The Value of God’s Tests

10 Aug

Does God have a right to test us as he does? Did he have the right to ask Abraham to offer up Isaac, his only son, to him—God—as a burnt sacrifice? Some have expressed their own astonishment at such a thing and regard God as an evil entity, if he exists at all, if the account in Genesis 22 is correct. Such folks wonder how Christians and Jews could love and / or worship a God who is expressed in this way. Bestselling author and agnostic, Bart Ehrman comments on the “binding” of Isaac: “The idea that suffering comes as a test from God, simply to see if his followers will obey,” is illustrated perhaps “more clearly and more horribly” in the offering of Isaac.[1] What can we say of such things?

First of all, if we are going to read our present worldview into Abraham’s day when human sacrifice was not a thing that was universally detested, then I think it is only proper that I be permitted to read into the account a worldview in the making. That is, God intends to inaugurate in Abraham a moral character that not only surpassed that of the ancient worldview of human sacrifice, but influenced every culture that would come afterward, including our own.

Up to this time in human history, there was nothing in any cultural tradition that forbade human sacrifice or even inferred it was wrong. Yet, afterward, we find that God had prevented Abraham from carrying out what he intended to do, pointing to a substitute. This event infers that God neither seeks nor will he accept the sacrifice of innocent human life. Where do we first understand this concept? We understand it from here. In effect, God told Abraham he does not desire nor will he accept the sacrifice of one’s offspring for any reason.

Secondly, we find in this event that God has obligated himself to Abraham and his descendents in its ultimate inference. That is, God would stop at nothing in order to keep his promises to Abraham and his descendents. After all, if Abraham was willing to offer his own son, his only beloved son, to God in worship, it would be grossly inappropriate for God to offer Abraham less, especially since God made himself alone responsible for his covenant with Abraham (cp. Genesis 15:9-18). God alone walked through the slain sacrifices. Therefore, God’s covenant with Abraham was guaranteed by the life of God alone, not anything Abraham or his descendents might think to offer.

Therefore, no matter what we believe about God’s command to take Isaac’s life, we come away from the event with a contrast between Abraham’s culture which approved and perhaps demanded human sacrifice with a new worldview whereby God shows he does not require such a thing. One could not arrive at this worldview so early, unless one was willing to carry out the deed, which Abraham shows he was willing to do. Moreover, within this new worldview is embedded the concept of a God who holds himself responsible with his own life to bring about all that he has covenanted to do for Abraham and his descendents. One cannot perceive such thing from the scriptures, unless Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, in worship of God. This alone should vindicate God’s original command, which we see in hindsight that God never intended to be carried out.

Yet, from a philosophical point of view, can we perceive that it is ever moral to take innocent life? I believe there is evidence that, even in today’s modern secular worldview, it is moral to take innocent life when circumstances justify it. For example, we consider it moral to take the fetal life in ectopic pregnancies. If we didn’t both mother and the baby would almost certainly die. So, in defense of the life of the mother, the fetal life is destroyed. Another example might include the option of the passengers on Flight 93 during the 911 attack to not only take their own lives in defense of others, but the innocent lives of anyone on the plane who didn’t wish to comply. President Bush also ordered any other planes to be shot down, knowing innocent lives would be lost if the order were carried out, but the grave necessity of the time demanded such a decision, and no one could justifiably call that decision immoral.


[1] Bart D. Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Questin—Why We Suffer; (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008), 70; Quoted by Paul Copan in: Is God a Moral Monster; page 43; 2011; Baker Books

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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in Abraham, Walking with God


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