Abraham and Isaac

Abra­ham and Isaac — Jan Lievens (1607 – 1674)

One hun­dred sev­enty years ago, Soren Kierkegaard wrote Fear and Trem­bling. Ten years ago, I read it for the first time and it changed my life. In it Kierkegaard out­lines prin­ci­ples for liv­ing the life of faith by look­ing at Abra­ham, who he deems the knight of faith. Kierkegaard iden­ti­fies five require­ments to be a knight of faith. I do not con­sider these require­ments to be hard and fast rules (in fact I will chal­lenge at least one of them), but I do think that these are good things to think about if we are going to live a life of faith.

1. The knight of faith must be will­ing to set aside per­sonal com­fort for a higher cause/calling.

This can be clearly seen in Abraham’s life. In Gen 12, Abram is will­ing to leave the com­fort of his home and go to a place he doesn’t know, just on the say-so of a God he has only recently encoun­tered. What has always amazed me about this is that there is no record of any com­plaint from Abram either. I won­der how many of us would be will­ing to do the same. I know it is hard to leave the com­fort of the known for the unknown, but God may be call­ing us to big­ger and bet­ter things and we never find out because we are not will­ing to set aside our per­sonal comfort.

2. The knight of faith remains strong in the face of inter­nal opposition.

Accord­ing to Kierkegaard, the knight of faith refuses to be spared his fate. In ref­er­ence to Abra­ham, Kierkegaard focuses on how Abra­ham seems to rush to accom­plish God’s will in sac­ri­fic­ing his only son. Kierkegaard goes so far as to say that the knight of faith does not ask for mercy. I wouldn’t go this far. I would say that it is ok to ask for mercy from God, so long as you are will­ing to accept the pos­si­bil­ity that mercy may not come. The best exam­ple of this is Jesus Him­self. Matt 26:39 reads, “And He went a lit­tle beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, say­ing, “My Father, if it is pos­si­ble, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” There is a request for a reprieve, but also a will­ing­ness to over­come any inter­nal oppo­si­tion in order to do as God asks.

3. The knight of faith sees the world the right way.

The third require­ment of the knight of faith is that the knight must view the world dif­fer­ently. Their rela­tion­ship to earthly con­ven­tions is deter­mined by their rela­tion­ship to the heav­enly realm and not the other way around. In short, the knight of faith puts God above any­thing else. God’s will is para­mount, and the con­cept of what is right and wrong comes from God, not from earthly social con­ven­tions. Abra­ham shows this through his will­ing­ness to kill Isaac. The sac­ri­fice of Isaac cer­tainly seems to go against social con­ven­tion. This is Abraham’s only heir, and Isaac is the child of promise that Abra­ham and Sarah have waited for most of their lives. Despite this, Abra­ham is will­ing to sac­ri­fice him, an action that makes no sense and defies moral norms, sim­ply because God said so.

4. The knight of faith must be will­ing to make the move of resignation.

The move of res­ig­na­tion is the renounce­ment of the earthly and res­ig­na­tion to the will of God. We are able to dis­cern the move of res­ig­na­tion when there is demon­stra­ble love of God over worldly hap­pi­ness and when we see the knight of faith move in soli­tude. Abra­ham does both. First, despite the fact that he loves Isaac, he makes it clear that he loves God more and is will­ing to give up his only son. More­over, as far as the bib­li­cal record shows, Abra­ham does not dis­cuss God’s com­mand with any­one. I think this final point has rel­e­vance for many of us today. When God asks us to do some­thing that defies social con­ven­tion or that seems out of the ordi­nary, if we decide to do it, it seems that we feel the need to jus­tify our deci­sions to oth­ers. It is a human trait – we don’t want to seem crazy for doing what­ever thing God just led us to do. How­ever, the knight of faith real­izes that the walk of faith is not always a group activ­ity. There­fore there is no need to jus­tify the action. Some­times it would be bet­ter if we just kept the word God gave us to our­selves. Now there are times when things need to be shared, espe­cially after the move of faith is made and God has proven Him­self again. But many times peo­ple will not under­stand why God asked you to do some­thing, so it would be best to spare every­one the con­fu­sion and heartache and not involve them in your move of faith.

5. Finally the knight of faith must make the move of faith.

This is almost a fore­gone con­clu­sion. Once the knight of faith has done all these other things, then the knight must have the will­ing­ness to believe and act on the strength of the absurd. For Abra­ham, even after he has denied per­sonal com­fort, over­come any inter­nal doubt, changed his world­view and resigned him­self to the will of God, he still has to take Isaac up the moun­tain, tie him up, lay him on the altar, and raise the knife. The fact that he goes through with it is what makes Abra­ham the knight of faith in Kierkegaard’s opinion.

But could Abra­ham be con­fi­dent that God would raise Isaac? Did he trust the word of God? After all, on two sep­a­rate occa­sions God told Abra­ham that Isaac was the promised heir. (Gen 17:19 and 21:12) Abra­ham would need to believe that some­how some­way he would not kill Isaac or that God would res­ur­rect him in order for God’s word to con­tinue to be true. Inter­est­ingly enough, the writer of Hebrews addresses this very point. Heb 11:17–19 reads, “ By faith Abra­ham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offer­ing up his only begot­ten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descen­dants shall be called.’ He con­sid­ered that God is able to raise peo­ple even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” But how was Abra­ham able to con­sider “that God is able to raise peo­ple even from the dead [?]” There is no story where God raised any­one from the dead dur­ing Abraham’s time. Abra­ham knew that God could raise some­one from the dead because that was how he got Isaac in the first place! God raised up his son from a womb that had been dead. Isaac him­self was a mir­a­cle, and this fact bol­stered Abraham’s belief that God could be true to His word, despite the likely out­come of His seem­ingly out­landish request. Here’s the thing – the same is true for us today.

The move of faith is never requested with­out prior evi­dence. God always gives us some­thing to rely on before He asks us to do some­thing that seems irra­tional or out­side of the norm. That evi­dence often exists all around us, but we don’t see it because we are too busy look­ing at our own doubts. Kierkegaard said this in ref­er­ence to the knight of faith. “If I knew where such a knight of faith lived I would jour­ney to him on foot, for this mar­vel con­cerns me absolutely. I would not let him slip one instant, but watch every minute how he makes the move­ments; I would con­sider myself main­tained for life and divide my time between look­ing at him and prac­tis­ing the move­ments myself, thus devot­ing all my time to admir­ing him.” If I could I would let Kierkegaard know that he is break­ing his own rule. Any knight of faith on this earth is not to be watched. Instead we should turn our eyes toward Jesus, who is the author and fin­isher of our faith and who gives us the evi­dence on which we can rely.

JasonHines

A Har­vard Law grad­u­ate, Jason Hines prac­ticed com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion in Philadel­phia for five years. In 2008, Jason decided to devote his life to work in reli­gious lib­erty. To that end, he enrolled at the Sem­i­nary at Andrews Uni­ver­sity, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Reli­gion. He is presently a PhD can­di­date in the Reli­gion, Pol­i­tics, and Soci­ety at the J.M. Daw­son Insti­tute for Church-State Stud­ies at Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity. Jason blogs about reli­gious lib­erty and other reli­gious issues at the​hi​ne​sight​.blogspot​.com and is also an asso­ciate edi­tor of Reli​gious​Lib​erty​.TV, an inde­pen­dent reli­gious lib­erty website.