The Full Disclosure of God

Faith Recovery Podcast
Faith Recovery Podcast
The Full Disclosure of God

The gospel is the only full disclosure of God.

In “The Full Disclosure of God,” Nathan shares why the cross is the only logical way to ever fully know God.

“The Full Disclosure of God” Episode Notes:

The Abraham Test

After God’s joyful provision of a son for Abraham through his aged wife Sarah, Scripture blurts out:

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

(Genesis 22:1-2 NIV)

Even sight-read, these words sting my ears.

This episode begins with the editorial note that God was testing Abraham, but does that make it any less barbaric? Atheist, Adam Lee, writes:

That the sacrifice was not actually carried out does not change the moral revulsion we should feel at this episode. What kind of god would demand a man prove his obedience by murdering his only son? And more so, what kind of man would obey such a command?

What kind of a man indeed! Lee probes deeper into the believer’s moral character with a question he ironically calls, “The Abraham Test.” Here’s how he formulates it:

Do you believe that violence in God’s name is wrong, or do you merely believe he hasn’t personally told you to do violence? If God appeared to you and spoke to you, commanding you to commit a violent act – to murder a child, say – how would you respond? [i]

How would you answer? What do you think your answer says about you?

And yet this test falls short of the one God gave to Abraham. God didn’t just command him to “commit a violent act” or even to “murder a child.” That would have been much easier than what God required. Look again.

It wasn’t, “murder a child,” but “take your son.”

It wasn’t just, “take one of your sons,” but “your only son.”

And God reveals that he knows just what emotional price he expects Abraham to pay when he further specifies, “whom you love – Isaac.”  It’s one thing to contemplate the ghoulish possibility of murdering anyone’s child, but to take one of our own, even our only one?

I suspect that Adam Lee might not have kids because if he did, he wouldn’t have gone so easy with his wording. This isn’t just a moral issue; it’s an existential one. When we have children, we discover what might be called the immutability of existence. That is, we can’t imagine our lives without them. And we come to know instinctively their inherent irreplaceability. In naming just who he required from Abraham, “Isaac,” God acknowledges the pricelessness of this offering.

Nothing could ever compensate any sane parent for the loss of their child. No offer of fame, fortune, or honor could ever be promised in trade for their continued presence with us. And God doesn’t make any such offer. He simply makes this staggering demand without qualification or assurance of any kind. This is no quid pro quo for there could never be any quid that could adequately reward such a quo.

The narrative goes on to waylay us with another blow while we’re still reeling from the implications of this command. God’s command is met with Abraham’s equally perplexing response:

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

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 22:3-10)

I’ve seen dramatizations of this story where Abraham struggles with God’s command. I suppose they were trying to make the story relatable. But scripture portrays inhuman compliance. Abraham doesn’t delay. He gets up early the next morning and makes all necessary provisions. Part of that due diligence was to take servants with him, but it’s noteworthy that he left them behind when it came time to do the deed. Surely, if he’d taken them along they would have tried to stop him. From the moment the command came, Abraham had every intention of seeing it through.

Nobody can relate to Abraham’s actions in this story, but the details keep the events very human. Isaac and the servants seem to assume Abraham knows what he’s doing when he takes them three days into the wilderness to worship. Surely, all three of them noticed that he’d failed to bring along an animal to sacrifice, but they most likely assumed he’d acquire one along the way. As he and Isaac ascend the mountain together, the prospects of finding an animal dwindle to zero. Lest we become numb to the parental agony Abraham must be feeling, the narrative gives Isaac lines. Both we and Abraham are prevented from objectifying him with his first word, “Father.”

It’s hard to imagine how the feeble old man remained on his feet under the weight of innocence and trust conveyed in his son’s address. And yet, rather than distance himself, Abraham responds with a tender, “Yes, my son?”

Then, after Isaac’s naive question and Abraham’s shrewd lie, the narrator adds, “And the two of them went on together,” as if he’s talking about a father-son camping trip. We might make ourselves believe that’s what is happening except for the explicit depiction of the father tying up his son to slaughter him in the very next verse.

Yes, Mr. Lee is correct, this story is a test for us. He’s just wrong about exactly what it was designed to test for.

What kind of God?

Adam Lee’s “Abraham Test” is meant to answer, “What type of man,” but the answer to that question is secondary to the answer to the first one he asked above, “What kind of god would demand a man prove his obedience by murdering his only son?”

And that answer is, “The only kind.”

This closing episode in the Abraham saga doesn’t concern itself with morality but with theology. People who make moral judgments about Abraham and God in this story reveal a fundamental misunderstanding. We can’t join Adam Lee in comparing God’s actions to what we would have done because we aren’t God.

When we speak of God, we refer to the ultimate reality and the ground of all being. That notion defies definition because all definitions are comparative, and nothing can compare to God. When we consider God, we must relinquish all other considerations. The act of doing this is called “reverence” or “fear.”

Imagine coming face to face with a being who alone is eternal and from whom all things have sprung. This being exists apart from time and yet is present simultaneously in every moment in every part of this universe and all others that might exist. No law applies to this being and no words can fully describe it. That’s because it predates laws, language, and even ideas. In its presence, everything melts into insignificance.

Only a being like this deserves to be called, “God,” because only an ultimate being is worthy of worship. Anything penultimate would only be quantitatively superior to us. If quantitative superiority made one worthy of worship, then toddlers owe me a lot more respect than they normally demonstrate.  You might say that the difference between me and a toddler isn’t great enough to merit worship, but who are you to say? Exactly what is the quantitative distance that creates the divine divide? Suppose a god like Thor did exist. We might respect him or fear him, but since his attributes are just like ours only larger, we wouldn’t really owe him worship. If he required it, we might comply but only by coercion.

And yet the God of the Bible isn’t anything like Thor because he’s nothing like us. While the gods of antiquity obviously expand on human traits, the God of the Bible is transcendent. That is, he’s holy. This is why images of him were prohibited because any depiction would only misrepresent him.[ii]

Because he’s qualitatively different from us, we are prone to underestimate him as Adam Lee and other skeptics do. Before anyone has a chance at connecting with God, they must learn to properly esteem him. For God to be God he must be supreme. For him to be supreme he must be beyond all other considerations including the closest familial bonds, “common decency,” or any other human moral construct. Otherwise, the superior consideration would become ultimate, and he would just be “big” or “impressive.”

This brings us to the next section of the Abraham story:

But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

(Genesis 22:11-12 NIV)

Perhaps most of us are so relieved that the father of our religion doesn’t kill his son that we fail to notice how weird things get at this point.

At the point of high drama in the story we’re suddenly introduced to a new character, “the angel of the LORD.” We might not think much of it and just assume God who spoke directly to Abraham in vs. 1 has randomly opted to revoke his command through one of his minions.

But this is no minion.

He speaks as if he is God himself, “because you have not withheld from me your son…” At the same time, he speaks of God in the third person, “Now I know that you fear God.”

What’s going on here?

This enigmatic personage appears several times, especially in the early books of the Old Testament. For example, he comforts Hagar in Genesis 16 and commissions Moses in Exodus 3. In both cases, he’s referred to as the Angel (more accurately Messenger) of the LORD. In both instances, he speaks as though he is God and not just on behalf of God. He seems to be God and yet is also God’s messenger. In the current story, he must be God since only God could countermand an order given by God. This agrees with his self-identification as the recipient of Abraham’s sacrifice.

So, God has always been a unified community.

But that’s not the primary consideration here. The person who stops the sacrifice isn’t referred to as “the Messenger of God,” but as “the Messenger of the LORD.” That’s striking because this is the first mention of the proper name of God in this story. Look back over it. In verses 1-10, the divine being is exclusively referred to as “God.” He’s designated “the LORD” for the first time in verse 11.

We might attribute the shift to the author’s literary choices except for the fact that “God” drops from the narrative altogether at this point making way for only “the LORD.”

The LORD Will Provide

Look over the conclusion of the story to see what I mean:

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket, he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

(Genesis 22:13-19 NIV- emphasis mine)

The Hebrew word translated “God” in Scripture refers to the generic concept of the divine being. The word, LORD, in all caps in most English translations, stands for the sacred name of God written in four Hebrew letters and pronounced (we think) “Yahweh.”

The word for God’s nature appears exclusively in the first section of this story where the deity speaks abruptly and makes an ultimate demand. The proper name, Yahweh, introduces a section marked by mercy, provision, and promise.  These two sections turn around an axis where the Messenger of Yahweh speaks in the third person about Abraham’s fear of God while also identifying himself as one and the same.

This looks intentional to me.

God in his nature compels fear expressed as the ultimate sacrifice. Surely any consideration that could override the will of God would itself be god as far as we are concerned. This reality is inescapable and without it, nobody can truly know God. So, to answer Adam Lee’s question, everyone who claims to worship God must be willing to do as Abraham did.

At the same time, Yahweh as a person would never accept such a horrible sacrifice since his character is benevolent love.

This dichotomy between God in his nature and Yahweh in his character sets up a divine dilemma. Without the ultimate sacrifice, God’s holiness remains unsettled. But if he should accept the ultimate sacrifice, his love would be obscured. Abraham on the horns of that same dilemma surmised its resolution, “God will provide for himself the lamb…” (Genesis 22:8a ESV).

Abraham’s supposition proved true with the ram offered in place of Isaac, but that sacrifice hardly qualified as a substitution in kind. The ultimate sacrifice was yet to be made. So, Abraham gave the place a name that would serve as a placeholder for the day when God’s holiness and love would come together in the loving sacrifice of God’s son, his only son whom he loves – Jesus.

At the dawn of this era, the Messenger of Yahweh was born the Offspring of Abraham. On a mountain called Calvary, the LORD provided the Lamb as the ultimate sacrifice who was both the placard of his holiness and the gift of his love.

[i] Lee, Adam. The Abraham Test – Big Think

[ii] Deuteronomy 4:15-20