Once upon a time, there was a man who had been promised by God that his children would outnumber the sands of the sea and the stars in the sky. But he and his wife despaired as time and time again, his wife was unable to bear a child. They prayed and waited patiently, but still there was no hope. Eventually, his wife even gave her husband her handmaid as a concubine and surrogate, to perform what her body would not do.
Imagine the depths of her joy and self-recrimination when that handmaid succeeded in bearing a son almost immediately.
Imagine her pain when, long after once-beautiful Sarah was too old to have any more children, a perfect stranger wandered up to their home and told her husband she would bear a son.
Imagine her joy and consternation when it turned out he was right.
Her son, Isaac, was a miracle child. Not only was he born to a mother who had long since given up all hope of having a child, he was the fulfillment of prophecy. Through him, all the promises of the Lord were finally possible. He proved that God's promises would never be forgotten.
What agony could have ripped through this father's heart? He, Abraham, who had nearly been sacrificed by his own father on the altar of a pagan God. He, who had fled that country and dedicated his entire life to serving the true God, the God of Adam and Eve, of Seth, Noah, Methuselah and Melchizedek. The God with the power to make an old and barren woman conceive. And now that God was asking something that was anathema to everything Abraham had formed his life around.
He must have spent a long, sleepless night. How his tears must have fallen as he cut the wood for his own son's funeral pyre. He must have been exhausted and despondent as he asked his son, now a young man, to accompany him on the days-long journey to a place that must have represented the death of all his hopes, of all the promises of God.
Did his son help build the altar upon which he would be sacrificed? What did he feel that first moment when he knew that he was to be the sacrifice, after all his father had taught him? Did he think of the responsibility of his father's covenant to be a "Father of Nations?" Did he wonder if his father had gone mad? Did he ever doubt his father's love?
I think I might understand something of what was going through both of their minds. I was once promised a husband who would provide the means of life for me. I was promised many souls for my home. Laid on me were strict charges to keep my home nice, to become less selfish. I was told that my passing would be sweet because of my humility. I was told to prepare for certain callings, and specific callings my husband would hold.
And then, one day, I was told to divorce my husband. To become a statistic, the woman who couldn't make it work, who couldn't keep her family together under the buffetings of Satan. I was told to sacrifice something that, for me, had become a symbol of my hopes.
For Abraham and Isaac, of whom we have no idea of their thoughts and feelings, there was a ram in the thicket and an angel to stop Abraham. Did he weep with relief? Did Isaac? With what sort of wild thanksgiving did they offer this sacrifice, more than the tame gratitude they had previously felt?
As for me, I am still climbing Mount Moriah. In many ways, I am still building my altar. I don't see an end. There is, as yet, no ram in the thicket. Perhaps there won't be one, for me. Not all who try to serve God are blessed in a way they might have come to expect. And I am a very poor servant of God.
Sometimes I rail against my life and the consequences of my choices, against knowing I could have chosen no differently. I do not have much hope of my life making a miraculous turnaround. Despite my efforts I don't know if I could yet accept it even if it were offered. There is no doubt in my mind that I don't "deserve" the things I have been promised. Yet, even if I never see fulfillment of the promises of God, I will keep trying to press forward with all I am commanded to do. Out of stupidity? Blind obedience?
Not quite. I do not sacrifice all I am and have because I was taught to. I was taught to question. Nor was it because I know that I will be rewarded. Like the three Israelites, I do know that God has the power of deliverance. He could change my life in a day, if He willed. But I also know He might not. No, the reason I lay myself at His feet is because even if God does not spare me or my children in the way I hope, I know Him. I have seen a small glimpse of who He is. That is what makes the difference between the blind obedience of the stereotypical unthinking follower, and one with the capacity to step into the unknown with eyes open. I believe in a God of miracles and of love. I believe in His power over death, of both the body and the heart.
He has worked enough in my life for me to recognize Him and His power. I have felt His love, tasted the bread of life and drunk deeply from the well of living waters He has offered. I could make no other choice, because I choose Him and all He asks. I sacrifice all and still consider myself blessed only to know His love. All other blessings are merely at His will.
There may be no ram in the thicket for me. But there is a God in Heaven who lives. There is a Father who, inexplicably, loves me beyond all mortal comprehension. I will trust in that, even as I figuratively build the altar I expect to die upon.
I find joy in it.