Today’s chapter tells the story of the Binding of Isaac, in which God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham goes to do it, and the angel of the Lord tells him that he doesn’t actually have to sacrifice his son. It’s one of the better-known passages from the Bible, and with good reason. An ostensibly all-loving God calling for human sacrifice, only to turn around and say, “No, wait, sacrifice this ram instead,” has a way of arresting our attention. But I feel like the story, in its magnitude, has me hemmed in on all sides. How can I adequately address its scope? How can I say something worthy of the monumental matters it raises?
One of my favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 12:2. It describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” I’ve said before that there’s a fine line between Christianity and masochism, and it’s not difficult to fall into spiritual self-flagellation (or physical, if you’re a 13th-century monk). At times, to varying degrees, I’ve succumbed to the temptation to embrace and pursue suffering for its own sake.
So if yesterday’s verse forced me to admit what I don’t believe but maybe I should, then today’s verse forces me to admit what I don’t do but I definitely should. Man, God’s Little Instruction Book is eating my lunch.
Today’s verse from God’s Little Instruction Book is a single simple imperative sentence from Hebrews. As he’s wrapping up his letter, the author writes, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). If we zoom out and survey the rest of Hebrews 13 for context, we won’t find any additional insights into the struggle between greed and contentment. The verse in question is situated among commands to stay faithful to your spouse and to be kind to strangers and prisoners, and the meat of chapter 13 is encouragement for the Jewish Christians who’ve earned the disdain of their fellow Jews for following a crucified Messiah. Verse five is the only verse about not making your bank account your best bud! So, what we’re going to do instead is zoom out even further and consider the contrast between greed and contentment in the New Testament epistles.
Sometimes, Pastor Stephen Kirk is a man after my own heart. Commenting on Ephesians 1:13-14 in the Multiply book that accompanies the Triad study program, he goes to absolute town on the Greek. I could never be a pastor; I imagine that unless your congregation is either extremely generous or nerdy, you only have so many Original Greek Language Points to spend per sermon before they start losing interest. I, on the other hand, had half a mind to just start looking up Greek words from this week’s passage and see what I found, until I realized I’d kinda already done that back in All the Paul.
Remember Walter Brueggemann’s classification scheme for the Psalms: orientation, disorientation, and new orientation? I feel like you could apply the same scheme to my blog here. You’ve got your (i.e. my) posts of orientation, posts of disorientation…and sometimes a move from one mode to another. Take yesterday, where I took a step back, looked at myself and Ephesians 1:3-14 here, and moved from disorientation to new orientation. I’ve got a feeling I might manage a post of disorientation before we close out the week, but man, sometimes I get so tired of trying to whip up some thoughts for the blog. Sometimes I just wanna rest.
Finally, an answer to the age-old philosophical question: does God hate anyone? We’re just three verses into the book of Malachi when he divulges that God hates Esau. But this revelation only raises further questions. Is God mad at Esau for trading his birthright to Jacob? Is it because Esau married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite? Is it simply that he was too hairy? And more importantly, how can a God who is Love possibly hate anyone, much less a grandson of the patriarch Abraham?