Paradoxes. The Bible is packed with them. There are seven right off the bat:
Exaltation through humility (James 4:10).
Strength through weakness (22 Cor. 12:10).
Receiving through giving (Acts 20:35).
Freedom through servitude (Romans 6:18).
Gaining through losing (Phil. 3:7-8) (Mark 8:36, 10:29-30).
Living through dying (John 12:24).
Finding through losing (Matt. 10:39).
One story in the Bible that I have not seemed to grasp is Abraham going up the mountain to offer his son as a living sacrifice to the Lord. Even though the ten commandments were not intact at this point, we are told that God never changes his identity. Therefore, I have always struggled with the fact that God would ask Abraham to murder. Not just anyone. His son. And to burn him as incense to the Lord. And did I mention that this was the son of promise? God had long before promised Abraham a son in his old age. Abraham wasn’t getting any younger. And yet, it appeared as if God was asking him to start over at square one and kill the very blessing God had given him.
Would we be faithful if commissioned to the same task? We think of the things we love and if we were honest, we clasp our hands tighter around those things as we think of being asked to give them up. The tears sting. It is almost unbearable. Why would God be an Indian giver? Why would He give only to take away? Could we say with Job, “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”?
Pretty sure the answer is no.
And yet those are the things that the Lord pinpoints. They are the things vying for attention and competing for our affection. Our God is jealous for us, and He wants nothing to come between us and Him. So while He loves enough to give good gifts, He loves too much to allow those same gifts to destroy.
This is why He waited. Abraham had a history of putting the Lord first. As a general rule, the Lord said “go” and Abraham asked “how high?” He packed his bags and went without an inkling of the destination, for Pete’s sake. The man didn’t cling to anything. He gave his nephew the best of the land, he gave up his cattle, and he risked his own life for his relatives. But then came Isaac.
And Isaac stole his heart. Isaac was the one thing he never thought he’d have in this world. A SON. Think of how glorious the day was when he was born and Abraham hobbled over to look at his face. His son of laughter. And I believe at that point, even in his nineties, Abraham’s whole world changed. That boy became everything. He became his world.
And God just needed to know one thing. He needed to know that Abraham still loved Him…more than anything else. And especially more than his son.
We think that is a harsh request. But you see, soon enough God would send His only Son to die for Abraham. And for you and me. And God just needed Abraham to prove that He would do the same for Him.
God doesn’t take captives. He gives free will and allows us to love Him if we will. And once He has our love, He will woo us every time we run away. A romance with God is of the deepest kind. With God, an affair doesn’t mean divorce. It means full-out pursuit. No one can serve two masters at the same time, anyway. God has no rivals and He refuses to compete with anyone.
So we ask God what it is that we possess– likely something He has been very intentional about giving to us– that means the most? Who is the person that He has given us that we can’t imagine life without? What is the thing we thought we’d never have on this earth?
He is asking us to sacrifice it. In order to have more of His blessings and commune with Him more intimately, we must choose a favorite. He will not be pushed aside while we pursue other endeavors. And furthermore, it is unkind and unrighteous of us to ask Him to, after the sacrifice He willingly made for us.
God wasn’t asking Abraham to kill his son that day. He was asking him to sacrifice his pride and joy. To give up his rights so he could receive the fullness of God. To die to his own affections and begin living to God’s desires. To find God’s strength at the end of his weak sword.
To lose what he thought he would never have so that he could find what he had always possessed.
Jesus wants it all. He deserves it all. He gave all and He can take all. He wants us to love Him most of all and proclaim Him all in all.
Are you all in?