Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hope recovered

The world was dark to him as he walked up the mountainside, even though bright sunlight kept breaking through the skittering clouds. All the promises, all the bright shiny miracles: did they mean anything at all? He had followed this God into a strange new land and a strange new life, trusting that all His purposes were good; but now, for the first time in years, doubts were tearing at him, raking over his soul with their sharp red claws. He looked at the boy, so serious, so trusting, following his father without doubt or question, though the situation made no sense to him. Was he like that with God? Following blindly, trustfully, believing in the love and wisdom of the one he followed, only to find, at the end, the knife at his throat and everything he’d ever hoped for bleeding away into the thirsty dust? He shuddered at the thought, and only the long habit of obedience kept his feet to the path.

So long to wait for the promise – hoping, stumbling, making mistakes along the way, wrestling back and forth about what God might have meant by those diamond-sharp words – so many years until they were given the boy named laughter, the boy whose coming swept away the old doubts and fears. And now came the impossible command – he was to give up this child, and with him all the hopes and promises that had kept him focused through these long journeying years. And he himself (oh, bitter, bitter command!) must be the one who bound the child to the altar and raised the knife. He could hardly bear it. Surely, somewhere in all of this, God’s goodness would become clear?

He could delay no longer, now that they had reached the top. And now that they had reached the inevitable moment, he realised how very much he had been hoping that something would intervene, that it would not come to pass. Stone by heavy stone they built the altar, and every weight he lifted seemed to grind him down further. He saw the boy’s eyes darting around, wondering where the sacrifice was, but he said nothing. And when the altar was finished and the wood laid upon it, and the old man took him and bound him to the altar, as one would bind a lamb or a goat, he still said nothing, but his father dared not meet his eyes, for he knew he would see in them the same monstrous sense of betrayal that was screaming in his own soul.

It was only then, as he raised the knife, and every last hope had died, that the miracle took place and the Lord intervened and the voice from heaven spoke.  The boy was to be spared. There was a ram in the thicket he could sacrifice instead, and he did, though he could scarcely see what he was doing for the tears of relief that were streaming down his face. And then the voice from heaven came again, renewing the promise of his many descendants, and that through him all the nations of the world would find blessing. Where does a man find words at such a time? There are none that can keep pace with the swirling emotions that threaten to overwhelm him: wonder, relief, joy, pain, the renewal of faith and the deep sense of confusion. He held his son close, but it was a long time before he dared to look him in the eye. But when he finally did, he did not find the anger, betrayal and hurt he was expecting. Isaac, too, had encountered the Lord on the mountain of provision. There would be long, starlit evenings ahead to explore the meaning of it all. For now it was enough to be thankful.

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