After these things God tested Abraham. God said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” —Genesis 22.1-2
God didn’t actually tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. But Abraham (that is, the community) thought so. They carried on the tradition of their ancient religion, like so many around the world, sacrificing what was most precious, even their children, in the belief that God willed it. (We still do that; that’s what war is.) But the moment came, the knife poised in the air, when Abraham actually saw Isaac, saw him as a person, not as an object to be used. And Abraham realized that he’d gotten his religion all wrong. God didn’t want child sacrifice.
This is a story about how religions evolve.
We get our religion wrong all the time. We’re sure God wills a certain thing, and then we see more clearly that we were wrong—and we were blaming our error on God. A couple thousand years after Abraham our religion evolved some more and we realized God doesn’t want burnt offerings at all, of any kind. The early church had to change its ways regarding the inclusion of Gentiles. For centuries we sacrificed the ordination of women and gays in the name of what we were sure God willed. And then we see them as persons, and our religion changes.
Sometimes we’re convinced that to “test us” God wants us to sacrifice what is dear to us, like our gifts or our well being, or to repress certain movements of our spirit, or squelch certain experiences, or undergo certain suffering. But it might be otherwise. Are there “children” in your soul you have believed God wants you to sacrifice, to do without, to kill or cut off? Are they your Isaac, your “laughter,” God’s beloved, that God does not want you to sacrifice but to honor?
Lay aside the knife. Unbind the child. God will bless you, not in doing away with what is not yours to kill, but in loving that which you’ve been given to love.