Wake up, sleeper…1
Those words came not as a voice inside my head, but as awareness in my mind. I didn’t know why but suddenly I was wide awake and aware that I wouldn’t fall back asleep. It was between 3 and 4 a.m. on a random morning in 1997. I got out of bed and headed upstairs, not wanting to wake my wife. She needed her rest. She was pregnant with our first child, our son.
I plopped onto the couch thinking I might catch some of the previous day’s sports highlights on ESPN but something prompted me not to turn on the TV. I noticed my Bible on the end table beside the couch. Should I read it? I hadn’t read it much lately. Honestly, I had drifted away from it. I stopped reading the Bible because I felt I already knew the New Testament pretty well and had sworn off reading the Old Testament. I couldn’t relate to the stories of the Old Testament. So much violence and bloodshed and inhumanity — what did all that have to do with Jesus? I wasn’t comfortable with the harsh and judgmental God I encountered in the Old Testament. I just didn’t see the point of the Old Testament stories — pointless myths and fables, I supposed.
Something prompted me to pick up my Bible. “God, what would you have me read?” I asked aloud. What’s remarkable is that while I sometimes prayed or talked to God, I was certainly not in a close relationship with Him at that time. Even the notion of being in a relationship with God would have seemed surprising and odd to me then. He had never woken me up before (though He has many times since); nor was I necessarily thinking He had woken me up then. I must have sensed the possibility that He was with me that morning because I asked Him the question out loud. Somehow I sensed I should open my Bible to the Old Testament, which is where I felt my attention called. I randomly opened to Genesis 22, which begins: “Some time later God tested Abraham…”
“Aha!” I thought, “Here’s a great example of why I dislike the Old Testament so much.” I knew the story. What kind of cold-hearted God promises to give a man a son, makes him wait so long, and then instructs him to slay his son as a sacrifice? All that fuss and bother merely to test Abraham’s faith? This explanation made no sense to me. If God was all-knowing then He knew whether or not Abraham had faith. And if Abraham did have faith and was capable of such a monstrous act then why would God want to see it carried out?
Good questions! (I’ve learned that God wants us to approach Him with our questions.)
Nevermind that God would show mercy right at the end by telling Abraham not to kill his son Isaac. God had given the command so, to my way of thinking, the damage was done. Abraham had already hiked all the way up the mountain thinking that his mission was to sacrifice his son. He had already tied Isaac to the altar, who by now realized his father meant to slay and burn him. My thoughts that morning were: “If I was Abraham I would have been heartbroken, grief-stricken, and angry at God. If I was Isaac, I would have felt shocked, terrified, and betrayed by my father.”
I couldn’t help thinking about my own unborn son upstairs in his mother’s womb. I already loved him so much. I imagined the mental anguish Abraham must have gone through. I know what I would have done if I’d been in Abraham’s shoes. I would have pleaded: “Lord, please, ask me for anything else. Ask me for everything else, even my own life! But please don’t ask me to do this thing. Let me sacrifice myself instead! I would rather give my own life than take my son’s!” Tears filled my eyes (as they are now, just recalling that moment).
I know how you feel. I feel that way too.
In an instant, somehow, I saw the situation not from Abraham’s perspective nor my own, but from God’s. Call it intuition, call it divine revelation — an answer occurred to me that I’d never considered before.
My point wasn’t to test Abraham’s faith, though he certainly did act on faith. His faith was essential for him to be able to see and understand that I am a Father too, that I love like he loves, and that my capacity for love is much greater. I showed Abraham that his sacrifice is not what I desire. I showed him that a sacrifice must be made and that I will provide the sacrifice. I showed him that I will give my son, who is the only sacrifice that will truly suffice. I showed Abraham, just as I am now showing you, a glimpse of how it feels to be your loving Father. Now you see and understand that you feel about your son the way I feel about all of my children. I love you so profoundly that I am willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to spare your life.
1 Ephesians 5:14 – “Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”