A Story Too Terrible to Hear

~Bob Wallace

I remember the first theology book I ever received – J.B. Phillips’ book Your God Is Too Small. It was impressionable because it helped me expand my understanding of God as being bigger than I had ever imagined.

And at a later age, after reading Elie Wiesel’s The Gates of the Forest, I found one sentence stayed with me, even though I have to make a wee change to his language: “God made (people) because (God) loves stories.”

God loves stories. And so do we, because we are created in God’s image.
Yet our modern society consistently asks for truth, and defines such as being the concrete, demonstratable and provable data to back up that conclusion.

In such a milieu, stories are seen as “fluff” – entrancing, maybe; entertaining, surely; but essentially, not true.

Yet there are truths which cannot be proved, but about which we must talk. There is God, love, trust, hope, delight, wonder, pain, despair. No matter how hard we strive to measure and define these experienced feelings, they escape easy categorization.

And so, we tell stories.

Our faith is founded in storytelling. I sometimes wonder if creation itself isn’t somehow, the story Creator-God tells, and thus brings into being. Genesis begins with God “speaking” and everything being created. John’s Gospel begins with “the Word” – without which nothing was created.

Now, some stories are fun to hear, over and over again. Others push us and cause us to wrestle. Some are heard gladly. Others scare us.

Ralph Milton once wrote about this Sunday’s reading: “This story may be the scariest story in the Bible for children. They hear it from Isaac’s point of view … (and) God looks really threatening.” And Ralph was right!

This week’s story from our Biblical family tree is a challenging and disturbing story. Whether I explore Jewish or Christian commentators, all agreed, this is a story that makes us wonder about the writers of the Bible, and why it was included.

Yet, Bishop William Willimon of the United Methodist Church tells the story of a Bible Study in which he asked his participants to share with him the “meaning” of the Genesis 22:1-18 story they had just read.

“The silence was broken … by a middle-aged man. “I’ll tell you the meaning this story has for me. I’ve decided that I and my family are looking for another church.”

“What?” I asked in astonishment. “Why?”

“Because when I look at that God, the God of Abraham, I feel I’m near a real God, not the sort of dignified, businesslike, Rotary Club god we chatter about here on Sunday mornings. Abraham’s God could blow a man to bits, give and then take a child, ask for everything from a person and then want more. I want to know that God.”

Walter Brueggemann once wrote:

“…the text leads us to face the reality that God is God. The narrative concerns Abraham’s anguished acknowledgment that God is God. … God is shown to be freely sovereign just as (God) is graciously faithful.”

So, come worship time, we will explore this challenging text. Hold one another closely. Remember, this is one story from a whole series of stories – it is not the whole story, just a small glimpse of one part of the much larger picture: that God is faithful, just, merciful, and loving.

See you in church.