I really like Leonard Sweet’s book Out of the Question…Into the Mystery. In this book, Sweet makes the case for a relationship-centered view of Christianity, rather than a doctrinal or rule-centered view. He argues that, while rules and laws can be important in a certain sense, God seeks relationship with us above anything else.
Sweet argues that, when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham was being tested in two ways. There was an obedience component of the test, and there was also a relationship component of the test. Abraham passed the first component, Sweet argues, but he failed the second miserably.
I’ve tried to follow Sweet’s reasoning as closely as I can. There are a few things he has to say on the subject that may be a little over my head. But in the end, I’m just not buying the argument – largely because of what the Hebrews writer would later say about Abraham, and because of the way this act foreshadowed God’s own act (which, unlike Abraham, he would follow through to the end) of sacrifice.
Nevertheless, Sweet poses a question about this story that I really can’t answer. Abraham, we know, spoke out voiciferously for the people of Sodom, even though they were not even his kin. Why, then, would he not plead in a similar way for the life of his own son? Of course, you could say that the biblical record is silent on HOW Abraham reacted to this bizarre order. But if he DID plead for Isaac’s life, why aren’t we told about it? The Genesis record is completely lacking an answer to this question.
I also think he makes an interesting observation about the “great nation” that followed Abraham. It was not called “Abraham”, but “Israel” – meaning “one who struggles/wrestles with God”. This name was given to Jacob after he basically forced his way into (a) the lineage of Abraham’s blessing and then (b) a blessing from God himself.
Sweet loses me in his thinking on Abraham, but I quickly catch up with him when he returns to his thesis: those who pursue relationship with God passionately (think: David) seem to be the ones that please him the most. On the other hand, I’ve been thinking, those that are indifferent to him “personally” – even though they try to be good “rules keepers” – tend to end up in more hot water than anyone else.
I can think of few messages that are more relevant in a culture that is increasingly void of meaningful relationships.