“But I don’t understand!” How many times have I said these very words concerning something I was going through in my life? If I had a nickel for every time I said this or heard this, especially from my children, I’d be very wealthy.
The truth Is I really don’t understand many things. As I look around my society, the people and the place I love so very much, I don’t understand why people make the choices they make. I don’t understand why folks can’t see the seeds of self-destruction they plant themselves in their own lives and in the lives of their family and friends with their choices, priorities, and behavior. I don’t understand why I do the same thing in my own life!
And I really don’t understand why God does what He does; why He allows what He allows, and why He doesn’t do what I think is obvious He should do. I don’t understand.
But that’s OK.
WHAT?!? Yes, the fact that I don’t understand is OK because I am still on a spiritual journey. I am still in the middle of the spiritual labor toward faith, peace, and spiritual maturity. I am still in the spiritual development necessary to come to understand someday. That’s why this journey is called “faith.”
But it isn’t a blind faith. We are blessed in our lives with a reality that changes everything. We are blessed, we are enriched, we have access to not only the example of the lives lived before us, but also the very Incarnated God Himself come among us to show us the way. I don’t understand, but I am completely confident that one day I will! I believe!
It’s only when I lose sight of that confidence that I struggle with strength, motivation, and purpose in my spiritual life. I get the tunnel vision of doubt and I get captured by that lack of vision when I forget important lessons.
In our Scripture Lesson today we are confronted with a horrible story; absolutely horrible. And, worse yet, the story is horrible precisely because God Himself makes a horrible request of His friend Abraham! God commands Abraham to make a human sacrifice of his son, Isaac. This is the very miracle son God granted Abraham and his, up to then, barren wife, Sarah. Yep, THAT son was to be made a human sacrifice to God. This is totally out of character for God. It was the pagan gods around the area who asked for human sacrifices, but Abraham thought the God Who spoke to him was different. And now God is asking for a human sacrifice?
Look at Genesis 22:1-18:
After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father! “And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”
This terrifying scene is set, and what’s most amazing is that Abraham is determined to obey! But there is something even more amazing than God’s request. It’s Abraham’s response to Isaac’s innocent question as they walk up the hill to the place where Abraham will put a knife to his son’s throat. Isaac looks up at his dad and says “My father! ‘And he said, ‘Here am I, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7) Obviously, he had gone with his father many times before as Abraham worshipped God with a sacrifice, so Isaac’s question was both natural and powerful in it’s innocence.
But Abraham’s answer absolutely reverberates through history and strikes us today with as much force now as it did in the Ears of God on that fateful day “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8)
Abraham didn’t understand God’s request. But Abraham absolutely believed God would never break His word to Abraham to raise up a mighty nation from Abraham and Sarah. So, regardless of the fog of confusion in the moment, Abraham trusted God would provide. God would provide the Lamb for the sacrifice. And, as we continue our Lenten journey, we once again participate in God’s loving supply of His Lamb for us! While Abraham was willing to offer his son, his only son; our God did just that for us. There was no ram caught in the thicket for our Lord Jesus!
Today, when you grasp the truth that it isn’t necessary for you to understand everything at all times; when you humbly embrace your own need for spiritual growth and yet trust God anyway, you will see your faith strengthened, your heart at peace in every circumstance, and your love for God grow, as He provides over and over again even when you don’t understand! God showed Abraham and, throughout history us as well, the powerful fruit of valuing faith over mere understanding, and trust over some false sense of our own self sufficiency. And God has provided a Lamb for us as well and He looks down from His cross that becomes a throne of victory and says to you today “God has provided you with a Lamb. And this Lamb is worthy of your faith and trust!” Even when you don’t understand.