Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns.He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
A Life of Contradiction
Today’s passage is very difficult to interpret and to understand. Does this story even make sense? Does God make sense? Does Abraham make sense? How could a loving God ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son even if it was just a test? And how could Abraham actually try and almost kill his son? It is a bizarre story. There is an Old Testament scholar named Walter Brueggemann and this is his commentary on this passage: “Take care not to explain the story. It will not be explained.” I’m glad that he said that. If you try to explain that of which cannot be explained, you’re destroying the power of the story. What cannot be explained gives power to this story. There is no moral explanation for this story. There is no spiritual justification. This story is simply unexplainable. Now, after trying so hard to find an explanation from this passage, a thought came to me, is life explainable? Does life make sense? Do human beings make sense? Life is full of contradiction, and we are full of contradictions.
I believe the epitome of contradiction that we know of is about the cross. The son of God was killed by God’s own people on Earth. That is the epitome of contradiction. Surprisingly, that contradiction is at the core of our faith. The cross is at the core of our faith, and that contradiction is at the core of our faith. At the core of our faith, we accept that contradiction. No wonder St. Paul said, the cross is foolish to those who don’t believe.
Our faith is a dangerous faith. It is dangerous because you have to accept the contradiction. We can never believe comfortably. That’s not the nature of faith. We can never believe comfortably. No one can believe because everything has to make sense. At the core of our faith, there is contradiction. What Abraham did was totally unacceptable. It was also unacceptable to God, so God stopped him from doing what he was going to do. Abraham was very decisive and very fast. The angel of God had to move very quickly and called unto him twice, “Abraham, Abraham.” I’m glad that God decided to intervene.
This reminded me of another story, the story of Jesus Christ on the cross. Isaac was silent, but on the other hand Jesus Christ cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And yet God, who intervened in Isaac’s situation and saved him, God did not intervene when his own son faced a crisis. God was silent. For Isaac, God intervened, but before his own son, God did not intervene. Jesus’ story and Isaac’s story are very similar, yet very different. One story ended up with Isaac being saved and the other story ended up with Jesus being killed on the cross. Two very different results, but both stories are similar. These two stories expose life’s total contradiction. It exposes very clearly life’s total contradiction, and these stories also clearly show God’s provision, even in life’s devastating contradiction. God provided a ram for Abraham and God provided the resurrection for Jesus. Even in the situation of total contradiction and hopelessness, God provided the way out.
We don’t know the way out. We human beings don’t know the way out. We cannot even imagine what that can be, but we do believe that our God is a God who provides the way out. Even when every door seems to be closed, God still somehow provides the answer that we ourselves cannot even imagine. You don’t have the answer. You don’t have the key to unlock the mystery of life. Only God knows the answer, and only God provides the key. Only God has the key. When nothing makes sense, when God doesn’t make sense, does God work in us? Both stories answer with an emphasis on “yes.” Even when everything does not make sense. God still works.
Here I Am, O Lord
Another person who experienced the contradiction of life was Job. He was a righteous man, but he lost everything. He lost his children by the storm. He lost all of his possessions. He lost his health. Life didn’t make sense to Job. “I’ve been righteous all my life. Why are all these things happening to me?” Life didn’t make sense to Job. His friends tried to make sense of what happened to Job through their own worldview, with their own logic, they had to make Job the worst person in order to maintain their well defined world, but Job could only see the contradiction. He could not see any logic behind what his friends said. The only thing that he saw was total contradiction. To Job, life didn’t make any sense. In the end, God brought Job out and showed him the whole universe he created and Job stood before God with a simple heart and said, “Hineni.” That is a Hebrew word, “Hineni,” which means “here I am.” “Here I am.” This word “Hineni” is a very interesting word. Even though life didn’t make sense at all to Job, by saying “Hineni,” he simply left everything in God’s hands and waited for God’s answer.
Abraham used the same expression three times, “Hineni.” He didn’t know exactly how God would deliver him out of this dilemma, but he left everything in God’s hands without trying to come up with his own easy solution. We are often trying so hard to make sense of what does not make sense. Some people make up crazy gods, with a small “g”, and some people come up with strange conceptual constructs for their lives about life, and they just force those answers upon themselves. Some people simply reject the idea of God saying that it doesn’t make sense.
Our heroes; Abraham, Job, and Jesus simply stood before God with the attitude of “Hineni,” “Here I am.” When life doesn’t make sense, when life’s tragedies hits you, when life’s contradiction overwhelms you, don’t try to come up with your solution: let us never lose our hope. Someday, you may experience the total contradiction of life. Don’t come up with easy answers, and don’t ever lose your hope. Let us see how God unlocks the mystery of life. Let us experience how God unlocks the mystery of life. Faith is not to believe when everything is believable. Faith is not to believe when everything is hopeful and when everything is understandable. The real challenge of our faith is when you cannot see, when you cannot hope anything, when you cannot understand. That’s the real challenge of faith.
Never Lose Hope
I shared that with the Korean Speaking Ministry members and a lot of them were crying because they have experience their own contradictions in life. They have experienced their own dilemma. They have experienced rock bottom. Faith is not to believe in what you can see. This is what St. Paul said about Abraham’s faith: “hoping against hope, Abraham believed”.
Viktor E. Frankl experienced total contradiction of life in the concentration camp in Auschwitz, and this is what he said in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”: “We have come to know man, as he really is, after all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz. However, he’s also that being who enter those gas chambers upright with the Lord’s prayer or the Shema Israel on his lips.” Hoping against hope, that’s what he believed, hoping against hope, that’s what we also believe. Even when your life hits the rock bottom, if you have faith, you’ll survive. That faith will create hope and that hope will give you the strength to fight life’s cruelty. Life is cruel. When we hear the news around us, life does not make sense many times, and sometimes even God does not make sense but hoping against hope is still belief.
May God strengthen your faith and live your life with “Hineni,” “here I am.” I don’t understand God. I don’t understand what is going on in my life. When I look at myself, I don’t understand. “Hineni”/“here I am” and God will unlock the mystery of your life. How often we recognize how feeble our faith is. When everything is believable and everything is hopeful, we have strong faith, but when tragedy hits us and dilemma hits us, we soon realized that we don’t have as much faith within our hearts. Here I am, Lord.