Part 1: Texts from the Hebrew scriptures
Chapter 1 "God was With the Boy" (Genesis 21:20)
Children in the Book of Genesis
Terence E. Fretheim
This chapter includes a number of stories about children in Genesis. I'm just posting about the part that jumped out at me. The insights and observations about the other stories are worth reading.
The story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son - I agree with the author that it's troubling after all Abraham had gone through that God would ask him to sacrifice this son. We do wonder about Abraham's seeming lack of emotion and "blind faith". Though we might legitimately wonder about the potential emotional trauma to Isaac, I was very taken aback to raise a question of abuse in this story. I think we have to be very careful imposing our own values on another culture and looking at that culture through the lens of our own understandings and our own value system. (The author does discuss historical context.) The question: Was the boy emotionally traumatized. If so, was it abuse? It's a troubling question.
What has always spoken louder to me in this story, louder than questions about abuse, was that it seems that Isaac trusted his father and his father trusted God - despite it all. The question was raised, why doesn't Isaac adamantly question or challenge his father. Not sure it was a culture where children were ever given the option to challenge an adult - something foreign to us. Both Abraham and Isaac may have been filled to the brim with challenging questions and doubts about the nature of God and what seems to us a bizarre request, but the fact of the matter seems to be that God came through for them. He sovereignly provided the sacrificial ram in place of Abraham's promised son. Not only did Abraham continue to walk with God but Isaac also walked with God.
I find Mr Fretheim's comments about no mention of Isaac accompanying his father down from the mountain, no mention of further conversation between Abraham and Isaac after that point, no mention of Isaac being present at his mother's death astute observations and really interesting questions. Because of the trauma or abuse on the alter? It's an interesting question. Still wrestling with the proposed "abusive" nature of that event as an issue here but I can understand how a post-modern generation might see it that way.
This may sound like a contradiction but in the same breath let me say that as I've read this story about God, Abraham, and Isaac over the years I inevitably think of those called to serve God choosing to "sacrifice" their children or their families for the sake of their ministries in little ways, in big ways. Should I explain this or do you know what I'm talking about? While I'm less convinced that the story of Abraham and Isaac borders on abuse (because God provided the sacrificial ram in the story so Abraham didn't have to sacrifice his son) though it may have been traumatic for the boy, I'm quite convinced that withholding from our children the parts of ourselves that they need because we are giving them to God is just as serious an offense. Traumatic? Abusive? "Abusive" may be too strong a word. Maybe it would be more accurate to call it a poor excuse for love.
If you've read or you're reading this book and you want to share something (even if you disagree) feel free to comment!