whom you love, as an offering to Me, God requested. What? I never quite saw the unadulterated absurdity of the gospel pulsing through this story. To me it seemed ludicrous, all right—but surely it wasn’t about love, much less His love? What I read offended me. Yet everything changes with perspective and context; it’s all about heartbeat— Abraham and God’s.
When Abraham was 75, God said He’d make Abraham a great nation, with descendants as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore. With his wife Sarah (then named Sarai) aged 65, God’s promise must have seemed like a joke. But it brought hope to the couple who were painfully childless. Don’t kid with us God. You know how much we want this. Can we believe You? In faith they waited. But a decade passed and God’s promise had not come into fruition. Impatient (and how can we not empathise?), they defied His will, taking things into their hands. Sarah offered her servant Hagar to Abraham as a second wife so an heir may be borne. Such is the wisdom of men, which told Abraham that his expiry date was coming. Time is running out. You need a Plan B.
In spite of Abraham’s disobedience, God remained faithful. Sarah bore Isaac when she was 90, when Abraham was at the ripe old age of 100. It took 25 agonizing years and one big mistake, but Abraham received. This is grace. On men’s terms, the mistake would have voided the offer. How deeply Abraham must have grown with God; how much Abraham must have treasured Isaac!
It is with this context that God asked Abraham for his son.
This is not a story about ritual sacrifice; this is a story about trust. This is not God’s deprivation; this is His revelation. If God were omniscient, why would He need to test Abraham at all? He knew how Abraham would have reacted. It follows that this is for Abraham’s sake, not God’s. I don’t think Abraham knew his own heart until God revealed it to him. But why with such drama? Words are deceptive; the devil uses them against us, tries to cast them into doubt. When we say we’ve surrendered our issues to God, how do we know it’s not just words on our part but that we really mean it? We need the gesture of sacrifice to prove it. Consider God simply telling Abraham he is worthy with God showing him that he is.
Before I accepted Christ, I had gathered –mostly from popular Zen thinking— that the source of all suffering was desire. Having had my share of disappointments, I decided emptying myself of desire was better than bearing further hope. You see, risk-averse realists are really just scarred dreamers. But clearly this won’t do; to God, no hope is worse than misplaced hope. For He made all things to be good, to say no to desire is to say no to creation; kill hope and you would have killed life itself. It is foolish –and not to mention, practically impossible— to take it task. It is spiritual suicide. When Jesus spoke of “death to self”, He meant death to pride, not death to desire. We are to trust Him with our desires, to trust that He who knitted us while we were in our mother’s womb knows truly what would give us everlasting joy. The perfecter of our faith would not want us to settle for anything less. Far too often, I think I have been given a glimpse of God’s promise for my life, and I cling on to it so fervently that I have cast my eyes away from Jesus. And then the funny thing happens, which is the promise seems to fall apart and elude my grasp. And then I repent, remembering God is whom I should fix my eyes on. I make the hard prayer of asking God to discern if the promise is truly from Him (could it not be from the devil, or my own deceitful heart?), only to find the promise back like a dangling carrot. I chase again. It goes again. I surrender and pray again. It comes back. I must confess, this goes on so many times that it’s frankly embarrassing— by the twelfth cycle I tell God: forget it, I’m tired. That’s the truth of my heartbeat. It’s too painful to revisit this over and over again, Lord. To this God reminds me of Abraham. Perhaps, He says, I do want to give you these things. But like Abraham, you first need to be worthy. With your current heart, you’ll only mess everything I give which is good. 25 more years? Ugh. God is certainly more patient than I am. Yes. His point of reference is eternity.
God gives. That’s how He loves. To Abraham He demanded not his son, but revealed the true condition of his heart before making good on His promise. You are ready, God smiled at Abraham. Do you not see that you have finally learnt to trust Me? Go, I will provide the lamb. Unbind Isaac. He will be the father of Jacob, whom I will one day call Israel. Amazing as it were, the story doesn’t end here. For none of us knew the extent of God’s love until it was His turn to give an offering. Sounds familiar? The parallels to Abraham stop here. When Man sacrifices his sin offering, it’s for his own sins. But when God sacrifices His Son, it’s still for Man’s sin. For us, He did not withhold His Son. Isaac was substituted with an unblemished lamb; Jesus was the unblemished lamb.
And though Jesus died, He rose again. Even when God takes something away, it’s for the sake of giving something even better. The old must go before the new can come. Yet I never understood what it meant with regards my hopes and dreams. Because, you know, I’m still a cynic and all. It’s okay if I don’t have them in this lifetime. I have eternity, I guess. Wow. I have learnt to ‘settle’ for heaven. Reunion with God is my baseline, my safety net. Salvation may be free, but it definitely wasn’t cheap; it cost us Christ. I don’t think I’m the only one guilty of ‘settling’. For many of us heaven seems so abstract; it seems so gaudy and far from reality that we can’t quite make sense of it. Sometimes I wonder if I am embarrassed to make it my chief desire. To this I can only ask to pray to the Lord to give me a glimpse of heaven, to pique our thirst for the streams of Zion.
What I do know is this— Job suffered hell on earth even though he was a righteous man; but for all the sufferings Job endured and lamented, everything changed once he heard audibly God’s reply. All the insufferable losses, but the presence of God was more than enough. And Job didn’t ask for ‘compensation’ or blessing; by then he was content to “repent in dust and ashes”. Although God then blessed Job more than his earlier life, the key is this— Job never dwelt on these things; he simply loved and trusted his Lord.
You know what floors me most? It’s realising that at this very moment, God knows exactly what I value more the Him— the very thing that I love more than Him. I may cry out my praise and worship, but He is not deceived. But God’s foolishness is greater than my sins. Still Jesus chose to die for me. Still He gives me everything I need. Still He loves me so.