In the second chapter of Frederick Buechner’s epic novel, Son of Laughter, Isaac tells his son Jacob a story. It’s a story of Isaac’s childhood.
By the end of the telling of the story the elderly Isaac has covered his face with ashes and thrown himself down by a pile of dung. He lays there motionless. As if he were dead.
He told his younger son Jacob about the time that he and his father went on a journey.
It was a journey that Isaac was not meant to return from.
Isaac tells how they climbed a high mountain. His father, Abraham, carried a live coal in his hand to make a fire for a burnt offering. But, Isaac wondered where the gift was. There was no gift.
Except, as far as his father knew, he was the gift.Isaac had had to carry his own bundle of sticks. And then when the pile of sticks was arranged, waiting for an offering, Isaac was tied up by his father and flung onto the pile of sticks. And before the ram was heard rustling in the thicket, Abraham had the knife high in the air to slay his son.
God had told him to do this. And, God provided a ram so that it didn’t have to be fulfilled.
As Buechner tells the story, it scarred Isaac forever.
Wouldn’t it scar you?
This story raises so many questions. Big questions. Questions about the kind of God that would ask this. About the kind of father who would hear this Voice in his head and follow it.
If this happened today Abraham would be arrested.
I think the ugly, tortured nature of this story was meant to be. I also think that there aren’t any good answers to the hard questions that this story raises.
Because while this is an ugly story, it’s really not about the ugliness. It’s about the faith of Abraham who was willing to do whatever God asked him to to. For him there was no limit. And, it’s about the faithfulness of God who ultimately provides, and which turns a tragic story a little less tragic.
The Akedah is one of those chapters of the Bible which reminds us all too well that we don’t have a neat and tidy little religion that is country-club respectable in all ways at all times.
Sometimes the story comes off the tracks.
But, the story somehow finds it’s way back onto the tracks. There is always the possibility of redemption.
Even in a thicket on top of a hill. With a knife in the air over the wide-eyed stare of a child.