The story of Abraham and Isaac always bothered me. Abraham was ready to kill his son because a being he believed was God told him to. That always seemed wrong to me. If killing is wrong, how does it become okay just because at that particular moment God said it was okay? And how did Abraham know that was God? It would seem like if God is asking you to do something wrong, the first thing you might wonder is if the entity talking to you is really God.
We talked about this in my writer’s group once, in connection with a scene I’d written, and one of the guys said that in the Old Testament God didn’t give people the ten commandments yet at the time of Abraham. So Thou Shalt Not Kill was not a commandment yet. That seemed like a poor way to get out of the moral dilemma. It might give Abraham an excuse, but not God. I grew up being taught that God existed for all time, that God basically had no time, had always been, would always be. So surely the rules didn’t change? Just because in the human world God hadn’t handed down the stone tablets yet didn’t mean that before that time, killing, committing adultery, and lying were all just fine, did it?
And then there is the question of whether God is the source of what is good and bad or whether there is an objective standard. Or a greater source, so to speak. Even when I was a believer, it didn’t seem to me to mean much if someone did what he or she thought was right out of fear of hell or hope of heaven. I guess it’s better than doing things you believe are wrong, but it doesn’t make a person a moral person, just a practical one. It seems to me there is more value in doing what is right because it’s right.
Going back to Abraham, I always thought the test ought to have been whether Abraham stuck with what was right regardless that someone he thought was God was telling him otherwise.
An interesting book on this topic is Abraham on Trial: The Social Legacy of Biblical Myth by Carol Delaney.
Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening