Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Genesis 22:2
The story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac has always been an inspirational story of faith. I’ve read it dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times since childhood. In some ways it seems like a fairy tale:
Once upon a time there was a couple, Abraham and Sarah, who couldn’t have children. After a long time of waiting, God gave them a son, Isaac. Then a few years later, God told Abraham to take his son and sacrifice him to God as a burnt offering. So Abraham took Isaac to the top of the mountain and was about to kill him when God stepped in, told him how proud he was of Abraham, and told him to let the boy go. And God provided a ram for the offering, and they all lived happily ever after.
Yes, it’s a fascinating story of amazing faith, and we like to read it and wonder at Abraham’s willingness to please God. But we know how the story ends–we know that Abraham really won’t have to sacrifice his only son after all. We know that God will stay Abraham’s hand and give him a ram to sacrifice instead. We know there’s a happy ending.
What if, instead of stopping Abraham’s knife from plunging into Isaac’s flesh, God allowed Abraham to sacrifice his son? What if Abraham gave his son’s life, and God did not restore that life to him?
There are times when God calls us to sacrifice something that is precious to us–perhaps a relationship, or a job, or a ministry. Maybe we’re not called to sacrifice them because there’s anything wrong with them, or because we don’t appreciate them. Sometimes we’re called to sacrifice as a sign of our faith in God.
Sometimes He returns the offering itself to us. And sometimes He doesn’t–although He ultimately returns something better. Maybe we don’t get that relationship or job back–but instead, God gives us comfort and peace in the midst of suffering, and we learn to walk closer with Him than if we hadn’t made the sacrifice.
I like the idea of sacrifice, as long as it has an Abraham-and-Isaac-like ending. I’m content to give up whatever God calls me to, if I know that I’m going to get it back eventually. But is that really and truly sacrifice? I don’t think so.
Sacrifice isn’t giving up something for a little while–it’s giving with the intention that the offering may very well be a permanent one. Sometimes it’s giving up hope of what we want to happen, clearing the way for God’s will to be done.