Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Sorry. I refuse to follow Your command."

Religion, Philosophy, & Theology ---

Several years ago I gave a talk (some might say sermon) at a Sunday service at my then local church in Washington Heights, New York City.  The title of that talk was simply, "My Thoughts on Genesis Chapter 22".  That particular chapter in the Book of Genesis has long held a fascination for me ever since I first heard of it as a child in Sunday School at the Eccles Assemblies of God Church in Guyana.  To this day I still cannot comprehend it.  It stands like a gigantic monument or a breath-taking vista that I can only stand in awe of and watch with a mixture of wonderment, fear, and the sense of my own finiteness.  It tells the story of a man (Abraham) who is commanded by God to kill his only son - a story that I personally find revealing and comforting as it is disturbing.  

As I prepared to give the talk I consulted theologians, philosophers, and cultural anthropologists.  Notions about source theories or the so called documentary hypothesis in relation to the chapter completely lost me.  Interpretations of the story in terms of paradox also lost me, as well as interpretations based on cultural customs.  In fact, they all seemed to negate the wonderment, the awe, and the fear that the story evoked.  As the time for the talk drew near I became increasingly desperate for some insight.  So desperate was I that I consulted three children (two girls and a boy) whose average age was ten.

"Let's suppose you have a son, your only child," I began, "And God asked you to kill him, what would you do?", I asked the three children.  They each said to me that they would not do it.  In fact, one of them (my younger daughter) said, "If God told me to kill my only child, that would not be God speaking but the Devil pretending to be God." Then she just 'sucked her teeth' (as we say in Guyana), turned, grabbed her two friends, and walked away saying, "I am gone; this is confusing me."  I stood there blown away.  That was the insight I sought.  It was simple, sincere, and unintellectualized.  I shared that story with the congregation near the end of my talk, and I told them that I, too, would not follow such a command given by God, for love of my child (or children) is stronger than my commitment to God.  I am sure that I am not alone in that sentiment.

[Photo Art by Ric Couchman]