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Good Question: Can God Be Trusted?

Faith, Obedience, Bible

August 27, 2019

By Jordan Burgen


Hi Jim,
We talked a couple of weeks ago after service about the interpretations of some Bible stories making God seem untrustworthy. An example we talked about was Abraham & Isaac & how God testing Abraham after blessing him seems cruel. How do I trust a God that messes with His people?? I shared about a different interpretation by a Rabbi in a book I'd read a few years ago but couldn't remember the details. I found the excerpt & here's the link to get your feedback on it.
To me it seems a little more relatable in that I feel like I misunderstand God and am relieved that He'll rescue me before I really mess it up if I'm following Him. I'm not a scholar, so what am I missing?
You had shared that the Abraham/Isaac story pointed to Jesus being sacrificed and I wanted to check in with you to see your thoughts of this interpretation of the events. Must say that for me this interpretation of the events paints a picture of a God that can be trusted. 
I said I'd keep inquiring into this world of trusting God. Thanks for aiding in guiding this journey.

Thank you for your question! I am not Jim, but due to his schedule, he has asked me to answer this for you. I will do my best to answer it fully!

First, I want to address the passage that you sent with its explanation. I do not agree with the translation it puts forth. Yes, the Hebrew words used mean both “burnt offering” and “elevate or ascend,” but I am confident that God meant in His command to Abraham to literally sacrifice his son Isaac. It was common practice is the region of Canaan those days to sacrifice the firstborn to certain gods. Abraham was probably very familiar with this practice, and it doesn’t seem that it eats at his conscience that much when he was commanded to do it. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t think that it was hard for him to do something like that, or else it wouldn’t have been much of a test. But it certainly wasn’t completely foreign to him. He obeys immediately and the Bible does not talk of any protest on his part (read into that what you will, but we cannot say for certain whether Abraham was upset about the command or not).  Add that to the fact that the angel of the Lord says, after stopping Abraham, “…for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” If it had truly been a misunderstanding, God would have responded with “You have misunderstood my command,” not “I see that you are willing to sacrifice your son to me…because of this I will provide a substitute and bless you (paraphrase).”  

Second, I want to talk about the significance of the request and its premature termination. As I said before, child and human sacrifice were common in that part of the world at this time in history. This could be seen as God putting an end to that for His people. Never again does God command that any of His followers sacrifice their sons. It could be seen as a way of showing that His way was going to be different than the ways of the world. To demonstrate this, He actually asks for it with full intention of not letting it be completed. When God provided the ram and stopped Abraham, it could be God saying “No, this is not how I want things to be done. From here on out, this practice is abolished and against my will. I am different and greater than all the other “gods” and their ways are not my ways. I am holy and demand a different and better way.” Now, that is all just from me, as it is not explicitly stated in the Bible, but the fact that human sacrifice is never demanded after this I think speaks to that. It is actually condemned in other parts of the Bible as evil and forbidden by God. God does command “consecration” of the firstborn, particularly after the exodus from Egypt, but this was not sacrifice, but a devoting of the firstborn to the work of the Lord.

Third, and absolutely most important, God was symbolizing and foretelling the way in which He planned to save all of humanity from His holy wrath. God is holy and perfect and demands perfection in order to be connected with Him for all eternity, both now and after this life. However, we are sinful and fallen and cannot be with Him in our current state. The consequence of this is eternal separation from God. He cannot turn a blind eye to sin and leave it unpunished, but He also loves us so much that He was willing to find a way that didn’t condone the sin, but saved the sinner. The only way for this to happen was a perfect sacrifice of His providing, as we cannot provide it ourselves. This is beautifully shown in the story of Abraham and Isaac. Since we are not perfect, God demands that we pay for our sins, particularly through death and eternal separation from Him. That is the wage of sin. But in His holy love, He provided a substitute for Abraham to use so that Isaac could be spared. In the same way, He has provided a substitute for us in Jesus Christ. He didn’t have to (just as He didn’t have to stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac) as His condemnation of us was totally justified, but He wanted to.

So, to wrap everything up, this story serves multiple purposes. First, to test Abraham’s faith, as he was the one that God would bring forth the nation of Israel and the salvation of the world (Jesus). 2nd, he wanted to declare Himself holy and separate from all other gods. Third, and most importantly, He wanted to paint a picture for us of His holy love and the concept of substitution for the payment of sins, and that this grace is applied to us through faith. God was not just messing with Abraham. He had a very righteous goal in mind, even if Abraham didn’t understand it at the time. Everything God does has a purpose that is consistent with his perfect character, righteousness, and love; it may just take some time and/or questioning after the fact for us to completely understand. Thank you for reaching out in regard to your questions. I hope that these answers shed some light on it in a new way for you. Please, let me know if you have any more questions and I will do my best to answer them!

 Jordan Burgen

The "Good Questions" blog is a place where some of the really good questions people email into the church can be shared with everyone, along with Flatirons' response. To ask a question (about anything, really), please fill out a contact form here.



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