One of the most dreadful stories in the entire Bible is the one the ancient Israelites called “the Akeda,” the binding of Isaac. The story is terrible, not simply because it involves human sacrifice, not only because it involves a father’s willingness to kill his own son, but because it seems to set God against God.
After all, Isaac was the son of the promise, the son of Abraham’s impossibly old age, the one through whom Abraham would become the father of many nations. Hoping against hope, Abraham had continued to have faith, even as he and his wife became old and then ancient. This faith was finally justified as Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac.
Then, some twelve years later, when Isaac was just coming of age, Abraham heard a voice commanding him to sacrifice this son to God, this beloved, bearer of the promise of God. God asks obedience of Abraham.
Now I know many of us might grate against calls to be obedient to authority. But obedience (which means, fundamentally, “listening”) is absolutely essential to the Biblical perspective.
Obeying God is nothing like obeying a politician or a president or a king. Such people are flawed and sinful and sometimes have to be opposed. But God isn’t like that. God is love right through; he wants only what is for our good.
Another important point: politicians and presidents and kings put out policies that we can readily understand, but God is essentially mysterious. We cannot, even in principle, fully understand what God is up to, what his purposes are. His commands – which will always be for our good – are nevertheless often opaque to us. And this is precisely why we have to obey, listen, and abide – even when that obedience seems the height of folly.