The Murderous God - Part 2: Ordering the Execution of Isaac
Welcome back to Part 2 in our series on The Murderous God. If you haven’t gotten the chance yet, I recommend reading Part 1 first.
from 4 billion to 1
Previously we looked at the popular children’s Bible story of Noah’s Ark in which God apparently murdered around four billion people, including hundreds of millions of young children and pregnant mothers. Now while a few of you might join me in having some difficulty following this reasoning, some responded to my charge of mass murder against the supposedly benevolent God of Scripture by pointing out that really the enormous body count shouldn’t matter. If God is infinite in love, knowledge, and wisdom, we just have to trust him that such sacrifices, whether one or one million, are not a violation of his holy and immutable character when deemed necessary in order to further his long-term redemptive plan.
While I hope that this argument is utter nonsense and appalling to anyone with even the most basic understanding of common sense morality, let’s look at another story that is routinely used to help form an understanding of true faith in the minds of our little ones. And this time, God is only guilty of nearly killing another single human being.
happy father’s day!
I effectively left the church in December of 2017, though I was still identifying as a Christian or ‘Jesus follower’ up until earlier this month. Unfortunately, for quite some time after discarding the assembly of the faithful I unfortunately chose to not oppose or discourage my wife from taking Melody and Ellie to the church where I once served as a pastor. However, I was in the regular routine of asking my oldest daughter Melody what she was learning in ‘Sunday school’. After she would share, I would often follow with additional questions that would encourage some of the independent, critical thinking I had tragically discouraged for far too many prior years.
It was in June of 2018 that a similar situation played out on, of all days, Father’s Day. When I posed my standard opening question, Melody informed me that they had looked at the story of when Abraham almost sacrificed his only son, Isaac. I honestly am embarrassed that it took till that day for me to realize the absolutely disgusting cruelty on display in Genesis 22:1-19. But the process of deconstruction does inherently imply that there will be a significant number of revelations over time as we painfully peel back the layers of religion’s duplicity.
In my prior life as a Christian, where I was conditioned to be agreeable to such ethical dissonance, choosing to highlight such a story on the day we celebrate dad-hood would have made total sense. Though horrific now, it is truly a father-son story. And it featured a dad who is held up as a giant of godliness by all three major mono-theistic religions! I can’t speak for other religions or traditions within Christianity, but if you were a protestant, evangelical kid growing up in the American church in the 70’s and 80’s, you regularly sang the catchy tune…
“Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had father Abraham. And I am one of them, and so are you. So let’s just praise the Lord!”
But now I was having the ghastly realization that my children went to church on a day where they are supposed to honor, in part, my role in their life, only to have held up as a shining example of fatherhood a man who would willingly agree to kill and burn his only offspring in order to appease God.
abraham: god’s hit man
A good technique to reveal to a believer the reality of biblical hypocrisy is to begin by first describing a hypothetical situation that essentially plays out the plot points of a Scriptural narrative. Once their intuition rightly condemns the behaviors of the principal characters, draw the parallel to the Bible’s version and see what happens.
Or we could place it in another context: jury duty! I’ve been called several times. And while I have never ended up making the final cut, everyone who has reported for this mandated civic responsibility has likely joined me in imagining how we might respond if called to render judgement where a felony crime had allegedly occurred. Most would assume that the worst of all of these would be an accusation of murder or, slightly lesser than that, of an attempted murder.
With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where, say, a mob boss or gang leader decides to test the loyalty of a new member by having them knock off an equally violent rival competitor. Though I can’t recall a particular film, I’m almost sure I’ve watched a scene where a crime lord hands a protege a gun and instructs him to put a bullet in the head of his tied-up enemy. Maybe it turns out that the gun was intentionally not loaded, so as to avoid the gruesome cleanup while still ensuring that the new recruit was willing to pull the trigger.
Now whether this is purely a fictional case study or an actual legal case, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would not render a conviction of attempted first degree murder for both the one who ordered the hit and the one who attempted the execution. But have the job come from God and carried out by one of his obedient servants? Now that’s totally justifiable!
When the punishment fits no crime
Add to the insanity of this biblical story the fact that it appears that the unfortunate soul (Isaac) hadn’t done anything that would warrant a slap on the wrist let alone death by dad! At least with Noah’s Ark there was the declaration that, when it came to the billions who were about to drown, “every inclination of” their “thoughts…was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). Contrary to the common artistic depictions of Isaac as a little boy at the time, most biblical literalists believe he was somewhere around twenty years old. But even then, there is no prior record of Isaac committing any grievous offenses. No, he just so happened to be born in the wrong time to the wrong parents.
reality vs the Saturday morning cartoon version
As we did with Noah’s Ark, we will also do with this story. Let’s move past the conveniently and comfortably vague text of the passage and try to breath some possible real world humanity into the moment. In particular, I want to focus on two verses.
“When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” (Genesis 22:9-10 - NIV)
Now I’m going to assume that once Isaac realized that he was going to be the sacrifice, he probably ceased being an obedient son and struggled to resist his dad’s attempt to bind him and place him on the alter. Visualize for a moment the horrific trauma of that moment. Was Isaac forced to hit his dad during the assault? Did Abraham have to subdue his son by striking him unconscious? If so, how many blows did it take? Or did he manage to bind him while fully awake?
Let’s just say that Isaac was alert. Thankfully I and most other people in the world have never been threatened, let alone stabbed, by a blade. I can’t even imagine how he felt as he saw his dad take the knife out. How long did that moment last before the “angel of the Lord” intervened (v. 11)? What words did Isaac cry out towards his dad in a desperate attempt to talk him out of slitting his throat or pushing the dagger deep into his chest?
Now hold this in contrast to the Bible App for Kid’s version of “Abraham’s Big Test” as they call it. (Click or tap on the image below to see how they depicted this repulsive moment).
When it comes to such examples of biblical violence at the hands or commands of God, I have a theory as to why staunch supporters of the Bible often resist reflecting and depicting to others the brutality of these moments. Even to believers with the most blunted of sensitivities, these bloody images might prove unsettling of their most cherished assumptions of an all-loving God.
a test of faith or sign of insanity?
Most of my close friends and family members know I have long had a love for the game of baseball. Years ago I got to visit Cooperstown, home to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The stories of not only great athletic but especially human accomplishments, such as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, were enjoyable and inspirational.
The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews is often referred to as the ‘Faith Hall of Fame’. You would think that such a chapter would highlight the noblest of faith-inspired acts of love and compassion. Yet prominently featured in this biblical ‘Who’s Who’ list is Abraham, and specifically the moment he almost killed his only son to prove his allegiance to a cruel and narcissistic God. As damning as that is for Abraham, how much more is it of the one who is called elsewhere in the Bible the ‘Heavenly Father’.
My conclusion is simple: if that is what it takes to get into the Scripture’s ‘Hall of Fame’, I hope to fall far short of its standards. Moreover, I have no desire be known as a child of either Abraham or the God he worshiped nor do I wish to follow in their footsteps as a father.
Sometime back I found a YouTube channel that goes by the handle ‘nonstampcollector’. The animation is very simple, but the script is some of the most well thought out and entertaining satire I have found challenging a number of biblical stories and doctrines. Below is his retelling of the story of Genesis 22. Enjoy.