How much darkness can you bear?

Week 2, Day 5

Genesis 22. 6-10

Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son…

Questions, and more questions this week.

But questions do not readily lend themselves to devotional reading. So today we focus on just one of them: How much darkness can you bear? Or to say the same thing in different words, Where does your belief in God end and your trust in God begin and how far will that trust carry you?

Belief, you see, is pretty much an intellectual exercise. We give or withhold our consent to ideas—like the workings of gravity or the existence of God, based on the evidence we observe and the experiences we have. But belief in gravity is no comfort when you are driving down a steep mountain road and your brakes give out. Belief in God does not carry us far when a child is suddenly taken from us.

Job believed in God when he got word that a freak wind blew down the house his ten children were in, killing them all (Job 1. 18-19). Jesus believed in God when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father…take this cup from me…!” (Mark 14.36) Abraham believed in God when the voice in the night said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…”

But belief is of little use in the darkness. To move, to even breathe in, the darkness you need something more—you need trust.

Decades before the events of this story, Abraham had been invited by God to journey with him through Palestine. This landless, childless man was promised a country and a family. He believed the promise and began the journey; he began what Eugene Peterson has called “a long obedience in the same direction”.

Perhaps he didn’t realize, at first anyway, how hard the journey would be and how much would be expected of him. He would be given the assurance that even death would not impede the working of God’s will; that life and love would win. But that assurance would come with a catch.

Because whatever he believed about the promises of God and the power of life, he couldn’t really experience either until the promise failed and death stared him in the face.

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…” “Do you trust me now, Abraham?” God wanted to know. Abraham needed to know. Abraham was cast into darkness. And there, in the darkness, where belief fails, he discovered trust.

This is the question the story asks of us. Do we, can we, trust God in the darkness? When we face illness, loss and death; when God falls silent and our pleading prayers go unanswered—do we know God well enough to trust then? How much darkness can we bear? How deep is our faith in God; how faithful is God to us?

Is this why we climb Mt Moriah with Abraham and Isaac—so that when we climb it by ourselves we will know the way?

Prayer: Dear God, Jesus taught us to pray, “Save us from the time of trial”. If you can’t save us from trial, save us in the trial. When the light is gone, may trust remain. May life prevail. Amen.

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