Thursday, May 08, 2003

Genesis 22: Test? Moral Dilemma? Nope, it's neither

Note: This was motivated by this post (May 6).

In Genesis 22 we read of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Of course God knew the outcome of the entire episode in advance. If not, then His plans can be thwarted and He is not sovereign, in which case He is not God, and we have no hope that His (in that case, his) promises will be kept. If His plans can be circumvented by human activity, then maybe He is even dead.

Virtually every Bible has a heading such as "Abraham Tested" before Genensis 22. But I don’t think it was a test at all. It was a lesson. And it wasn’t a lesson for Abraham; it was a lesson for us.

And the lesson is this: People in Old Testament times are reckoned righteous before a Holy God in the exact same manner as those in the present age: by faith in Christ. For Abraham, is was a trust in what God promised regarding redemption and atonement, for us it is a trust in what Christ has accomplished in that regard. It is only a difference of tense. This is what Paul belabored in Romans 4. Paul tries to beat it into our heads that Abraham’s obedience (i.e. passing the so-called test) had nothing to do with his covenantal reward, it was his faith.

Yes, Abraham had free will to obey or not to obey; God did not manipulate him into compliance. But we choose what we desire, that is what free will boils down to, and Abraham’s desires had already been changed, by God through a Divine initiative from a totally corrupted, natural state (wherein through moral inability nobody seeks or pleases God, as in Rom 3:10-12, Eph 2:1) into a sanctified will, a heart of flesh, which freely chooses to obey.

What does predestination have to do with this? Quite a bit actually. Paul writes in Romans that Abraham was regarded as righteous before his circumcision. Obedience had nothing to do with it. Obedience was an inevitable effect, not a cause. If Abraham had not been chosen, then he would not have been quickened. He would remain in bondage to sin. He could not bootstrap himself out of his state anymore than Lazarus could resurrect himself. And in his flesh he could not have passed any test, for nothing of profit can accrue to the flesh (John 6:63-65). If he were reckoned righteous because of the obedience of his natural will, and only then saved, then we have a direct contradiction of our Lord’s words in John 6:63, for in that case Abraham’s flesh profited a great deal more than nothing, it profited him eternal life.

There is no moral dilemma here. We are all born in rebellion to God. Isaac was in rebellion. The question is not why would God even entertain the possibility of Abraham killing Isaac, the question is why doesn’t God destroy all of us. For Isaac to die at God’s request is not murder; the worst it could be called is justice, no different from ordering the slaughtering of the Midianites. Yet God has mercy upon whom He will, and Isaac (and Abraham) are fortunate recipients of that mercy.

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