I very happily teach sixth grade CCD at my parish. My approach to the (somewhat absurd) task of covering 3500 years of Old Testament history in a single semester is to highlight one major story and one major character each week. This past week, we studied the Sacrifice of Isaac and the character of Abraham.
We read the story together from the Bible (Gen 22:1-19). As usual, I wondered if they were struggling with comprehension as we went along. All such doubt was removed, however, when we reached verse 10: “Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.” They gasped. They got it. My students had understood quite well the horror of the scene.
The dreadfulness of Abraham’s plight was a source of fascination for the existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Kierkegaard’s work, Fear and Trembling, is an attempt to comprehend the anxiety that must have gripped our “Father in Faith.” A man—who had waited many decades to become a father—is asked to take his beloved son and slaughter him in sacrifice. This is the ultimate test of faith, a super-dramatic experiment with one man’s free will.
We went on in class to finish the story. We tried to understand it. We tried to step into Abraham’s shoes. They asked me what I would do in that situation. The point of the story, we agreed, was never to accomplish Isaac’s death; it was always to test Abraham’s faith. As his descendants in salvation history, we should certainly be grateful that he passed the test.
In the end, we must concede that what Abraham was willing to do on Mount Moriah was extraordinary. But what God the Father actually did on Mount Calvary is infinitely greater.
“He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all” (Rom 8:32).