I’ve been thinking about Isaac lately. He was Abraham’s cherished promise. He was long awaited. He was a miracle baby. I can imagine all of the tenderness and expectation and faith wrapped up in a child that was promised by God to be the beginning of a nation.
And then God asked Abraham to kill him, to sacrifice him on the altar.
I wonder what Abraham was thinking on that three day journey with Isaac. Surely he questioned what he’d done wrong, why God would ask this, where he’d get the strength to go through with it. And had God gone back on his promise? It must have seemed that way.
To live a life surrendered and open handed sounds so nice in theory. But in reality, it means a willingness to kill what you love. It’s not enough to put God first. You must be willing to burn whatever takes second and third place. If this is the case, instinct says this: Don’t love anything too much. Don’t become attached. But you and I could both spout off various Bible verses about love for one another and trusting in God’s promises. So we know our instincts can’t be right here.
In his essay, “Meditation in a Toolshed” C.S. Lewis writes:
“I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.
Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam and looking at the beam are very different experiences. “
The question here is not whether or not we should love a blessing, but how to love it. We can choose to stand in the toolshed of our lives and admire each blessing from heaven like that beam of light. We can worship the beam of light. We can even stand back and say “thank you, thank you, thank you” to whoever gave us the beam of light. But every gift is a reflection of the giver and until we love the giver, our love for the gift is partial and impure. Love the gift because you love the giver, not the giver for his gifts.
Does loving a blessing differently—be it a person or a plan—make losing it any easier? No, I don’t think so. But it allows you to hold firmly onto what you believe when you do suffer loss. If the light in the toolshed suddenly vanished, if a cloud passed by or the limb of a tree grew to block the light from the hole in the shed, would that change any property of the sun itself? Nope. Having looked along the beam, you’ve seen the sun and you know it is still there, even when you are no longer standing in the light.
Don’t let your heart cherish God’s promises more than you cherish God himself. Of course. But you should cherish them. And mourn for them when they seem far away. Abraham surely loved Isaac. He surely hoped in him as the fulfillment of God’s promise. And he surely grieved on that three day journey.
I don’t know why God put Abraham through that. But I do know that what Abraham felt as he raised his hand to slay Isaac and what I feel as I mourn the loss of a blessing, be it a person or a plan, God knows those feelings. He knows doubly what we’re feeling because (1.) he felt it too and (2.) get this: he made the feeling. He made the whole spectrum of human emotion. He made the whole spectrum of humans. Such grief is ordained, a season to pass through while waiting for the ram to appear in the thicket. Don’t let it break your faith. Hold fast to your memory of the sun. The ram is on the way. It’ll be here soon.