Friday, March 23 (O.S., March 10), 2018: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent; Martyr Quadratus and those with him at Corinth († 250-258): Cyprian, Dionysius, Anectus, Paul, Criscentus, another Dionysius, Victorinus, Victor, Niciphorus, Claudius, Diodorus, Serapion, Papius, Leonidus, and the holy women Chariessa, Nunechia, Basilissa, Nica, Calisa, Gala, Galina, Theodora, and many others; New Hieromartyr Priest Demetrius († 1938); Holy Martyrs Quadratus of Nicomedia, Satorinus, Rufinus and others (3rd C); Venerable Anastasia the Patrician, of Alexandria († 567-568); Venerable George Arselaitus, Brother of Venerable John Climacus; New Martyr Michael of Thessalonica.
To say, as we did yesterday, that God is holy is to affirm that relative to His creation God is wholly and absolutely free.
In Isaiah God asks “Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands?” He immediately answers His Own question by pointing out that as the Creator He can do as He sees fit.
When like Israel is Isaiah, I am the immediate beneficiary of God’s will, I’m happy. It’s hard not to rejoice when (seemingly at least) God punishes my enemies the way He punishes “Egypt … Ethiopia and the Sabeans.”
If I’m not careful, I can easily get lost in a self-satisfied revery in which I imagine that I’m different from those who annoy or harm me. I can easily lose sight of the fact that I too am a creature and so subject to God’s will. It is a false comfort to think that God reserves His harder and harsher decisions for other people, that I’m exempt from being asked to do painful things.
Did Abraham think as I often do, that God punishes his enemies but would never ask anything hard of him? If he did, the events in today’s reading bring this line of thought to an abrupt and painful end.
God gives Abraham in his old age a son, Isaac. He sees in this child the fulfillment of God’s promise to make him a mighty nation. Imagine then the conflict–to saying nothing of the horror–when God tells him “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.”
Today, and not unreasonably, someone planning to sacrifice a child to God would be arrested and likely medicated. Child sacrifice is as much an abomination to us as it was to Abraham. And yet, this is what God asks from the Patriarch.
So in obedience Abraham sets out to sacrifice Isaac. The fathers of the Church see in these events–and especially in Isaac carrying “the wood of the burnt offering”–a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
Unlike us, Abraham hadn’t received the grace to understand God’s request as a prophecy of the “good things to come” (see Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 9:11, 10:1). Nor did he have any way of knowing that at the last moment “the angel of the Lord” would call to him from heaven and tell him to not kill his son.
All Abraham knew was that God has asked him to do the unimaginable. To kill his son and to offer his child as a “whole burnt offering” (see Leviticus 1-17).
Truth be told, I find passages like today’s reading from Genesis troubling.
I much prefer the gentle, prudential wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs to the unbending demands of God’s holiness. How much easier it is for me to hear “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” than it is to think that God demands of me all that I love.
Important as human freedom is, and we shouldn’t deny or minimize freedom’s importance, we only exercise our freedom in response to God. Always and everywhere, God has both the first and the last word. In between these words, we exercise our freedom though even here we do so because we are sustained by His Word. It is, after all, God Who by His grace and in His great love that upholds “all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3, NKJV).
The folly of this world, and of my heart, is the ease with which God’s holiness is forgotten. True wisdom doesn’t forget the heart’s tendency to this forgetfulness.
How easy it is for me to turn even the things of God into occasions of forgetfulness of His holiness and sovereignty. Like Solomon says “He who is estranged seeks pretexts to break out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”