What kind of God asks you to kill your son?
Christopher Hitchens, one of the “New Athiests”, posed this question in a lecture I heard recently. With great eloquence, Hitchens put God under the microscope and found Him wanting. How could God have asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac on Mount Moriah? What would we think of any human leader who asked us to kill our children to prove our loyalty and obedience? Surely, we would call such a leader a megalomaniacal despot, an egotistical maniac? That was the gist of his argument against God. It is Hitchens, after all, who wrote a booked entitled: “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”.
A sincere Christian cannot leave such a challenge unanswered…
The Unique Nature of God
If a human being were to demand this act of another human being, one would certainly have to question his motives and his character. No human has the right to take the life of another. We are all on the same level, so none of us has the right to practice the power of life and death over another, or even over himself. That is why the consistent Christian is opposed to both abortion and euthanasia.
And yet, we do not mind killing lesser creatures for good reasons. I have no doubt that even Hitchens occasionally sits down to enjoy a nice meal of roast lamb chops. I wonder, this make him a megalomaniacal despot and an egotistical maniac? How dare he participate in the brutal slaughter of a poor and innocent fluffy little lamb, merely to satisfy his selfish desire for protein?!
Now it is true that there are vegetarians in this world who for conscience’ sake refuse to eat the meat of living creatures. But they still eat vegetables and fruits and nuts, which once were also alive in their own way. They too grew and flourished, only to be cut down ruthlessly in their prime merely to please the palate of the human eater. It may seem a silly comparison, but if God is who we think He is, then the difference between a celery and a human is nothing compared to the difference between a human and God. If the human is justified in eating a celery because it is so far inferior to him as to be considered expendable, then God must certainly be justified in sacrificing a human, because a human is far, far more inferior when compared to God. What is more, humans eat fruits they have not created. They merely plant and water them, but no human makes a plant grow out of his own power. Yet God is the One who made each of us out of nothing. Without Him we would not exist. Does not the Giver of life have the right to take it away if He so chooses?
The Sublimity of Surrender
The above looks at the matter from the perspective of God, but looked at from the perspective of Abraham or even of Isaac, Hitchens’ argument is equally unacceptable. Hitchens is guilty of a mistake that is common in modern Western society: the destruction of the good name of Submission.
For the modern thinker, surrender is the ultimate evil. If we look at relationships as a power struggle, then indeed to submit to another is a defeat. In many areas in this world, the strong defeats the weak and forces him to submit. Moreover, this submission is often designed in such a way as to humiliate the loser, to cruelly rub their face in the dirt.
But for a God of Love, submission is not a power struggle, but an indication of strength: the invincible strength, in fact, of true, divine, aghape love. Think of a father carrying his small daughter, perhaps two years old. This father allows his child to play with his nose, to grab it and pull it painfully, and then laugh at her achievement. He is submitting to his daughter. She is the victor, he the vanquished. But this is not a power struggle. This is a relationship of love, and the father’s willing submission is an expression of that love. He would in fact give anything for his daughter, perhaps, his own life in order to save hers. That is his free choice, a choice he makes because it is the nature of love to give without expecting anything in return. This is the beauty and the nobility of love.
This is the love shown by Abraham. God never forced Abraham to sacrifice his son. He did not threaten him with punishments if he refused. He merely asked him to do it, and the choice was completely up to Abraham whether to obey or not. In the same way, young Isaac must have willingly submitted to his father’s wishes. There is no sense of a struggle in the story. It is true that the Bible tells us that Abraham bound Isaac with thongs upon the altar, but there is no mention of resistance from Isaac. Very likely, he trusted his father as implicitly as his father trusted in God.
Abraham was willing to give back to God the most precious thing he had in his life: his one and only son. After a lifetime of Abraham and Sarah longing for a son in vain, after finally receiving the son of their prayers in old age, what an incredible sacrifice it must have been for Abraham to give that son back to God, and to do so with his own hands. It is an action that bespeaks tremendous faith and trust in God, and submission; freely chosen submission that came from love, not from weakness. He could easily have said ‘no’.
Thus does the human father test his daughter by asking if she would give up her favourite toy for him to play with. He does not need the toy and it is not the toy he is interested in. He is interested in his daughter’s reaction, whether she will love and trust him enough to give up her toy to him, whether her heart is selfish or generous. With such gentle tests, the father teaches his daughter what it means to love and to give. And when she gives him her toy, he immediately gives it back to her, together with so many hugs and kisses of genuine affection for his gracious little dear. This is what the incident of Moriah is all about.
The Historical Context
In this test of faith and love, God also gave Abraham an important message. Many tribes of Abraham’s time, with whom Abraham would no doubt have come into contact, practiced the cruel sacrifice of their children to their gods. These tribes actually did kill their own children in a bloody frenzy of madness and misguided devotion to false gods. We cannot even begin to imagine the horrors that must have played out in these people’s minds over the years.
Abraham was susceptible to following the example of these tribes. But on Moriah, God showed him that such a thing was unnecessary. It was as if He was saying to Abraham: “I know that you are willing to go even as far as killing your son for Me. Your devotion is at least as fervent as that of the pagans. But it is more than theirs, just as I am more a true God than their gods. Do not follow in their footsteps and do not imitate them, for you see, I have no need of their kind of sacrifice. I will bless you for what is in your heart, and not for your external actions only.”
So much of the pagan religions of ancient times seems to have been external. Yet here was God pointing out to Abraham that it is his willingness to obey and to submit that really matters, not the killing of his son. God is not interested in having children sacrificed to Him. He is interested in kind of heart His children have. This approach to worship must have been absolutely revolutionary for Abraham’s time and environment. It is easy to see how it fits in with the teaching of Jesus and prepares us for it.
A Base and Narrow Mind
Finally, I cannot help wondering at the kind of mind that can only see such horror in something so beautiful. If anything, I think Hitchens’ comments reveal far more about Hitchens that they do about God. He and his fellow critics of religion look upon the astounding sacrifice of love of the Cross of Christ and see only vileness. Richard Dawkins describes the Cross as “sado-masochistic” in The God Delusion. Somehow, he manages to keep himself completely blind to the love that the Cross represents, the supreme act of humility, of noble giving of oneself, of total and utter devotion to the beloved. Instead, he can only view the Cross from the point of view of selfishness. Upon the Cross, if Dawkins is to be believed, we see only God satisfying a base aberration of the human mind: the Father being sadistic to the Son; the Son enjoying the suffering in a fit of twisted masochism. “Religion poisons everything” says Hitchens. Who is doing the poisoning now?
What kind of mind can reduce noble love to animal violence? What’s next, I wonder? Nursing mothers only care for their child because they have a perverted desire to fatten them up and eat them? This is perhaps one of the most repugnant aspects of the New Atheists. They really seem not have thought things through to their logical conclusion. They seem unaware that their philosophy leads eventually to everything we hold dear in life losing its value, and in the end, to a sort of nihilistic fatalism where nothing matters anymore.
But that’s a topic for another day.
4 Replies to “Hitchens’ Twisted Mind”
Thanks Abouna! I have had difficultly trying to explain that to some people.
The author of Hebrews writes that Abraham expected that the Lord will raise up his son because Isaac was the child of promise.
In the past I explained it away- that Abraham must have had such a fervent faith to expect such a promise, having failed before by not believing in God’s promise the first time about Sarah having a child, and going in to Hegar.
Whilst, I had certain doubts of St Paul’s take on the story, but the more I think about, I am quite convinced of the truthfulness of the Hebrew’s description.
Hmmmm….I quite agree about the New Atheism….How do we get out to people sucked in to these things?
I encourage you to read ‘God, Actually’ by Roy Williams.
It is very much a counter to the ‘God Critics’ Hitchens and Dawkins, and a very interesting read.
Williams himself was one of these ‘New Atheists’ until he was later attracted to Roman Catholicism…
Just a funny note, I saw a documentary by Richard Dawkins a while back. In it he claimed that the Bible and Christians are responsible for global warming; because in the Bible God commands Man to ‘be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth’ and to have dominion over land and beast.
So, his arguement goes, Christians think it is their God-given right to exploit the world’s resources for their own benefit, which has resulted in global warming.
That did nothing but make me laugh…I guess it’s all our fault that the ice caps are melting, and that its not the natural cycle of the planet afterall…hahaha
once people stop believing in God , the problem is not that they will believe nothing ;rather the problem is that they will believe anything …they are discontent and despair ….they are poor in the spirit with narrow mind …..they need to search and find the spiritual contentment and it only found in that narrow road and not that narrow mind , the narrow road is “whoever drinks of the water that i shall give him will never thirst ;the water water that i shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life “”John 4:14″….if they choose the narrow mind and not the narrow road, it will lead them to the broad way :”my people have committed two evils :they have forsaken me , the fountain of living waters , and hewed out cisterns for themselves , broken cisterns , that can hold no water “”Jeremiah2:13″….so which way pal do you want to take for your spiritual contentment !!!???so mate the spiritual contentment and hope is there in that narrow road , amen ….
+i think the verse is clear..it means: the sacrifices of the people who didnt worship God, but the baal. and that burning their children as a sacrifice God didnt command the people, nor did it enter His heart..
in the case of Abraham, God’s intention was to see whether Abraham was obedient and faithful and not to sacrifice his child because mayb the most precious thing in his life was his son, so whoever loves his wife, son, more than Me is not worthy of Me..the sacrificing of issac didnt enter into God’s heart-if it did then God will love to murder His children-BUT NO IT DIDNT ENTER HIS HEART..it was to test abraham n had nothing to do with issac, he was just a tool to test Abraham’s obedience, love and faithfulness to God..Of course God keeps ALL His promises and that includes isaac-“I will make ur seed as the dust of the earth”. -Genesis 13:16
“I will establish my covenant with him(Isaac) for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. -Genesis 17:19
and abraham trusted in God 100% -Genesis 22:8″God will provide himself the lamb.”
so thats y God sent the angel of God to stop him and EVEN GAVE HIIM A RAM TO SACRIFICE!!…-genesis 22:11-13
clearly the people who are making up the athesitic theories are against God..and those who are against God WILL NEVER SUCCEED!! NEVER!!!!
oh and another great thing to match with this blog that God has done..with my sunday school class, i have just finished the story of Abraham!!!! 4 weeks of it!!! IT WAS SO AMAZING!! i learnt alot!!!!