|Abraham Willing To Kill Son Isaac|
Abraham, in my estimation, failed the test because he failed to be a protecting father to his two sons. To cover his own shame he abandoned his son Ishmael and his mother Hagar(Abraham’s forced mistress). He gave them some food and a donkey and sent them away. Why? Because what seemed like the ‘outer voice of God’ gave him permission to. This would get him imprisoned today and rightfully so. The other son he was willing to traumatize and kill. Why ? Because the same ‘outer voice’ told him to. In reading Old Testament stories it is so important to keep in mind that we are reading an ancient people’s collective mythical experience of ‘their god-image.’ This should never be taken as the eternal reflection of the ‘ ultimate God’ of us all. The gnostic Christians, who were persecuted and destroyed by the more powerful Christian establishment that had formed by the time the New Testament canon was established,(The canon is the books that were finally included in the Bible through the political structure of the 4th century institutional church.), had a different- and I think more discerning- interpretation on the Abraham story. But this voice was all but hushed by the time the canon was established. That voice can now be partially heard through some of their works being discovered in recent decades in dry Egyptian caves.(A wonderful resource for this information is Elaine Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels.)
The best we can tell, Abraham did not stand strong to question and dispute the "outer voice of god” that required him to be willing to make a human sacrifice of his son, Isaac. (I like to think the ‘angel holding his arm and ram being caught in the thicket ‘ that relieved Abraham’s required violence against his son is a way the story says that Abraham did come to his senses and disobey to the ‘violent voice’ that had possessed his better moral judgment.) We should be saddened by such weakness of heart and mind. No wonder that his sons, one abandoned and the other traumatized by his father's willingness to murder him, came to hate each other. The two sons’ present day descendants are the Jews and Arabs who demonstrate perhaps the most dangerous religious struggle of modern history. Because of how this story was interpreted these two cultures have never been given world community support to own these horrible Abrahamic wounds and to acknowledge the parental neglect the story has left them both to carry to this very day.
To accept and internalize the story as usually interpreted gives Sacred approval to human violence, pictures God as violent, makes violence something to be expected and accepted in actual human activity and life. Our present societies display this deeply seated , and 'God approved', violence in our daily news broadcasts. Such religiously internalized stories, not questioned, desensitize us to violence and abuse and prevent such images of God as seen in Jesus of Nazareth from actually being our consciously driven moral principle. Christians in essence are not able to be as genuinely Christian as they wish in their morality and Jews are disconnected from the humane and loving images of God that are in their Sacred writings.
Later Abraham is pictured courageously pleading to God to spare the people of Sodom and the 'god image changes' to a 'more moral God' and grants Abraham's desire. To the sons this would be like the father being wonderful to other people but his own sons receiving no such place of great value in their father's heart. He did not come to either of their defense when they were most vulnerable, perhaps the single most important function of a human father. Why did he not have the same concern and courage for his innocent sons to challenge ‘the voice’ that kept him from being a faithful father? Perhaps the story shows that Abraham had developed spiritually enough in older age to realize that these ‘voices and god images’, that we can understand now come from the Collective Unconscious, are not to be blindly accepted and acted upon without the ego engaging them and questioning what they are up to. Abraham failed the test that would have truly led him to greater self-hood and being an example of the easily missed spiritual/moral path we are all challenged to follow in one way or another.
Ironically, it’s been often acknowledged in Bible classes that Abraham was ‘not perfect’ but all that is pointed to is his lying to authorities to save Sarah’s and his own life. That may have actually been a correct and noble moral decision. But the orthodox religious traditions totally ignore his obvious and horrible failure to be a good human father to his two boys. This so clearly demonstrates, in a practical way, how one must look for the ‘truer god image’ within him/herself than the one that is usually first presented to us in formal religion. This also demonstrates how these important myths our religions have inherited can still be used positively to guide and mature us spiritually, but only if we are willing to engage and question them with our human ego consciousness, and not enter them with our brains, intuition and imagination turned off. This same kind of interpretation work can be applied with mind/heart-opening results to the Adam and Eve story and all the important mythic stories the Bible places before us. This is the kind of spiritual work that can truly result in postmodern humans experiencing the most basic meaning of ‘repentance.’ According to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, ‘repentance’ means the spiritual epiphany of ‘seeing differently afterward’. It is when we are moved emotionally and mentally to our depths for we ‘now see’ something , such as the story of Abraham, in a drastically different way than we did before. A way that has a permanent and profound impact on how we handle the moral and religious issues that face us. We may sometimes experience a complete 180 degree ‘turn around’ in some religious/moral perceptions. One never forgets such spiritual learning moments. We can pray that such ‘repentance’ be a far more common experience in religious life of our day.