Back in my Mormon Matters days (a John Dehlin website), it seems like we’d get a post every couple of weeks about how the scriptures are full of bad stories of God commanding the death of someone. We’d get complaints about Nephi and Laban, of course, but the story that seemed to get the most attention was that of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac.
I remember one post, in particular that suggested the story should be changed to have Abraham refuse to sacrifice Isaac and the angel of God then praises Abraham for refusing to do something immoral even if God commands it.
I can see why this story is so troubling to theological liberals and non-believers. This story simply leaves no room to ethically explain it away.
First of all, if we actually met someone that decided to sacrifice their son because they believed God commanded it, we’d immediately condemn them and we’d even consider them insane. Under no circumstances would we commend them for their ‘faith.’
Making this story less comfortable is the fact that Abraham never seems to challenge the source of his revelation. Indeed, there is no ‘source of revelation’ mentioned at all in the story. We are matter-of-factly told that God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham clearly has no doubts it is God. He never asks “is Satan deceiving me?” or “am I losing my mind and hearing things?”
Every Theological liberal I’ve talked to (well, the Dehlinite variety) would prefer that we make a rule that we can discern revelation based on the morality of the content. This story specifically undermines that desire.
But then things only get worse. The New Testament then holds up this story as a supreme example of what it means to have faith in God. (See also) And not just the New Testament, mind you. The Book of Mormon also approves of the story as a correct show of faith as does the Doctrine and Covenants. So, other than the Pearl of Great Price, the Abraham Story is universally treated by all ancient and modern scripture as a correct view of faith. Theological liberals are terrified at the thought that this is what it means to have faith in God. Come to think of it, theological conservatives aren’t comfortable with this story either, especially if it were to come from a different religion.
So why is this story held up as an ultimate example of what it means to have faith in God? I am not sure I know the answer to that question. One thing pondering the story has done for me is to help reveal to me what I call “the faith-based nature of reality.” We walk by faith on so many different and even invisible things. As my posts on morality point out, even morality itself is faith-based. So deciding to judge a revelation by its moral content is a rationally questionable thing to do since morality is itself actually a type of revelation that can’t be rationally justified.
But I’m open to other thoughts on this subject. Why is this story of Abraham held up by God as the quinessential form of correct faith in God?