Isaac, Abraham’s second son and the achingly longed for first child of Sarah, was born, according to the story, when Abraham was a hundred and Sarah in her nineties. We had our first child in our twenties and while we looked forward to her birth with that strange mixture of trepidation and excitement that is right and proper for a first child, I don’t ever remember the almost desperate longing that some have if their wait is longer. Isaac was a longed for and loved child. And then there is in Genesis 22:1-19 the story of Mount Moriah. It is almost impossible to comprehend the kind of feelings that would arise in such a situation, but I believe the storyteller wants us to do exactly that. We are meant to feel the conflict between obedience to God and love for your child and get a grasp of what trust really means. How could Abraham possibly go through with the sacrifice of this precious young man? How could a loving God test his servant in such a way? And what on earth did this story do to Isaac and his relationship with his father? I wonder what you make of the story. Perhaps our immediate reaction is that it is a totally alien world and utterly beyond anything we have experienced. ‘Child sacrifice’. Surely no one would treat their children in this way, but I wonder if that is so? We live in a world where children are constantly abused and hurt by deliberate act or simple neglect.
Despite the fact that many people believe that slavery no longer exists, the ‘International Labour Organisation’ estimated that there are some 5.5 million children in slavery or practices similar to slavery. The Forbes website covers a story that in 2012 there were as many as 300,000 child soldiers active in conflicts around the world. The account also claimed that 40% of armed forces (including national armies, militias, gangs, terrorist organizations and resistance forces) in the world use children. Studies in the USA by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Centre’, show that: 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. The organisation, ‘International Centre for Research on Women’ has found that one third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. This means that in 2012, 70 million children were married. This number is set to increase in the next decade and if present trends continue, 150 million girls a year will be married before their 18th birthday.
Children’s lives seem so cheap and their happiness so unimportant that somehow Abraham’s dilemma has a horribly relevant feel. In some ways the safety of the child has only recently become an important consideration in family decisions.
The needs of children are not always the primary factor even for Christians seeking to respond to God’s calling. If you are in doubt talk to my mother, Rosemary, on the anguish she felt with three little ones in West Africa! How much does God require of us and our children?
The story of Abraham is about trust in God, and in the story, his faithfulness is affirmed as ‘God Provides’. The tensions of the story are resolved by the provision of a loving God and the possibility that Abraham will become a blessing for others. Our feelings, as we read the story, become a sounding board for a message of encouragement for all who choose to be obedient. As we offer ourselves in the Covenant that may be enough for this reflection on a child in the Bible. God’s love is enough, God will provide.
But perhaps we might also listen to the challenge of how we treat children and young people. I’m writing this as I am overwhelmed with the sadness that we are now dropping bombs in Syria and so I end with ‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’ Wilfred Owen 1893-1918.