Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Abraham in an Alternate Universe

In the original story of Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac, God praises Abraham's faith and willingness to do whatever he says, regardless of the end result. This "alternate universe" version represents how the tale would have gone if God were truly loving and just, demanding reasonable skepticism rather than faith.

One day, God appeared to Abraham and said, "Take your only son, Isaac, into the mountains and sacrifice him as a burnt offering to Me."

Abraham was distraught. I love my son, he thought, but I have to obey God. Besides, I'm sure He knows what He's doing. So he reluctantly but dutifully chopped wood for a burnt offering and took Isaac up to the peak of a nearby mountain.

"Where's the lamb that we're using for the sacrifice?" asked Isaac.

Abraham forced a smile. "Don't worry. God will provide one."

Abraham tied Isaac up with rope, ignoring the confused and desperate shouts of protest. He laid his child down on the flat boulder that he would be using as an altar and surrounded him with firewood. God, please don't make me do this, Abraham prayed.

"Father, what's going on?" cried Isaac. "Are you really going to kill me?"

"Believe me, my son, this is not my wish," said Abraham. "But God's commands are always righteous and just." He swallowed hard. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He prayed one last time, but heard nothing in response. Abraham raised the gleaming knife high into the air, and...

...just as he was about to bring it down and slice into his beloved son's soft flesh, God appeared to him as a ball of blinding light encompassed by a whirlwind.

"What. Are. You. DOING?"

"My Lord! I... I was only carrying out the instructions you gave me!" said Abraham, shaking but relieved.

"You would really do anything I say, even if it means killing your own son? What on earth is wrong with you?"

The Deity's voice reverberated throughout Abraham's entire body. "I didn't want to. It was so terrible I could hardly bear it. But Lord, I know that your commands are always good. I was hoping that you would change your mind, but if you bid me to kill my son, then that's what is right, and that's what I must do!"

"You fool!" roared God. "Is your faith so blind that you would do anything I say, no matter how obviously immoral?"

Abraham's mouth opened and closed like a fish drowning in air.

"I gave you a brain, and I expect you to use it! Don't just follow every instruction I give like some mindless drone. Why should you assume that I'm some ultimate standard of righteousness just because I'm powerful and have treated you relatively well?"

"B–But you said you would always c–care for and protect me if I had fai—" stuttered Abraham.

"And give me one good reason you should take me at my word regardless of the circumstances."

"Well I..." Abraham started, but after a few thoughtful minutes his mind was still blank.

"I thought so," said God. "And besides, let's assume for the sake of argument that I am the ultimate standard of goodness. What if it wasn't me who commanded you to kill your son? What if you were actually talking to a demon in disguise? Or what if you were hallucinating?"

"I... guess that never occurred to me."

"Well, in the future I expect you to be skeptical of your God. Ask questions, think for yourself, and if the consequences of your commands are clearly out of step with your moral compass, for My sake, say no."

Then the light faded away, the whirlwind dissipated, and Abraham realized by the look on his son's face that he had some serious explaining to do.

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