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Trusting a Killer God?

• Greg Boyd

The Genesis passage of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, raises questions about trusting in God. In this sermon, Greg honestly probes some of those questions about the passage. He also provides some thoughts on how we can replicate Abraham’s faith.

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When we started this series on faith, we tackled a passage about God wrestling Jacob. This passage had a lot of questions surrounding it, and we took an honest look at it. As we finish up the series, we will again take another look at a troubling passage, and try to see what we can learn about faith.

In Genesis 22, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Isaac had been promised, by God, to Abraham. Isaac also represented all of God’s promises to Abraham, and so this story begins with a lot of tension and questions. One scholar has even called it the most horrendous tale in the bible. We will ask a few questions of the text in trying to understand the text.

The first question that we encounter is “how could God ask this?” It seems that God is asking Abraham to commit murder, and if God is the one asking Abraham to commit murder, then God is at least partly responsible for that murder. But God is a good God, and surely he couldn’t ask of such a thing? God can’t lie, cheat, steal, or murder, so why does it seem like God is asking for this?

We must be careful when we read this text, and really take a look at the context of the situation. Abraham was living in ancient times, where there were “gods” that wanted the sacrifice of firstborns. Abraham may not have been too surprised at such a request—maybe. He had been walking with God for a few decades now, and had grown to know him. Yet, we see God requesting the sacrifice of Isaac. This type of sacrifice seems horrendous to us and out of place for God’s character, but may have been something Abraham could see any “god” asking of a human.

Our second question that is raised is “how do we know that Abraham knew it was God that told him to do this?” The text really never answers this for us. Knowing what we know of God in Jesus Christ, we can safely and accurately know that God would not ask anyone to sacrifice their child or kill another human. Any voice that might tell you to kill someone is not God and should be questioned and/or dismissed.

Abraham was between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he believed and trusted what God told him to do. On the other, he knew that God was a good god and that this sacrifice didn’t make much sense to him. One thing we learn from the text is this–we see that Abraham carried forward trusting God’s character despite God’s word. God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, but Abraham believed that “we will come back” to the servants and “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” He trusted that God was not like the other “gods” of the ancient times, even if God was requesting something that other ancient “gods” would have requested.

We are caught in the same place when reading things like this text. We know the character of God through Jesus. We know that God is non-violent, loving, and that God works good in every situation for us. Yet, we read some monstrous depictions of God in the Old Testament. Some of us may even believe that God is doing bad things in our lives, and is responsible for the life that we don’t want to live. We need to trust in the revelation of Jesus, and see the text through the eyes of that revelation.

The second thing that we learn about faith from this story is the idea of offering up everything to God. God commended Abraham, not for sacrificing his son, but for having the heart to offer everything to God. God wants the heart but not the action of a sacrifice of a beloved son. And we all hold things tightly on this earth, as Abraham held tightly to his miracle son. Whether it is security of finance, our wants of happiness and health, or our freedom to choose our own path instead of following Jesus, we all carry something that is difficult to give to God. Out of God’s love, it is in our interest to turn these things over to God now rather than later. God’s love will one day purify us from these desires to hang onto earthly things, but in the meantime, it will make following Jesus easier if we can give up that which we don’t want to give up. This is trusting in God’s character and love despite what we might feel on this earth.

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Topics: Faith, God's Will, Sacrifice

Sermon Series: Faith and Doubt


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Focus Scripture:

  • Genesis 22:1-13

    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, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

    Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled 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. 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.

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11 thoughts on “Trusting a Killer God?

    Michelle says: Monday March 7, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Why didn’t the parent sacrifice their body for their child’s if a sacrifice was in order? He used an animal in his sons place, why not him? Why would one be asked by God to sacrifice the very thing he created? Why would God bring us here as sinners ( not by our choice) just to cast us to hell when we sin? If all sins are equal than we are all smoking for sure. Why all the mixed signals in the word? At the end of the day, I just trust that God loves us, I know he didn’t set us up to fail & you don’t have to have a PhD to understand the word.

    Reply
    Michelle says: Monday March 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    So, God sacrifices his son to show his love for US… So, the other countries sacrifice their children to show their love for THEIR god. When does the whole sacrifice thing lose ground? Slaying humans or animals doesn’t demonstrate love in any way. Love works very clearly with no harm.

    Reply
    Teresa says: Tuesday March 8, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I dont think its enough to say Abraham simply trusted in God’s character. I believe Abraham actually knew God. He knew God’s voice because he recognized it …(john 10 ” …and his sheep follow him because they KNOW his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”) He’s the father of faith because he doesn’t depend on his own intellect, he depends on God’s leading.

    It’s about the relationship …not just who we think Jesus is according to our limited ability to think through what’s loving or not loving.

    We need to know Jesus ..and we can. John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 JUST AS the Father knows me and I know the Father.

    It’s really not about putting God’s character in a box…[what is loving behavior and what is not loving behavior according to us] its about intimacy with God. That’s why Jesus talked to his father about everything and only did what his father said to do. Obviously Jesus knew his fathers character…but he didnt go on trusting that alone. He needed to hear from him daily.

    The Spirit is alive and moving

    Reply
    Bev says: Thursday March 10, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Is it possible that Abraham thought Issac was the messiah promised in Genesis? The messiah that would overcome the serpent?

    Reply
    Bev says: Thursday March 10, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Christ sacrifice is not about appeasing a wrathful god, it is about demonstrating to the universe that God is other centered, willing to give His life for us, as opposed to Satan who is willing to do what he did in order to force Christ to save himself. I can trust a God who would rather die than take my freedom from me, even if it means I have the freedom to reject and kill Him.

    Reply
    Jered says: Thursday March 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    It’s the ultimate, radical example of faith in God and that’s precisely why it’s so hard for us to grasp. In fact we can’t and never will fully understand why God asked Abraham to do this. Pastor Greg is correct, we have to trust in the character of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Isn’t the Kingdom radical?!

    Reply
    John says: Sunday March 13, 2011 at 10:23 am

    I have always been impressed and needing further understanding about ‘how’ God spoke to people. Was there some visible or other presence manifesting before those God spoke to? All through the OT and even until Mary, someone (angel or ???) who came and spoke to the individual. Most of these people didn’t seem to be phased, so I’m thinking, these occurrences were not unusual.

    Abraham and his story has always been one that I point to when going through something in my life. His example of leaving his home to go someplace by faith has always spoken to me. Then all that he went through with hope of the promise speaks volumes concerning how God works in one’s life and HIs being faithful, even when we go and do our own thing at times. Yet, He see’s us through everything.

    Reply
    George says: Wednesday March 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Thanks Greg for asking the tough questions and modeling that it is possible to have faith in God and doubts about some of the things we read in Scripture which don’t seem to line up with the God who is revealed through Jesus. This series has helped my wife and tremendously. It is exactly what we needed to hear at this moment in our lives. Each week it has shed much needed light on things we’re facing. Your heart for Jesus is evident and I thank God for you and your family and Woodland Hills for sharing you with us. God bless you all.

    Reply
    Ryan says: Tuesday March 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    I wonder if it’s possible that Abraham heard God’s voice, but the content of the request may have been a reflection of Abraham’s own desire – not to kill Issac, but to please God? There have been numerous times in my own life when I’ve been sure that I’ve heard from God on a particular topic of prayer (one was about giving). But I eventually decided that it was just me. Long story short: I gave money (and encouraged a friend to give money) to someone who turned out to be outright lying about their needs.

    As much as that hurt, I was still left with the lingering sense that in a mysterious way, my desire to be generous contained an echo of God bringing all of history into reconciliation; and thus my ‘hearing’ the call of generosity itself could still be rightly considered to be from God, even though the context was all wrong. In the same way, I think that Abraham heeding this voice from God to ‘let go’ echoes God’s redemptive and restorative work in the world, even though the context of that request was bizarre, and could have been more reflective of what Abraham wanted to hear rather than what God actually desired. However, God still owned the outcome.

    I say this because God is utterly and completely able to own and use anything for his good purposes. It brings up the question: Is it possible that simply seeing the whole thing as ‘from God’ is both complete and incomplete at the same time? Is it possible that the way God works is much more of a mystery than we have considered before?

    Reply
    Scott Schneider says: Monday March 12, 2012 at 8:30 am

    I heard a teaching on Abraham and Isaac that revolutionized my understanding of God and the OT. So many times we look at Scripture through the lens of our culture. Until we learn the world view of the day, we really get some faulty understandings of things. “An eye for and eye…” The worldview at that time was that the wealthy received minimal punishemnt for large crimes and the poor received major sentences for little. God wanted to show that he was different than the other gods and that he was one of justice for all. Let the punishment fit the crime. In the day of Abraham it was widely held that gods asked for child sacrifice. So when Abraham heard God he immediately assumed that this is what God wanted cuz that is what is normally asked for by the gods. So God took Abraham to a place to show him that HE was different than all the other Gods and did not ask for the sacrifices of children-see Molech worship and some of Chemosh etc. Much of the OT is showing the character of this God over the character of the “other gods”-God is forever making himself known to us.

    Reply
    markmw says: Wednesday April 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    If we remember that God had revealed himself clearly to Adam and Eve and others, and the revelation He gave of himself was not always acceptable to us humans, we then see that His hiding of His true nature is in response to our rejection of that true nature. He can not in righteousness always reveal Himself clearly, which is why Abraham was given a distorted view of God and His nature. It is our reaping of what others have sown…that God reveals Himself in a distorted way to us.

    This is less true in the N.T., because Jesus has responded as a human should respond to His God, and we partially reap the benefits of that now. So God reveals Himself more plainly in the N.T.

    Abraham perhaps was counted as the father of the faith because he would trust God even when God revealed Himself to Abraham in this distorted way, asking for the sacrifice of Isaac. When you can trust Him, even after He seems to reveal Himself as one who may not perhaps be trustworthy, you are counted as faithful. We are to trust even when it appears there is every reason not to trust.

    Reply

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