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October 09, 2015

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Well, what about when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22? I thought that was the quintessential case of God demanding child sacrifice. After reading this blog post, though, I'm confident that you have a good explanation, so I'm eager to hear it.

@ John Moore'

God's original promise to Abraham requires Isaac to remain alive.

“And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” (Genesis 17:19)

Fully believing God, during the course of the trial Abraham said;

“.... My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22:8)

Abraham and Isaac both passed the test and serve as an example of the faithful.

“And he [Angel of the Lord] said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” (Genesis 22:12)

Hebrews 11 is used by some to infer that God and Abraham had an agreement to kill Isaac as Abraham reasoned in Faith that God could – if needed – raise Isaac from the dead.


To which:


Abraham reasoned right: God can raise people from the dead. Abraham reasoned wrong: God was going to kill Isaac.


So what?


What does that have to do with what *God* was (is / the timeless now) reasoning?


Abraham came from a world in which children were sacrificed to the gods. God was revealing an incredible line of (new, radical) sight to a man buried in that perverse normative mindset.


It is astounding that that is lost on the Critics. It is astounding that the Critics merely take it as a line of evidence that the Christian simply sits and waits to be obedient for that fateful day when God commands him to go and kill – or let God kill – one of His Own – because God kills Christians and God commands (may command…..we never know for sure…) us to set them on some sort of proverbial altar of fire. The conflation of “all of that” nonsense with this or that price following God may at times cost the individual is just bizarre. But the Critic keeps at it: How do we know this of God per the Critic? “Well because Abraham reasoned that way about God – yes – that’s why.”


Of course Abraham reasoned that way – that’s what the gods were and did in his experience.


Until YHWH. God reasons very, very different. God was taking Abraham to a place he could never imagine – and while Abraham believed God his faith did not make him (and his mind) sinless. We must take our final leads from the singularity that is the meta-narrative of the Living God – not from misperceptions of we who follow Him. Abraham had no idea where this radical God – YHWH – the Living God – was ultimately leading Him to – where God was (and is) taking us to.


If we believe that God’s end-game was to kill a child, or, to have Abraham himself kill the child, then we are completely disoriented.


We would be asserting a one-verse theology that such was God’s designed end-game there.


To assert that that was God’s designed plan, intention, is to set out building a very misguided theology on a few verses rather than on the whole meta-narrative of what Scripture is revealing through all verses in summation.


Looking at Scripture as a whole meta-narrative, a singularity, what then was the actual end game there of God’s Own design?


It wasn’t to kill.


It was to reveal.


God aimed at the very epicenter of Abraham’s a priori image of God: the *god* who sacrifices children in fires – the *god* who leads nations to kill their kids alive – as Abraham’s culturally instilled normative constructs certainly fed into, certainly affirmed. God is in the process of revealing Himself to Abraham as the very antithesis of Abraham’s a priori epicenter.


Think for a minute on the wider story. Just imagine the litany of thoughts that must have been racing through Abraham’s mind the day AFTER!


“What a peculiar God!”


We must read all verses among all other verses.


When we read Scripture’s singular meta-narrative we come upon the unmistakable antithesis of Abraham’s cultural and normative a priori for we come upon what J. Pemberton terms the Self Revealing God, we come upon what Fischer locates and terms “…… the God who is glorified by sacrificing Himself for creation and not by sacrificing creation for Himself...." Abraham put his confidence, his trust, in the Living God Who speaks to Abraham and whispers, “Follow Me to you know not where.” That location obtains in timeless Self-Sacrifice within the ceaseless reciprocity of the triune in the immutable love of the Necessary Being – instantiating there – in the Cross of Christ.

Thanks for responding to this claim. I had intended to research this after reading God or Gdless and so I'm glad you did it.

So basically you're saying God never intended for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but the whole point of the command was to demonstrate how God did not want child sacrifice. Is that a fair summary of your position?

I wonder what you modern Christians think about Kierkegaard's book "Fear and Trembling." Is that totally debunked nowadays? Or is it just something people overlook?

Another conclusion which the text forces us to make is that it was factually impossible for Abraham to kill Isaac. If he disobeyed, Isaac isn't killed, and lives. If he obeyed (which he did), Isaac isn't killed, and lives. Granted, "reading" isn't something Critics do well. The "point" of the command was given much earlier in the book called "Bible" - in Genesis 3's Protoevangelium, the thematic thread of the Self-Sacrificing God carrying us into John 3's instantiation thereof. But again, reading isn't something Critics do well, especially *entire* books. Covenant Theology is tirelessly and factually local, ontologically regional, as the OT forever speaks of quite another Day, when a peculiar Covenant which God makes with Himself finally encompasses what the OT and NT affirm as the factually global, the ontologically worldwide. In Eden or outside of Eden, whether Man obeys or disobeys fails to change "reality", as All Sufficiency must fill Insufficiency, the Necessary must pour, the Contingent must drink. From Eden to Abraham to Christ reality cannot be other than reality is. Christ subsumes the whole of it, love's incantations being unmistakable.

To clarify, we say the Necessary must pour, the Contingent must drink. Such is only a must if Man is to know life, to be whole. Justice and Mercy easily weigh in. The theology of Trinity affirms love's categorical paradigm of Self-Giving independent of the creative act. Such is another topic, but the clarification seems warranted.

I wonder what you modern Christians think ...

John Moore,

Many of us modern Christians don't even bother reading Kierkegaard (too much Chesterton, Lewis, Yancey, Koukl, yada yada).

But what of these "modern Christians?"

Are these the modern Christians of post-millenial America?

Or the modern Christians of South America?

Or the modern Christians of the home churches of China?

There is some vagueness to what passes through the hearts and minds of Christians in the minds of those who can't pigeonhole them. These are those minds who have pondered the bizarre request given to Abraham, but enacted in Christ. Pondered and somehow just begin to understand.

Grace has its element of the imponderable.

Kierkegaard's book "Fear and Trembling” carries the encounter successfully into the Paradox (Murderer vs. Hero of Faith) only in so far as the book presupposes the God of love – the Self-Sacrificing God.


And why is that?


The Paradox of Kierkegaard cannot be a Paradox unless and until we find something which factually, actually, supersedes the temporal, cultural, normative ethics in which Abraham’s mind and conscience were awash. The Command to kill the child – and the act of doing it – fail to grant Kierkegaard’s Paradox of Hero of Faith vs. Murderer unless and until something actually, factually, supplants the Child Sacrifice mindset embedded in so many contours of the era. Once such is realized, and merged into the ethical and aesthetic formulas of Kierkegaard, then we come to the factual impossibility of satisfying the Murderer “half” of the Paradox – for we must – since God is love – define all our terms via the Necessary and move downhill in our definitions into the contingent. The attempt to define any part of the Paradox (Murdering Intention vs. Hero of Faith) by the reasoning of the Man, by Abraham, fails for the reasons noted in earlier comments. Awash in Abraham’s reasoning, Abraham tells himself that God means for him to kill the child – and such is, to his experience, to his mind (having seen but shadows of The Living God as of yet) feasibly part of the aesthetic good – part of the ethical – to his conscience – and that is where any Non-Theist is left standing inside of this entire encounter – and for that Non-Theist the Paradox fails because there can be no such thing as Murderer as there is no such thing which supplants the temporal and normative and cultural. However, the Paradox also fails for the Christian – but for a peculiar reason. For the Christian, it is the case that it is factually impossible for Abraham to kill the child and the entire reasoning and mindset in which the conscience of Abraham is awash fails to be a meaning-maker of any sort. The only Meaning-Maker factually possible is the Reason(ing) of God throughout the entire encounter. Here we begin to find the annihilation of the following: 1) the “moral-ness of” child sacrifice and 2) the Non-Theist’s attempt to get free of that “moral-ness” and 3) the half of the Paradox which defines Abraham’s intent as “wrong” via defining reality by the Contingent rather than by the Necessary and 4) any and all hope of ascribing child-sacrifice to the Christian God. The Necessary finds – and metaphysically grants – that for the Man Abraham the act of killing the child was factually impossible, as described in an earlier comment. The only side of Kierkegaard's Paradox which remains intact – since we define reality by the Necessary – is the side of Faith, of Trust, of surrendering one’s Self to that which is the Other (on the one hand) and, on the other hand, a withholding of Trust, of Faith, of one’s Self from that which is the Other. Indeed, Kierkegaard does have a bit of his formulas askew, but, he is not too far afield for the motion of love's acquiescence (properly) saturates his theme. In Eden or out of Eden, inside of obedience or inside of disobedience, some things cannot be otherwise within love’s ontological geography.


In all possibilities the child Isaac remains untouched.


Because God.


All definitions and all formulas of aesthetics and all possibilities factually stream from Him – from the Self-Sacrificing God. After all, that is what the word “God” means.


Good post, Amy!

Wow, this is great. So anyway, another way of looking at it is that God didn't want us to do child sacrifice because He was going to do the child sacrifice for us.

It's not that child sacrifice is bad in itself, but it's just a matter of who should do it.

Wrong.


The Critic is struggling with "reading" again.


It seems to be a pattern.

John Moore,

Work harder to understand what scbrownlhrm is trying to convey with his concept of the "Self-Sacrificing God."

Too often we get so hung up on the anthropomorphic expressions of God the Father and God the Son in the confusion of child sacrifice. The relationship of Father to Son is hardly genetic, but deals with the cultural relationship of the submission a son has for father in Old Testament culture. The Son does the will of the Father, in a relationship of the "proclaim-er of will" and "doer of will." Noting this relationship sheds light on the struggles Christ had in Gethsemane. To enact the good and perfect redemptive will of the Father, the Son weighs in on the factor of the personal experience He must assume in the redemptive act.

Even if you can't eliminate this notion of child sacrifice performed by the Baalitic versions of the religious culture to which Israel was exposed (leading to the commands against child sacrifice), God both parodies this practice in the life of Abraham and trumps this sickest of pagan religious practices by exploiting its externals and appearances to gain what the despicable practice could not accomplish. The heathen child sacrifice would hope to secure a successful growing season, a bountiful harvest, and vigorous calves in the stall. It could never reach these goals. God, in the vicarious atonement of Christ, gains forgiveness of sins, the hopes of heaven restored.

The rites of Chemosh ends up with a dead child.

The offering of the heavenly Father ends up with the benefits lost by a stubbornly sinful planet -- and ends up with a resurrected Son.

DGFischer / John Moore,


DGF said it well - the genetic Father/Son comparison ends up as a false identity claim between A and B.

It seems the two most common errors are to land on either the error of defining the situation by Abraham's experience rather than by Genesis 3's Protoevangelium, or, leaving out the Triune when describing the Cross.


* Fallacies resembling something along the lines of, “God sacrificed Himself to Himself”.


* Fallacies resembling false identity claims along the lines of, “The Cross equates to child sacrifice”.


DGF alluded to another key error in speaking of the regaining of benefits lost by a sinful planet. That forces us to look at what it means for All-Sufficiency (God) to pour out, and for a Insufficiency (Man) to drink, to be filled.


As the quote below unpacks a little further, redefining Christianity just to set up the ridiculous finds us amid a fairly common trail of tired and well-worn fallacies foisted as “Christianity”. Typically that is then followed by the person who presented the fallacy going on and arguing against his own straw man rather than interacting with Christianity’s actual claims upon reality. Typically (to borrow a little from the quote) the following sorts of vectors emerge:

1. Those who don’t, at the end of the day, believe religious claims, but consider theism a respectable position worthy of serious consideration.

2. Those who know almost nothing about theism outside of wild distortions and straw men.

3. Fallacies resembling something along the lines of, “God sacrificed Himself to Himself”.

4. Fallacies resembling false identity claims along the lines of, “The Cross equates to child sacrifice”.

Those sorts of “points” raised against God’s Own Self-Sacrifice would be valid points but for the fact that such points are referencing something other than the Christian’s Triune God. Love’s paradigm of Self-Sacrifice finds a peculiar immunity to such monochromatic criticisms and, so, straw men aside, and this or that fallacious Non-Christian *god* aside, when Man comprehends the One True God loving Mankind he discovers reality's metaphysical paradigm which coherently comprises the singular Archetype by which and in which Man perceives that, in fact, when, say, I sacrifice myself for the child, it is I, and not my child, who tastes the unthinkable.

Since God isn't a child the syntax of these sorts of common criticisms (#3 and #4) break down. Granted, the Begotten within the Triune God isn't something the Critic wants to tackle – but that makes us suspicious that the straw man is more to his liking than is Christianity. God's Own Self-Sacrifice constitutes a timeless contour found within the Triune which Man finds factually instantiating, transposing, into and within Time and Physicality – to their bitter ends. Such is Man's (the Contingent Self’s) hope for unless the Necessary (God) pour out, unless the Contingent (Man) be filled, Man cannot know fullness.

How baffling and mystifying is the chasm between All-Sufficiency and Insufficiency – between the Necessary and the Contingent – between God and Man.

The Christian paradigm is arguably the only genre on planet Earth that “goes the full distance” and therefore – by doing so – “gets it right” both metaphysically and morally amid Necessity (God, Underived), Contingency (Man, Derived), and love’s interfaces amid all permutations thereof vis-à-vis Self/Other, and also amid the potentiality of love’s singular Us (so to speak) which references the fullness both of Trinity and of the unavoidable language of God-In-Man/Man-In-God.


Here’s Debilis' quote:


In my time discussing apologetics, I’ve encountered two types of atheists:

1. Those who don’t, at the end of the day, believe religious claims, but consider theism a respectable position worthy of serious consideration.

2. Those who know almost nothing about theism outside of wild distortions and straw men.

One such distortion, that comes up semi-regularly, is the patently false claim that Christianity holds that “God sacrificed himself to himself”. Usually, it is followed with intimations that God threatens people with Hell, as well as the insistence that this is the basis of Christianity.

With all due respect to those who believe such claims, this is borne of a deep ignorance of the facts.

Personally, I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with being ignorant, so long as one is willing to learn. Its entirely possible that the second sort of atheist could become the first sort simply by availing his or her self of the writings of actual theologians.

Those that do will find that, according to Christian theology, Christ was indeed a sacrifice, but not remotely “to himself”. That is, he was not a ritual sacrifice, but rather a sacrifice in the same sense that a soldier might sacrifice his life in battle.

Such a person would not be sacrificing “to” something, but rather “for” something (such as freedom or some other cause).

Christ, according to Christians, sacrificed himself to bridge the infinite gap between a perfect God and a finite, fallible species. This wasn’t remotely because God, personally, wanted a sacrifice, it was because (among other things) the distance was so great.

Bridging such a gap, and forgiving great wrongs, is always extraordinarily painful. It is always an act of sacrifice.

It is also well within mainline Christian teachings that Christ died not merely to suffer for us, but to suffer with us. That is part of bridging the gap in any relationship, after all. I’ve even read essays from black Christians who claim that they love Christ not so much because he died for them, but because he was, in effect, lynched. He knew what it was like to suffer under an unjust socio-political system.

Much, much more could be said, but it already seems obvious enough that the common internet meme is far too glib.

It is less so, however, than the even more common claim about threats of Hell. I can’t imagine that the idea that Christianity is a religion of forgiveness is an obscure fact. Yet I run across people who confidently claim that the threat of Hell is the motivation for good behavior to be found in Christianity.

But, as I’ve already said elsewhere, I’ll simply respond by wondering how someone who doesn’t seem even to know that Christianity offers forgiveness can claim to know anything at all substantial about the religion, let alone seen through it.

These kinds of claims are no part of what Christian theologians have claimed. Much less are they the basis of the religion. One can believe, or disbelieve. But, what one can’t do, if one is to be rational, is claim that these silly straw men have anything to do with Christianity.


OK, thanks for all this - I'm reading everything and trying to understand. It's amazing and insightful what DGFischer wrote about the supposed child sacrifice being a parody, in Abraham's case, or a trump, in Christ's case.

I hope you can understand how hard it is for ordinary laypeople to wrap their heads around this talk of child sacrifice in the Bible!

True, straw men and fallacies can be quite hard to wrap one's head around!

Ordinary folk over yonder in my circles think child sacrifice is, umm, pretty bad - though their Christianized conscience is to blame of course. Just ordinary folk though. Yep.

Abraham arguably thought that nasty child sacrifice stuff was good - or could be good under the right circumstances - but God took Abraham directly into that insanity and annihilated it (the insanity).

Mr. Moore makes a valid point on the point of Kierkegaard's paradox. Is Divine Command Theory the "whole show" or is there "more to it".

That's (perhaps) one of (not the only) primary question this raises. The comments in this section combined with the fact that Christ defines the Law as that which regulates (not condones) that which God hates (like divorce) all fit coherently within the far wider and expressly singular meta-narrative of scripture as a whole. Law cannot redeem Man. Law can only restrain death. Law cannot birth wholeness. But God can. And, all of that is affirmed by the OT itself which tells us that another Day up ahead of it would be the conduit for moral excellence - for Man's redemption.

We worship Law and not God and so we struggle with God's point with this encounter. We search law - and we miss Christ.

The point of the encounter is unmistakable: Genesis 3's Protoevangelium. We search the scriptures and miss Christ.

The Command to Abraham cannot be to break law for there was no law - nor any covenant. The issue at hand for Abraham was, "What is good? Who is this God? Where is He taking me?" Sin is not in-play as a question either because sin *is*. It's all outside of Eden. The only issue in play is the nature of a fallen world on the one hand and God on the other hand. The possibility of harm coming to Isaac was not "small" or "slight", it was metaphysical non-entity. Abraham's experience and thoughts do not, in fact cannot, define any part of that encounter. The only Meaning-Maker even possible in that entire encounter is the Mind and Work of God and that work is, from Genesis 3 to John 3, singular.

The claim of Possible (Isaac harmed) is needed to make a complaint valid - but such was, again, not small, nor slight, but metaphysical non-entity. It is God's prerogative to create and sustain ontological possibilities. And where he does not do so, well there is no-thing there to even discuss. As we saw, the only "side" of Kierkegaard's paradox which survives is the side of the coin dealing with trust/faith.

Even worse for any complaint, Abraham entered that encounter thinking child sacrifice could be - under the right circumstances - good, but he left that encounter convinced of the opposite.

The peculiar God Abraham was discovering was the Self-Revealing God, the God Who Sacrifices Himself for the beloved.

Clarification:


The Law permitted, regulated, divorce, which God hates and does not condone. And that fits, that makes sense given the singular meta-narrative of Scripture as to the Means of Moral Excellence and the Ends of Moral Excellence in a fallen world.


We must be careful on our terms, our definitions. Divine Command Theory is pretty solid. For the most part. But it's not the whole ontological show. William Lane Craig goes so far as to say that since God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that Abraham had a moral obligation to do so. (To be fair, he clarifies that.) That conclusion as such would be false. Why? Because it is true only if one can have a moral obligation to divorce. One "can" divorce (etc.) but we cannot say that one "ought" to divorce, one ought to break apart unity (etc.).


Law can only point towards a Moral Incline, Law cannot contain Moral Excellence


Only Christ can and does, for He "is" that very Excellence.


We search the scriptures and we miss Christ.


One more "part" to the puzzle: One will be guilty of a false identity claim and one will be guilty of engaging in the error of asserting that similarity equals sameness should one assume, think, assert, offer, suppose, or reason that God's interaction with a man just is all the same stuff of His interactions with a nation and that those two just are then all the same stuff of His interactions with a world.


Such is all unjustified and in fact easily refuted.

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