30 April, 2006

The Struggle of Downfall

413Px-Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn 035

This past year has been a dismal year of film watching for me. I was spoiled in California by Blockbuster's "watch as much as you want for $20 a month deal" and a father in law who loves a rainy day schedule of movie watching (Sean - may we always be "film dudes"). I must have watched about 2-3 movies a week back then. When we moved to Ireland cheap movie viewing became a thing of the past. My list of "movies to watch" was growing while my "movies watched list" remained stagnant. So, upon returning to Ireland I have decided to change all that and have signed up for screenclick - an online DVD renting company. I'm in my first-month-free trial period and so far so good. I just sent back my first two DVDs. Here's hoping that the notoriously slow Irish postal service doesn't ambush any possibility of watching more than 4 DVDs a month (the bare minimum one would have to watch to justify the cost of the monthly service).

One of the movies we rented and watched was Downfall - a German movie chronicling the final days of Adolf Hitler's life and the lives of those around him in his bunker and in Berlin. It was a hard movie to watch - very graphic. One of the hardest scenes to watch (and fathom) was that of Joseph Goebbels and his wife systematically killing their six children because "a world without National Socialism was not a world worth living in." The thought kept us awake late into the hours and the conversation quickly turned us to the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis. Why would a loving God ever ask a parent to do such a thing? Hailey and I sat in bed a wrestled with the text, tried to imagine what Abraham was thinking - did he presume God would stop him? - what Isaac was thinking, what God was thinking? What was God thinking? I mean, would I even trust it to be the word of God if I was asked to do such a heinous act? Oh how the relationship between Abraham and Isaac must have changed in the process. I wonder how long it must have been before they even talked to one another again?

The more we discussed the more unsettled we became. There was no way we were going to sleep even though it was late. We were sitting up in bed running through different scenarios. In verse 5 he notes that both he and the boy would return to the servant but did Isaac hear this? Was it said to calm the servant? Was it a sign of Abraham's belief that God would not let him kill his son?

Slowly but surely as we struggled with the account in the Scriptures and with each other's interpretations, parts of the story began to make sense for us. Indeed, the story of Abraham and Isaac quickly distanced itself from the horror of the Goebbels' murders which had sparked the discussion. In fact, by the end of the night our wrestling with God had left us more in love with him.

First off, Abraham was a man who had spoken with the Lord and knew his voice (cf. Gen. 15; 17; 18:16ff). Indeed, he had wrestled with God on many occassions. However, Abraham was particularly aware that he had in an act of disobedience and disbelief tried to have an heir through Hagar, his wife's servant (cf. Gen. 16) in an attempt to accomplish God's promises in ways outside how they'd been promised. It was an act of defiance that came from Abraham's very soul. Thus, when Isaac was born, Abraham's faith needed to be reborn lest his faith be in his son. So, as Hailey and I struggled through the text we presumed that Abraham must have been in agony and in torment over what he should do. But Abraham knew why God had asked him to kill Isaac. It wasn't as though this request was put to just anyone. Isaac was the future of God's covenant with Abraham. Isaac was thus also central to Abraham's relationship with God. Abraham's hope was in Isaac, not in God and thus the relationship needed to be restored. But going through the act of attempting to kill your own son must have been tortuous. And yet, it was going through the act that was required. Just as it had been a full-bodied act of disbelief with Hagar, so it also had to be a full-bodied act of belief in obeying God's command. It wouldn't have done for Abraham to just say "I believe in you God, sorry I doubted you." No, he had to engage his belief in the physical act of following God. The two - belief and act - cannot be separated. What we do is what we believe.
Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. 12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son" (Gen. 22:10-12).
Oh, how sweet those words must have been to hear those words. Abraham's hope was back in God not in his son, and in giving up his son, Abraham found out what it was like to actually receive his son as a gift from God.

As Hailey and I finished our wrestling session with God, we sat there having fallen more in love with God. We began to discuss the similarities between this story and the story of the Father sending his own Son to die on a mountain (let me just say that there are many similarities) when all of a sudden Eoin started to cry and it was a race to see who could hug our very own gift from God first.

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