So the sermon yesterday looked at the story of Abraham and Isaac. Preacherman offered a viewpoint that I found interesting – the big deal about this (and by extension, the Crucifixion) was not that a sacrifice was made, but rather that the perception of the Divine changed via those events. To paraphrase – when God first contacted Abraham, Abraham perceived him as “Elohim,” which was a basic Mesopotamian “sky god” construct. In other words, man defined God. At the moment of Isaac’s near-sacrifice, though, God is then identified – by himself – as “Yahweh” (Jehovah), or “I am that I am.” In other words, God defined Himself.
Roll that around in your brain for a second.
This is how I interpret this: The story of Abraham and Isaac is the first time in theological history that God defines Himself rather than building on human conceptions of what a God should be. What we have here is what writing types would call “plot development.” In order for the events of the next 65 books to take place, the protagonist has to take on a larger role – one beyond the purview of some regional deity. Here, God gets His capitalization. It is a transforming moment.
Now, let us look at the parallel to Abraham and Isaac – the Crucifixion. The traditional view is that Christ was the sacrifice provided to close the story of Abraham and provide the necessary bloodshed. The spilling of Christ’s blood was a violent act, the culmination of several violent acts and sacrifices. Because of this act, we need no longer commit violence for appeasement of an angry God. Let’s go a little further now – neither Isaac nor Christ were going to fight their sacrifice (Isaac because he was unable, Christ because He was unwilling), even though both were innocent. We move away from sacrifice of innocents at this point and into a new age of personal responsibility. In some ways, this actually weakens the power that God assumed in the transformation from Elohim to Yahweh…but that’s a discussion for another time.
I draw two conclusions: (1) Violence is never the answer where issues of soteriology are concerned, and (2) the most amazing thing about the story of Christ is how transforming it is with regard to our relationship with the Divine and those around us. Whether you believe or don’t (and don’t kid yourself, no one who thinks hasn’t had moments of extreme doubt), the idea that we need not sacrifice each other to make a better world is powerful.