Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Story Difficult to Contemplate

One day I picked up my ten-year-old son from school, and he was in obvious distress. We made a trip to the ER but the doctor, although he suspected appendicitis, was not able to positively identify the problem. My husband and I had to give our permission for exploratory surgery--one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make. What parent would want to inflict unnecessary pain upon their child? As it turned out, my son did have appendicitis, and the surgery was necessary. 

This episode of my life gives me a little insight into what Abraham must have felt in Genesis 22.

 And it came to pass after these things, that God did test Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of (verses 1 and 2)
Many people, when they read this, accuse God of being a tyrant or worse. However, Abraham knew something, held something akin to a trump card. We read of that in Hebrews.
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure (Hebrews 11:17-19, emphasis mine).

The thing is, all of us who are parents are Abrahams leading our children to be sacrificed, as terrible a thought as that is to contemplate. When we decide to bring a child into the world, we know death awaits them unless the Lord does not tarry. Furthermore, we are committing them to a world of struggle and pain. But, like Abraham, most of us have faith. We believe God will raise them (hopefully death occurring in a good old age) to His glory. 

And along the way, we have faith our children will contribute their talents to the world. At the very least, we hope they will give and receive love (and it's a tragedy when these hopes are dashed). 

But that is not the story that is difficult to contemplate. Written in 1967, the story I allude to is known as “To Sacrifice a Son: An Allegory," written by Dennis E. Hensley and first published in the Michigan Baptist Bulletin. Note that this is to be an allegory, but I disagree and will give my reasons why below. I'll share the story and give the reasons why this is not a proper analogy or allegory.

It goes thusly: 

There was once a bridge that spanned a large river. During most of the day the bridge sat with its length running up and down the river paralleled with the banks, allowing ships to pass through freely on both sides of the bridge. But at certain times each day, a train would come along and the bridge would be turned sideways across the river, allowing the train to cross it.

A switchman sat in a shack on one side of the river where he operated the controls to turn the bridge and lock it into place as the train crossed.

One evening as the switchman was waiting for the last train of the day to come, he looked off into the distance through the dimming twilight and caught sight of the train lights. He stepped onto the control and waited until the train was within a prescribed distance. Then he was to turn the bridge. He turned the bridge into position, but, to his horror, he found the locking control did not work. If the bridge was not securely in position, it would cause the train to jump the track and go crashing into the river. This would be a passenger train with MANY people aboard.

He left the bridge turned across the river and hurried across the bridge to the other side of the river, where there was a lever switch he could hold to operate the lock manually.

He would have to hold the lever back firmly as the train crossed. He could hear the rumble of the train now, and he took hold of the lever and leaned backward to apply his weight to it, locking the bridge. He kept applying the pressure to keep the mechanism locked. Many lives depended on this man’s strength.

Then, coming across the bridge from the direction of his control shack, he heard a sound that made his blood run cold.

“Daddy, where are you?” His four-year-old son was crossing the bridge to look for him. His first impulse was to cry out to the child, “Run! Run!” But the train was too close; the tiny legs would never make it across the bridge in time.

The man almost left his lever to snatch up his son and carry him to safety. But he realized that he could not get back to the lever in time if he saved his son.

Either many people on the train or his own son – must die.

He took but a moment to make his decision. The train sped safely and swiftly on its way, and no one aboard was even aware of the tiny broken body thrown mercilessly into the river by the on rushing train. Nor were they aware of the pitiful figure of the sobbing man, still clinging to the locking lever long after the train had passed. They did not see him walking home more slowly than he had ever walked; to tell his wife how their son had brutally died.

Now, if you comprehend the emotions that went through this man’s heart, you can begin to understand the feelings of Our Father in Heaven when He sacrificed His Son to bridge the gap between us and eternal life.

Can there be any wonder that He caused the earth to tremble and the skies to darken when His Son died? How does He feel when we speed along through life without giving a thought to what was done for us through Jesus Christ?

To properly compare the stories, let's continue in Genesis 22, looking at the NIV version: 
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
As my preacher pointed out, verse 5 says: He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.
Abraham knew full well he'd return with his son. "WE," he says, "will come back." 

This is the first point of disagreement. The man who allowed his son to die on the tracks had no such hope. (Let me reiterate, that the child dying on the tracks is not a true story.) 

Furthermore, note that Abraham, a man over one-hundred years old was able to tie up his son. Although the Bible does not tell us Isaac's age, he was old enough to carry the wood for the burnt offering, certainly old enough to resist being tied up by his father. And yet he did not. In the same way, Jesus submitted to God and allowed himself to be hung on the cross, although he could have called "ten thousand angels." The second area of disagreement, then, is that the young child on the tracks was in no position to submit.
What would make the train-track story more analogous? If the child was old enough, old enough to understand fully what he was doing, and willingly agreed to make a sacrifice. Perhaps there was an obstacle on the track and the son volunteered to remove it in the hope of saving the people on the train, then this analogy would work. Also, if the father knew and had the faith of Abraham that his son would continue to live (even if that life was no longer here on earth), then that would satisfy the conditions laid forth in both the story of Isaac and the story of Jesus. 
God entrusts us with our children. He gives us a driving desire to protect our children at all costs, and that is a Godly desire. Those who fail to care for and protect their children are looked upon with disfavor and rightly so. 

After many years of pondering this story of the child on the train tracks, I believe I know what I would do. I would save my child and allow the strangers on the train to perish. God entrusted my child's safety to me. I would do all to save him.

And I do believe the faith of Abraham still might be strong within me.
By Hult, Adolf, 1869-1943;Augustana synod. [from old catalog] - book page:, No restrictions,


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Thanks for sharing your thoughts.