By faith Abraham, when tested by God, offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could raise him from the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead. (Heb 11:17-19)
I've been kind of dreading discussing this section of the chapter, because I have nonbelieving friends for whom I know this story is a stumbling block. It's not my intention today to give an apologetic for the episode in Biblical history -- I simply want to address what it teaches me about faith.
My daughter is in a community theater production of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" this weekend. Pondering this passage last night brought to mind a scene from the old BBC film version of that book. Aslan has just come to life again after being killed on the stone table in the place of Edmund, the traitor. He is explaining to the girls who witnessed his sacrifice about the deeper magic that the White Witch didn't know which caused the laws of death to be reversed when an innocent voluntarily died for a traitor.
The BBC then inserts a couple lines that are not C.S. Lewis'. Lucy says something to the effect of, "So, you knew! You knew you'd be alive again -- and you just let us suffer in our sorrow."
Aslan replies, "Well, I knew about the old, deep magic . . . but it had never been tested."
Two important things I get from this, related to the Hebrews passage. One, as I keep coming back to in these faith portraits, faith requires action. Faith that is "sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don't see" is only activated and legitimized when it is acted on.
Second, Jesus needed faith. Now, I'm sure I have some Christian friends who will squirm at this idea and have plenty of arguments to make against it. And that's fine -- they may be right. It's not clear scriptural dogma. But I don't think it's inconsistent with scriptural teaching, either.
Earlier in Hebrews, it tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way we were but never sinned. If that's so, then the most significant temptation I face in life is not money, or power, or food, or sex . . . it is unbelief. I'm tempted to look at what God says in his word and say, "Yeah, that's sounds nice, but it just can't be. It's a pretty story, but it's not reality." And if I'm tempted to walk away from the most difficult words of God, and if Jesus was tempted in every way I am . . . well, it makes sense that this atoning sacrifice business would be where that would kick in.
Yes, Jesus was God, but he was also fully human. And being human means doubting. Doubting is not sin. Doubting is a temptation to disbelief, a temptation that Jesus received in its greatest power and overcame. He wrestled over it to the point of sweating blood, but he believed God. I'm sure Abraham also wrestled with this command from God, but he ultimately believed, too. Believed that God is God.
There is something comforting in knowing that God doesn't require any more of me than he did of his son, his own human self. Just faith. Simple faith. Simple . . . but not easy.