Abraham’s sacrifice not ok

Language warning- contains swearing (mild compared to how I feel but perhaps proceed with caution)

In between organising an event for Greens women in politics and trying to get people to put up corflutes of me, I have been struggling with this week’s readings. Specifically the first reading. The story of God allegedly asking Abraham to sacrifice his son has traumatised me since I was about six and heard it for the first time (parenting mistake right there). It’s an awful story and the “just kidding” twist at the end didn’t make up for the emotional harm of it.

As I grew into a pious goody-goody child, I tried to accept the story accept that God expects us to sacrifice anything at the drop of the hat because God is so darn important.

Actually as an adult reading a feminist criticism of this and other “child abuse” stories in our tradition I was really relieved. Finally someone called bullshit on the really toxic and bothersome strand in our “faith”. I wanted to say nothing at all about this reading because it still offends me and creeps me out, but in all fairness to victims of child abuse within the church we do have to call these things out rather than ignore them.

But I don’t know what else to say about it. Apart from it is toxic and wrong to think that anything ever justifies us even considering sacrificing our child. EVER! Granted these days it is “the economy” and capitalism that we are generally asked to sacrifice our children (and their future) to but NO GOD IS ENTITLED TO THIS. No! The God I encounter in my faith and in scripture created a parent’s love to be greater than this.

I cannot condone any version of faith that puts anything higher than love.

The psalm although it talks of a good and paternalistically generous God, reinforces this unequal relationship where God can do whatever he wants with us and we are supposed to be grateful. This fits with the historical teaching about God, but encourages the sort of hierarchical structures that have been found toxic throughout history (child abuse may seem like a comparatively modern symptom but people like Torquemada and also several ambitious and power hungry popes and bishops made use of this sort of a theological framework to oppress others).

So having rejected any sort of theology that encourages abuse I look at the second reading. Once again child abuse, this time it is God doing it. We, the “faithful” are so privileged before God that God even “handed over” his own son for us. Then there is a suggestion that we have some sort of a free pass because God acquits us. This teaching would have been very useful in its own historical context (eg when Christians were being put to death by the oppressive empire) and could be used to uphold the rights of people that get unfairly pushed out of the church and judged. But in the context of Abraham’s failure to protect his child and the atrocities we know have been committed and even encouraged by the church we need to treat it with some measure of suspicion.

Sure if God acquits then we are free- but God is the upholder of the vulnerable and does not turn a blind eye to abuses of power.

The gospel is the transfiguration story, one I have both liked and been challenged by many times before. Jesus has a moment of shining, of showing how awesome he really is and bringing his friends into the dazzling possibilities of his mission. But we know reading the whole gospel that he is still to undergo the cross and his disciples will have moments of terror and confusion and deep, deep grief as well as this joy and proud belonging.

This speaks a lot to me in the midst of an election campaign (with others). The highs and lows of trying to actually challenge and change the world are shown in this story as is the need to connect in with the inspiration of the past and friends in the present moment. It’s all men in the story though, a closed boys’ club that isn’t allowed to relate what happened to anyone else. I feel an oppressive structure in the juxtaposition of these readings and I will pray with some degree of resistance.

Loving God, angry God, God who values those we do not fully see,

I would not sacrifice my child, anyone’s child to you (or to guns or to capitalism or to the economy or border security). Teach me to be stubborn, to dig my heels in and refuse to compromise on human rights and equality. Teach me to be disobedient to oppressive authority, an overthinker, an inconvenience, a fishwife, a harpy, whistle-blower and whinger…whatever it takes until your will be done.

Teach me to know my own complicity in oppressive structures and work to liberate others. Teach me the grace to put down my privilege and listen and learn. Give me the integrity to say what I really mean and live by my values, to call people out when they need it and to support people when they are on the wrong side of power.

Teach me to look beyond what is shiny or what makes me feel high and to have the resilience of the long road, the real road, the hard yards of transformation. Make me gritty, make me real, make me tenacious and courageous. Make my successes a source of good for others and even my failures meaningful and worthwhile.

I have so much to learn, I thank you for my fellow travellers who are also learning with me and from me and who teach and inspire me. I thank you for the joy of connection. I thank you for moments of clarity. I thank you for showing me the better path when I (like Abraham) am in error. Some things should not be sacrificed to any cause.

Wisdom have mercy- subvert us and protect us from ourselves.

Amen.

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