My Love/Hate Relationship with Genesis 22

I’ve been reading Genesis slowly, because I have a love/hate relationship with chapter 22, and I am not really wanting to read it right now.

Chapter 22 pisses me off.

(Yes, I did use a naughty word. But, a. it’s in the bible, so there, and b. it’s true. I’d rather say what I really mean then go all Love-Comes-Softly-Christian-fiction-y on you and just type “it bothers me a lot.” If you’re looking for watered-down syrupy-sweet blogs, you should probably move on to the next one.)

Now all of you “God-is-good-all-the-time” types will forgive me, but I think God is decidedly bad here.  If we put this story in a modern day setting, we’d rate it NC-17, and never ever read it to our children. (I can’t believe we read it to them now.) Child advocasy groups would riot. This type of crazed violence is beyond the pale. Sort of like when extremist Muslins strap bombs to their children and send them into open air markets to blow-up stuff for Allah. Come on, Abe, give your all to the Lord.

Bible stories are not nice stories.

The ramifications of what God demands of Abraham (and Isaac, dear God, how could You do that to Isaac? And then there’s Sarah-whose grief is just ignored here as acceptable collateral damage) show us a lot about the character of God that we do not really want to admit, especially if we are prone to a literal interpretation of this chapter. Genesis 22 uncovers the Almighty God, the all-caps LORD, and we are too scared of Him to look Him in the eye.

God created man in His own image, and therefore humanity is a dim reflection of Him. He is selfish, demanding, kind, creative, prone to bursts of anger, moved by kindness, cruel, gentle, jealous and demanding. Because we understand that He is God, we tend to concentrate only on His nicer Veggie-Tale-approved qualities: that He is Love, Holy Holy Holy, Just, and True and Faithful, and that He made us special and He loves us very much. These things are true, however, they paint an incomplete picture of who God is.

God is not a small plastic vegetable.

God is perfect, and He is perfect in every way. Part of perfection is completion. You can not love without hate. You can not be merciful without understanding the cruelty of justice. God’s love and His mercy are bottomless eternities, but He is also capable of unimaginable cruelty, just ask Sarah, who had to stand by as her husband took her only son, bound him and forced him up the mountain. This is a Godly cruelty, a limitless and just selfishness that has every right to demand, “Give me your everything. I don’t care what it does to you. I demand your everything.”

We read the story through without ever even getting misty-eyed because we know about that ram in the thicket. And we smile and think, “That’s so beautiful,” but it’s not. It’s cruel, and we just set that aside because we want God to only be Mr. Nice Guy. We don’t want Him to be that violent unpredictable Old Testament God who drowned the entire planet save one family, or who hardened Pharoah’s heart, or pre-scripted (predestined?) the life of Judas to keep His prophetic record clean.

A God whose key descriptors are Love and Holy must be as strong and as eternal and as unbending and as cruel and as creative and as mad and as demanding and as unpredictable and as confusing and horrifying and all-encompassing as love and holiness are. Were He not, He would be powerless to move in the hearts of men, whose hearts, created in His image, are prone to being hard, even closed, yet are capable of astonishing unselfishness, love and beauty.   

God is Love and Holiness, completely concentrated, not diluted at all. His capacity for loving you and I exceeds even His capacity for cruelty. I know this because of the unimaginable love and cruelty in Genesis 22:8 “…God will provide Himself a Lamb…”

Dear God, I love Genesis 22.

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6 Responses to My Love/Hate Relationship with Genesis 22

  1. Debbie says:

    I love the honesty of this post. Whenever I raise questions about the difficult passages in the OT, I get the “God is Good, so therefore, xyz is good” pat reply. You’re the first I’ve heard say, No, there’s more. HE’s more: “A God whose key descriptors are Love and Holy must be as strong and as eternal and as unbending and as cruel and as creative and as mad and as demanding and as unpredictable and as confusing and horrifying and all-encompassing as love and holiness are.” Seeing God this way terrifies me, but it strikes me as more in line with who he really is, and again, more honest. Thanks, Rodalena. Your posts are always helpful to me, and often, timely, as was today’s.

  2. That is a very in-depth view of Genesis 22. You’ve hit on an aspect of the story that I’ve never considered.

  3. J.M. Machado says:

    Rodalena, I know that this is two years after you posted this, but I stumbled on your blog today while searching for something else. I decided to give it a read. While I enjoyed reading this, and I agree with you that the veggie tale focus and contemporary christian music mushiness fall short of the awe inspiring fullness of God, I disagree with some of your ideas. If I may I would like to present a few critiques and some further background about Genesis 22.

    First of I believe you fell into a trap we often do when talking about God. That is, since we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we can know about God by how we are. This is not a logical presumption. God is not in our image, but we are in his. Therefore we can not claim absolutely that God is x, because we are x.

    Secondly, the idea that love can not exist without hate, is also illogical. I would present an argument that hate is not even the counterpart of love, but that is a different philosophical debate. For our purposes lets assume that hate is the opposite of love, it is the degradation of love. The virtue of love can exist without hate. A virtue does not need a counterpart vice to exists. The degradation needs the virtue, but the virtue does not need the vice. I agree that an aspect of perfection is completeness, but the idea that love with hate is complete I disagree with. Love with any degradation of love can not be complete. Therefore if love were to be complete, there could be no hate there.

    Now to the story. One thing many people do not first realize about the story of Genesis 22, is that it is a prefiguring of Christ’s sacrifice. At the time of the sacrifice, Abraham is an aging man and Isaac is a youthful lad around the age of 13. If Isaac wanted to he most likely would have been able to escape Abraham. Therefore there is a strong case to be made that Isaac, was also freely allowing himself to be the sacrifice, just as Jesus would allow himself to be the sacrifice. This shows us an obedience to God that goes beyond our understanding of our finite life. It is an obedience to God who is working throughout time for all of eternity and is working in a much larger portrait than just our own short life.

    The other aspect of the story I would like to share with you is very telling, and often not thought about. Abraham was the first Patriarch that God reveled himself to and taught and prepared so that his descendants would be the chosen people and eventually Christ would be born in the line of David and salvation would enter the world. So while God was revealing his plan to Abraham, he was also revealing himself to Abraham. At the time of Abraham, child sacrifice was not uncommon in the many cultures around the area. God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, while it would have been received with great grief and sorrow, it would not have been so out of understanding and received with the same gut wrenching abhorrence that it is received with today. Abraham’s obedience to God, shows Abraham’s acceptance that God is Lord over all and that God can do as he may with his creation. Our culture today, would much rather make God’s out of ourselves. The story appears tragic, but in the end we learn something wonderful about God. God sends an angel to stop Abraham from child sacrifice. In a time and culture where child sacrifice was not unheard of, God is clearly showing that he is a God of life! Never again do we see God ask for a child sacrifice. The one time we see God ask for it, he stops it to show he does not want death, but life. Here at the beginning of salvation history and revelation God is revealing something to us and that is his desire for life! From the beginning God commissioned man to “Be fruitful and multiply.” In this difficult story, we see again God revealing his desire that we have life and have it abundantly as Christ proclaims when he comes.

    I hope this shed some more light on this story. Keep searching, deeper into God. You are absolutely right that God is so much more than we often give him credit for. Continue loving fiercely, and diving into the mystery of God.

    I prayed for your intentions, whatever they may be, after I read this.

    God Bless.

  4. pwlsax says:

    If god is cruel, we must be too in His name.

You look like you want to say something. Go right ahead.