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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Abraham as Archetype

Today, we begin the Bible Cover to Cover. Each Sunday I am preaching on a text from the portion assigned for the month. January is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The sermon today was about Abraham.


The Call of Abraham
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
January 6th, 2008

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’*

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak* of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring* I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.

Genesis 12:1-9


[14:35] Recall that Abraham said, "My Lord, make this a peaceful land, and protect me and my children from worshiping idols.

[14:36] "My Lord, they have misled so many people. As for those who follow me, they belong with me. As for those who disobey me, You are Forgiver, Most Merciful.

[14:37] "Our Lord, I have settled part of my family in this plantless valley, at Your Sacred House. Our Lord, they are to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), so let throngs of people converge upon them, and provide for them all kinds of fruits, that they may be appreciative.

[14:38] "Our Lord, You know whatever we conceal and whatever we declare - nothing is hidden from GOD on earth, nor in the heavens.


[14:39] "Praise be to GOD for granting me, despite my old age, Ismail and Isaac. My Lord answers the prayers.

Quran 14:35-39 www.quranalone.com


I have been promoting this quest for several months now. It is a quest to cover the Bible in a year. Each month we will read a portion. For January we will read the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament. These first five books, called the Torah, are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The Hebrew Scriptures are in a different order from the Christian Old Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures are divided into three sections: The Torah (called the instruction), The Neviim (or the prophets), and the Ketubim (or the writings).

If you think of concentric circles with the innermost circle being the most important you will find the Torah in the center, the prophets as the second circle, and the writings forming the third circle.

In the synagogues, because the Torah is the most important part of the Hebrew canon, it is read through each year. Every Shabbat, a portion is read during worship. The following year they start from the beginning. The prophets are seen as commentary on the Torah. The Writings such as Ruth, Chronicles, the Wisdom literature are used to celebrate festivals and for edification.

We are going to read these texts in the order they that are presented in the Hebrew canon. For our part, it will appear as though we are skipping around. Yet they are the same texts, just in a different order. The order of the Hebrew canon is the order that Jesus, his first disciples, and other authors of what Christians call the New Testament would have read the Hebrew Scriptures.

When you go to the church’s web page, you will find the texts and the order with which they will be read. I will add information to the web page as the year goes along to assist you in your reading.

Each Sunday, with the exception of big Sundays like Easter, I will select a particular text from the larger portion of our reading for that month.

The text I chose for today is the call of Abraham.

Before I get to him, it is important to see how the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) was formed. The Torah didn’t get into the form we have it today until the 5th century BCE. It is a compilation of many traditions edited and woven into a saga. If you look at the first chapters of Genesis you will find two separate creation stories stitched together. The first story tells of the creation in seven days. The second story which is actually older is the garden story. It tells of Adam, Eve, the serpent, the banishment from the garden, and Cain and Abel. In the second, older story, Adam is created, then the animals, and then Eve. In the first, later story, the animals are created, then Adam and Eve together.

The editors saw no problem with those contradictions. You will find this editing and stitching throughout Genesis through Numbers. The Book of Deuteronomy is part of another tradition altogether. Its final form older than the final form of the saga of Genesis through Numbers (about the 7th century BCE), but it is later than the earliest saga. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are part of the tradition Deuteronomy.

It is important to appreciate this editing and stitching so we don’t get too literal-minded and misread this saga of the Hebrew Scriptures as a straightforward history. Scholars are increasingly discovering that the Hebrew Scriptures are far more story than history. While some may feel that this discovery is a loss or even a threat, I find it as a gain. The scriptures are far more interesting to me when I see them as the struggle through story and saga of what it means to be human.

Getting back to Abraham, the first eleven chapters end with the Tower of Babel and the scattering of the nations. In response to this scattering of nations and of people into different languages, Abraham enters. Abraham is a composite figure. He is bigger than history. He is a model or an archetype. He seems to be a combination between the wise old man and the hero.

One of the best books I have found to help us understand Abraham and the other stories in Genesis is Peter Pitzele’s Our Fathers’ Wells: A Personal Encounter with the Myths of Genesis. Pitzele taught English at Harvard and at the writing of this book, he was the Director of Psychodrama Services in upstate New York. He takes people on retreats and allows the participants to identify with the characters in these stories. Through psychodrama, these stories become windows into own personalities.

As you read the Genesis stories in particular, one helpful activity is to journal about them, particularly when they touch an emotion. Become one of the characters. Write a midrash by adding personality to the characters. What would it be like to be Eve in the garden? What is it like to be Abraham? These stories resonate at the deeper levels of our psyches and we can’t know them until we experience them. If you are interested in that, you might be interested in Peter Pitzele’s book, Our Fathers’ Wells.

Abraham is the father of the three monotheistic religions. Christianity praises him for his great faith. In the Qur’an he is called a Muslim—the one who submits to God. He is for us all, Father Abraham. His descendants number the stars in the sky. He wishes among all things for his descendants to live in peace. He is the one whom YHWH seems to torture with promises delayed.

Abraham is a warrior and a schemer. He fights great battles with the local inhabitants. Twice he claims his wife is his sister to save his own skin. When it appears that God is not acting quickly enough with the promised child, he impregnates Sarah’s slave, Hagar, with Sarah’s blessing.

Hagar bears his first-born son, Ishmael. But YHWH tells Abraham that Ishmael is not the child of promise. When Isaac, the child of Sarah, is finally born, Sarah casts out Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham is saddened by this and he comforts Hagar and Ishmael, even though he cannot bring them home. It is through Ishmael that Muslims trace their ancestry to Abraham. The Qur’an tells the story differently. They tell it in such a way that Ishmael is the favored son of Abraham and is the one Abraham nearly sacrifices.

Father Abraham. The family man. The patriarchal family man. He has to make peace between the mothers of his children. He fails. He tries to make a home for his selfish brother-in-law, Lot, to make him happy. He fails. Such is life in a family.

Abraham is even bold enough to bargain with God. Lot’s home of Sodom displeases YHWH and YHWH decides to destroy the city. Abraham does his best to dissuade YHWH from this awful action.

Then Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ 26And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.’ 27Abraham answered, ‘Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?’ And he said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’ 29Again he spoke to him, ‘Suppose forty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of forty I will not do it.’ 30Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.’ He answered, ‘I will not do it, if I find thirty there.’ 31He said, ‘Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.’ 32Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’ 33And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Yet for all his bargaining, Abraham again fails. Not ten were found righteous in the city in the eyes of YHWH. Yet Abraham proved his agility in bargaining with The Voice. Who else but Abraham could chide YHWH with this:

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?

Who but Abraham could shame YHWH to act with justice?

More than anything, Abraham is haunted by YHWH. Abraham doesn’t begin his life until he is 75. At an age when he should be sipping iced tea and playing with his grandchildren (if he had them), he is told by The Voice:

‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

Abraham goes. And in going he follows the voice that invites him to search for blessing. He leaves all that is familiar, kindred and his home and ventures forth. We could suppose that Abraham might have chosen not to follow the command of The Voice. He might have stayed home and lived out his days. But he doesn’t. He takes a risk. In so doing, his life begins.

It is no easy journey. Following The Voice is dangerous business. He experiences incredible joy and incredible pain. Abraham knows the heights of delight and the depths of sorrow. He would know neither if he hadn’t followed. Abraham is that within each of us that plunges into life headfirst. Abraham would rather risk and reach for the blessing and feel the pain that comes with it than to stay home and feel nothing.

Abraham represents our desire to find meaning and to take the journey.

The Voice that calls Abraham is a haunting, fearsome voice. It is absent when he wants to hear it and present when he doesn’t want to hear it.

Finally, at the age of 100, his son, Isaac is born. Abraham knows the joy of promises fulfilled. The Voice is not finished with Abraham. YHWH announces the most terrifying command in scripture:

‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’

Christian mythology repeats this story by suggesting that God commanded Jesus, his only son, whom he loved, to be sacrificed on the cross. Only in the Christian myth, no one rescues Jesus at the last minute.

What do we make of fathers who sacrifice their sons? Peter Pitzele in recounting one of the psychodramas surrounding this story writes about a father who recounts this painful story. His head is down and his hands are slack:

I sent my son to war. You’ve got to go when your country calls. It’s your duty. My son, my son, he had all sorts of ideas of his own—protested, argued. When his notice came, he talked with his mother half the night. I could hear her crying in his room. I was ashamed of him and her. Didn’t they understand?

Late that night he came to me; I knew what I had to say, and I said it straight, “You don’t serve your country, boy, you aren’t any son of mine.” Never forget the look he gave me, but I couldn’t describe it to you. He held my eyes a long time. Then he turned. He put his mother aside that night. She came back to bed dabbing at her eyes, asking me what I said to him. I didn’t tell her. Nothing to do with her. Between me and the boy. Next morning he packed his bags. He went. He never came back.

Somewhere in there we find Abraham. God the Father sends God the Son to the cross. Abraham and Isaac silently journey to Mount Moriah. What are these voices we hear?

Fathers and sons. In their relationships we find the wounds of patriarchy. Sons who bear the weight of living out the dreams of their fathers. Fathers who agonize over the bad choices their sons make. Honor, duty, courage, and tests of faith are all part of the code between fathers and sons. Like Isaac bound on the altar, we are all bound by the sins of our fathers.

The reason that these stories are so powerful is that they tell us so little. We do not know what goes through the minds of Abraham and Isaac. Would Abraham have done it? If there had not been a ram presented at the last minute, would he have slain his son? What kind of deity tests in this way? What kind of person follows that Voice? We have to fill those answers in ourselves.

Before we judge these stories and dismiss them, or worse, explain them with some kind of theological mumbo jumbo, we ought to enter them. They are the stories of our drives, our motivations, our wounds, our unexamined ideals. These are the deep motivations that we don’t admit. They are the ones that, because they are unexamined, can lead to the biggest consequences.

The truest statement I ever heard from George W. Bush was when he jokingly stated: “Saddam tried to kill my daddy.” We are still living out those consequences.

I don’t think Abraham would have done it. This is my story. I think Abraham calls God’s bluff. Remember Abraham shamed God into agreeing to save Sodom if there were ten righteous people in the city. While perhaps God knew that the bet was safe then, that there were not even ten righteous in the city, in this story, Abraham has the upper hand. He knows that YHWH will blink. Abraham pretends to be obedient and YHWH breaks first.

That is the only way I can have any respect for Abraham. Even so, the one who feels the terror in the poker game between the Father and his God is the son. The son, Isaac, learns the game. We are still playing these games, of course. We are still playing out these myths.

Abraham’s story is rich. I do believe that if we are going to understand the violence of patriarchy and its God, and the violence within ourselves, we are going to need to enter these stories. We enter them not to praise them, nor to dismiss them, nor to believe them, but to understand who we are.

27 comments:

Rachel Baker said...

Great sermon Reverend.

I have never met anyone who takes the history of the Bible literally. If people do, that is just silly. You can't even trust the history that is written in our school textbooks! History is nothing more than inferences into the past, just as science is nothing more than inferences into the future. With history though, everything is relative to the observer.

Every believer I have ever met knows the Bible offers much more than a history lesson. As you have said multiple times--it gives us a lens into what it means to be human.

I don't read the Bible, Quran, or Torah often, but when I do, I love it. I can always take a passage and relate to an experience in my life and to my worldview.

I don't mean to be critical John, but I am wondering why you feel that your purpose in life is to let people know that they don't need to take the history of the Bible literally. If they haven't already, they will figure it out in their own time.

I personally don't like how the media and leading hard-core atheists have taken the issue and blown it out of proportion. It feels like an attack on the whole religion.

Alan said...

How utterly evil of you to turn the story of God redeeming his people into a story about us. What pride, making the gospel man centered instead of Christ centered. If you just want a feel good story why blame God for it.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
The Holy Bible : English Standard Version., Mt 7:21-23 (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).

I pray the Lord saves you and opens your eyes to the depravity of what you are doing.

In Christ
Alan

TN420 said...

Very impressive, John.

Thanx much. ;)

I found myself wondering before about how the first chapters of the Bible depict different versions of creation. You indicated that the editors had no difficulty including both versions. Great observation.
They simply never considered that anyone would be shallow enough to take either one literally.

I'm a believer in the Great Spirit (or "God" to be clear). God may or may not have created matter, the universe, molecules etc. I hope to find out one day. :)
But God damn sure didn't create things the way it's depicted in this text.

Adam and Eve, if they existed at all (which is highly unlikely), may have been the first Hebrews, but not the first humans and Eve wasn't plucked from a rib (LOL). This is why I remain in dismay at the Fundis that take this literally.
Just imagine, the people appear before a leader or priest and ask "where do we come from?"

Logic would dictate that since one is just a click or two above a cave man and actually has no clue where he or they came from, that one would come up with a quick, convenient story.
"Uh, well....um...it's like this, people. Uh...there was this man and woman. And they had relations...yeah, that's it. Relations. And...uh...their children had relations...so...um, we're a race of mongoloids. No! No...I mean...we descended from them."

Or, if you're really out there, you can always buy into the "Adams children mated with Angels" theory. There are many who do.^_^

Thanx for inspiring thought and letting me rant.

TN420 said...

Oh, alan....

The text being discussed is the Old Testament, not the "Gospel" which is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Jesus wasn't quite born yet so the fact is that the Old Testament isn't about Jesus in the first place.
Unless you're one of those people that cherry-picks verses and applies whatever you want to them.
That would make more sense than getting the first few books of the bible confused with the Gospel of Jesus.

I pray the Lord relieves your confusion.

OneSmallStep said...

**Who but Abraham could shame YHWH to act with justice?**

I think this is one of the fascinating elements into Abraham, because of how often we hear that God is able to do whatever He wants, His will is highest, and so forth. And yet Abraham is reminding God that God is one of justice. It was like Abraham was weighing the command against his own conscious. Perhaps a reminder to us all?

The reminder itself is interesting. I see that speaking of more of how the concept of God evolves throughout the Bible.

**That is the only way I can have any respect for Abraham.**

What do you do with the fact that Abraham gave the appearance of going through it, anyway? He still lead Isaac up there, he still tied Isaac up. There's a stark contrast between the man who argues with God over strangers (which you point out), and the man who accepts this command over a beloved son with no problem. Even taking that first step towards "obeying" this always seemed to be one step too many.

John Shuck said...

Hey One,

"Even taking that first step towards "obeying" this always seemed to be one step too many."

Very true. I don't think I have an answer to that. This is one of the most disturbing stories in all of the Bible, and every explanation for it-- either to justify Abraham or YHWH--has been lame. Mine included.

Alan said...

tn420-

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
The Holy Bible : English Standard Version., Lk 24:24-27 (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).

The Scriptures Christ speaks of here is the Old Testament. The Bible has one story from start to finish, it is the story of God redeeming for Himself a people. I pray the same prayer for you.

OneSmallStep said...

**And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. **

If we want to get technical, though, it's specified that Jesus begins with Moses and the Prophets -- to which Abraham wouldn't count. It also doesn't mean that every single thing in the Tanakh related to Jesus -- what it says is that Jesus shows which things related to the Messiah. If this were to be all the Tanakh, I'd think it would be phrased that it was the entire Tanakh.

As it is, if John is literally casting out demons from people, per the earlier Bible quote, then John can only be doing so based on the power provided by God. Jesus makes a statement that Beelzebub (that is such a fun word) can't cast out demons, because a house divided against itself cannot stand.

John,

**This is one of the most disturbing stories in all of the Bible, and every explanation for it-- either to justify Abraham or YHWH--has been lame.**

I agree about how it is disturbing. I almost think that maybe we shouldn't give any explanations to it. We would find such behavior horrific if we found it in another religious text. Why does it get explained away in the Bible? If any believer today did this, and said that God ordered him/her to sacrifice his child, that child would be removed in less than a heartbeat.

John Shuck said...

Hey One,

**I almost think that maybe we shouldn't give any explanations to it. **

Yeah, that's it. My intent wasn't quite so much to explain it as to enter it. Fathers sacrificing sons for some ideal (God, country, honor, etc.) is a theme throughout patriarchy, it appears.

Of course another point this story should speak to us about is to what extent are we to obedient to authority, even ultimate authority?

OneSmallStep said...

**this story should speak to us about is to what extent are we to obedient to authority, even ultimate authority?**

Or, when we should be using all our power to shame the ultimate authority into justice? :)

You could probably tie Abraham's earlier actions into Jesus' statement of "turning the other cheek, give the undergarments, and going the extra mile." To me, each of those signify using the authority against itself, to shame it, and thus make it improve itself.

Rachel Baker said...

TN420:

You are so proud of your knowledge.

Tell me, did you ever think about when Genesis was written? It must have been over 2000 years ago.

Can you imagine what answers you would have provided for some of the most basic questions to man 2000 years ago?

Would you not have sought just as hard for answers to those questions as we do today.

Why do you mock God's word? Just think in a thousand years our ancestors might mock what little we know about our existence.

I like to pick and choose great works from prophets as well:

You guys are going to hate me but I had to do it. Yes, Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God just as those of Old:

"28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God."

2 Nephi 28

Rachel Baker said...

John states,

"Of course another point this story should speak to us about is to what extent are we to obedient to authority, even ultimate authority?"

To me, the story of Abraham and Isaac is about complete faith and obedience to God.

Maybe it never actually happened as you suggest, John, but it still should help believers to increase their faith in God.

Can you just imagine having that much faith in God?

Sorry to be such a bitch, but I thought your analogy to George Bush was ridiculous. Do you actually believe that Bush is a man of God or religion?

Jodie said...

I always thought that the story of Abraham and Issac explained why we do NOT have human sacrifice in YHWH worship. Everybody else did.

The story is troubling? Amazing. A story that teaches you to be troubled about itself.

The story about Abraham's defense of Sodom is important in that it teaches us "that in the course of justice, none of us shall see salvation". Abraham's defense failed. Turn the page and God teaches Abraham how to make a defense that works. It's the "Quality of Mercy".

The role Abraham played in light of the information God shared with him is the key to story. Would that all Abraham's children should assume the same role.

Mystical Seeker said...

I think that these stories really do illustrate why biblical literalism is a moral and intellectual dead end. But they are still useful stories in their own right, as long as you liberate yourself from literalism or think that the Bible is the infallible word of God.

If the lesson of the story of Abraham is that we have no standard of morality other than to obey whatever God's whim happens to be that day, then the story is truly abhorrent.

If, on the other hand, it is really just a sort of metaphorical expression for how the religion of Abraham's people had rejected child sacrifice, then it is something else entirely.

And the story of Sodom is rather interesting, since Lot was deemed one of the righteous ones to be save, and as an indicator of his alleged "righteousness", let us consider that he offered his daughters up to be raped by strangers. This is the sort of screwed up morality that inevitable results from taking the Bible literally.

The stories in Genesis are great, grand, epic stories. The God of that part of the Bible is a tribal deity who is often fickle, often very human in his actions, can be bargained with and convinced of things, changes his mind.

When you read Genesis, you really come to realize how much the human conception of God has evolved over time, including within the very pages of the Bible. And I think that is one of the important lessons that one can draw from this.

John Shuck said...

Hey Rachel,

**"Sorry to be such a bitch, but I thought your analogy to George Bush was ridiculous. Do you actually believe that Bush is a man of God or religion?"**

At least you didn't say, "I'm praying for you!"

The Bush analogy might have been too subtle. I was talking about the father/son relationship and the code and all of that. My bit of psychologizing was that we are in the Iraq war because Bush needed to defend his daddy's honor.

As to the other point about great faith in God. Would you do it? Would you take the life of your son if God told you to do so?

Flycandler said...

I have actually heard an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament, in the Presbyterian Church (USA), while preaching on this subject say that no, they would not have sacrificed their child because they thought God told them to. It's a puzzling and deeply disturbing story in Genesis. Most parents I know would respond to God, "no, but I'll offer myself instead".

Brilliant sermon, BTW, John. I like how you bring in the other two streams of Abrahamic faith.

OneSmallStep said...

**As to the other point about great faith in God. Would you do it? Would you take the life of your son if God told you to do so?**

I think the other thing we need to ask ourselves is what is the difference between a God who orders the sacrifice of Isaac, and the God who orders a father to kill his daughter as an "honor killing." Is there one?

John Shuck said...

Thanks, Fly.

Yes, One. That is part of this as well. Sacrificing sons and daughters to war for an ideal...

Rachel Baker said...

I've changed my opinion on what I think the story of Abraham and Isaac represents. Thanks John for making me look twice at the story. To your question:

"As to the other point about great faith in God. Would you do it? Would you take the life of your son if God told you to do so?"

No, I would not do it, nor do I think God would ever ask me to do it. The Emperor of Evil might, but not the Prince of Peace.

I have been talking to a friend of mine, and he says that many of the stories in the Old Testament are symbolisms of the atonement and coming of Christ.

He says the story of Abraham and Isaac, probably did not happen in the literal historical sense, but that it symbolically represents the sacrifice that God made by sending his only begotten son, Christ, to die on the cross.

I really like this interpretation.

What do you guys think of it?

Rachel Baker said...

One says,

"I think the other thing we need to ask ourselves is what is the difference between a God who orders the sacrifice of Isaac, and the God who orders a father to kill his daughter as an "honor killing." Is there one?",

and

John says,

"Yes, One. That is part of this as well. Sacrificing sons and daughters to war for an ideal..."

I'm not sure what you two are hinting at. Maybe you could be a litte more explicit.

One, I think you are referring to the Islamic faith, and John are you referring to the Iraq War? But what do you mean?

John Shuck said...

Hey Rachel,

One of the ways to look at literature, including the Bible, is through the lens of depth psychology. The characters are types or models that appear throughout literature. Abraham represents an archetype. You mentioned that a friend told you that Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac symbolically refers to God the Father sending God the Son to the cross.

The theme of fathers sacrificing sons is central theme in literature and in life. It has something to do with patriarchy and the violence inherent in it.

The point of these stories is to see how they are true in life. The example in the sermon I gave about the man who sent his son to war is an example of this father/son thing.

I am not talking about any particular war, but it is one way in which we "sacrifice" our young to some ideal.

I find these stories to be the bare-bones myths of western culture in particular. These are, as Peter Pitzele (the author of the book I referenced) calls them, the myths of Patriarchy.

The value of these stories as we read them is to enter them. To ask questions, would we do it? What is this voice? In doing so, we wrestle with ourselves, questions of ethics, relationships and so forth.

Rachel Baker said...

Hi John,

I think I'll stick to my friend's interpretation for now, it seems more authentic. For some reason Reverend, it just vibrates with me.

Maybe Christ dying on the cross was a part of God's plan. It's too much for me to comprehend, but I know that a transcendental world exists, so I want to cling to a religion that will let me be a part of it when I die. I want to believe in God's love and the afterlife.

I'm not ready to denounce Christianity.

I like Patriarchy. I think a lot of our societal problems have to do with the breakdown of patriarchy in families.

I want Christ to return. I hate all the violence, lies, corruption, deceipt, hate, and materialism in this world. I anticipate the day when someone or something will remove the veil from all of our eyes.

John Shuck said...

Hey Rachel,

Cool. I am not ready to renounce Christianity either!

Rachel Baker said...

I think I see your point John--

Christianity comes in many stripes.??

What are your central beliefs that make you Christian?

Surely, you must believe in Jesus Christ, hence the name Christian. If you don't believe in Christ, then why would you proclaim to be Christian?

Please don't get me confused. I believe that no one fully comprehends the grace or love of God. I'm not saying you have to be Christian to be a good person or experience God. I'm just sincerely inquiring into why choose Christianity if you deny the central doctrines of it, such as the atonement and patriarchy?

John Shuck said...

OK Rachel,

I'll bite.

**Christianity comes in many stripes.??**

Absolutely. There are over 30,000 Christian denominations world-wide. Many stripes indeed.

**What are your central beliefs that make you Christian?**

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. What that means to you and to me could make for a long conversation!

**Surely, you must believe in Jesus Christ, hence the name Christian. If you don't believe in Christ, then why would you proclaim to be Christian?**

I do. What it means to believe in Christ, again could involve a long conversation.

**Please don't get me confused.**

Why not? That is part of the fun of spiritual growth!

**I believe that no one fully comprehends the grace or love of God.**

Me either.

**I'm not saying you have to be Christian to be a good person or experience God.**

I am with you.

**I'm just sincerely inquiring into why choose Christianity if you deny the central doctrines of it, such as the atonement and patriarchy?**

That is a mouthful. I am not sure patriarchy is a central doctrine, nor am I sure I deny it. It is a reality with which we live.

I do not deny the atonement either. There are many theories as to what the atonement is. I find some of them helpful and others not so much.

You might be interested in a more lengthy response about my theology, such as it is.

Here is a statement of faith that I presented to my governing body in order to be accepted into this presbytery to be a minister at Elizabethton.

Here is something I wrote a few years ago regarding Jesus, the atonement and so forth.

One of the cool things about being a Presbyterian (only one way of thousands) is that we are "Reformed and Always Being Reformed According to the Word of God." While we may disagree as to even what that phrase means, I take it to mean that we are always in the process of change and growth.

I also find these Eight Points of Progressive Christianity helpful.

Of course, as a minister of the Presbyterian Church USA, I honor and am guided by our historic confessions. That should take some time for you to read!

When we ordained and installed our officers on Sunday, they all took vows regarding these confessions.

Another crucial point about being a Presbyterian Christian is that we highly value scholarship and freedom of conscience. We disagree on a lot of things and yet try to find ways to seek unity.

Glad you are inquiring!

Blessings,
john

Yael said...

Quite an interesting post on Torah for a Christian! Seriously, this is what I try to get people to do with Torah as well, make it real, get involved.

I've written much on the Akedah and all its players and non-players. It is a fascinating, troubling story...

A Jewish take on this Parashah: Va-yera, 21 posts some might find of interest, one never knows.

Intersting blog. I've mostly enjoyed looking around; too much Jesus stuff for this Jew but guess I have to expect that from a pastor! :)

I hope you post more on what you teach the rest of this month. Torah is endlessly fascinating.

John Shuck said...

Yael!

Thanks for visiting!

Yeah,

not enough Jesus.
too much Jesus.
wrong kind of Jesus.

I never get it right.