Whose Voice Is It?
One thing that I’ve been talking with you about for a long time is a theory that has found traction in the Christian church called “Substitutionary Atonement.” SA is the idea that God sent Jesus his beloved Son to die for us and this dying would forgive our sins and make it possible for God to love us again. Jesus “substituted” himself and received the punishment destined for us. Christians could say: God loves me, because He sent Jesus to die for my sin.
Today’s reading from Genesis of Abraham’s sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac, is one of the texts used to bolster this idea of SA. In this story, one of the crucial stories of the Hebrew Bible (OT), Abraham hears a voice
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 on one of the mountains that I shall show you.
Abraham does as the voice commands. Abraham walks through his village with Isaac in his arms, knife in its sheaf, and heads up the mountain. Today, people would call the cops and report such activity: What is this man planning to do with his son? But in Abraham’s day the scene would be considered serious, but completely normal. A man, moved by his faith in God, could choose to sacrifice his child as an offering to the gods, for prosperity, a favor, or to atone for sin. But upon arrival at the site of sacrifice and as Abraham is about to thrust the knife into Isaac, he hears another voice just in time
Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.
Isaac is saved. Abraham heads down the mountain and through the town with his son. This would have surprised everyone! Coming down the mountain with his son would be considered “abnormal.” Not the normal outcome. “Didn’t he want to please the gods? What’s up with this?”
For centuries, both of these voices seemed to be from the same holy Source: God testing Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice his only son, and then, at the last moment, telling him not to kill the boy. But is this the case? Closer study of the Hebrew text reveals the possibility of two voices in this text. The voice that tells Abraham to sacrifice his son is elohim (the gods) and the voice that tells him not to harm the boy is Yahweh (Adonai). Elohim is a plural word that refers to “gods” and also used to refer to God, but not usually in the same text with the holy name Yahweh. There seems to be two “voices” here.
For centuries people had heard the voice of the gods calling for child sacrifice. Abraham was clearly part of that culture. Is would be easy for Abraham, called by God, to comply. But the Voice of the living God, Yahweh, calls off the sacrifice. Do you think God would put is called ones, Abraham and his children, through cruel tests like this? We’ve been led to think so.
(An aside here: Our culture thinks it has left child and animal sacrifice in the past. Pat on the back. But have we? We continue to misuse and destroy God’s Creation for our own ends and greed. And don’t we continue to practice child sacrifice to the “gods” of our chosen transcendent values like freedom and the Constitution, sending our young people to be maimed or die in never-ending wars and conflicts. These “gods” have enslaved us in the sin of violence while convincing us that we are free. If we are going to be slaves, let it be to the Living God. Romans)
Mahatma Ghandi, friends with Anglican priest, Charles Andrew, told him
There are causes for which I would be prepared to die, but no cause I would be prepared to kill for.
Jesus’ death on the Cross, once and for all, reverses this sacrificial practice of appeasing the “gods,” by sacrificing himself, the Son of the living God, for us. No longer must people offer sacrifice to please the “gods,” but God offers a Sacrifice for us! We acknowledge this tremendous Love and Sacrifice of God for us every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. We are truly enabled to be free and live a Life in the Holy Spirit. This is great and good news!!
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.