The “Between”

Genesis 22:3-4

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 

Most of us have faced big decisions in life.  In the midst of those decisions, we struggle with a great deal of tension between the moment a decision is presented to us and the moment we make the decision itself.  The reason many of us don’t entertain risky changes in life is because we are extremely uncomfortable with the tension “in between”.  Our natural inclinations want to alleviate tension at all costs.  The problem with trying to get rid of the tension too quickly is we often sacrifice the pull into the future or we ignore our current reality.

I like to think of these moments of struggle as the “between”.  In the “between” moments, things are chaotic and uncertain.  Will we make the right decision?  Will we choose the right path?  Will we choose wrong and have our entire life ruined?  It’s even harder when those decisions involve other people, especially your family.  Sometimes the fear of change is just too much.   We turn back and head home to the comfortable, safe place.

I am wrestling with Genesis 22.  Particularly these seemingly obscure passages about Abraham and Isaac’s journey to Mt. Moriah where God is sending Abraham to present Isaac as a sacrifice.  God comes to Abraham and calls him to present Isaac.  Isaac is his heir.  Ishmael has been sent away.  All the promises God has made now hang in the balance as God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son.  

The whole adventure with Abraham started with a call from God.  Abraham began his original journey with God by venturing out in to the deep – into the unknown.  But Abraham’s original “between” moment (as he headed to Canaan) was filled with the hope that he was headed toward his future – the unfolding future of a new land.  Now as Abraham’s story nears the end, God calls to him again and sends him out.  Abraham is venturing out into the unknown once again.  But unlike his first journey which cut him off from his past, this journey could cut him off from his future.  A lot to process during a three day trip on a mule!

Why did God command Abraham to travel so far for this sacrifice?  Why not go to the altar nearby his encampment and present Isaac there?  I mean, that’s where the sacrifices to God normally took place.  Why a mountain three days away?  

I believe this “between” time was for both Abraham and God.  

For Abraham (and for us), the provision of God must be wrestled with and trusted in the “between” moments in life.  We must take time to think deeply about decisions we face.  Can you imagine the struggle on the three day journey knowing what is asked of Abraham?  Can you imagine how many times Abraham questioned, doubted, and probably considered turning around and going home?  The text doesn’t give us much insight into the journey itself, but I can imagine it was excruciating for Abraham.

But this was also a moment in time for God to see Abraham’s faith.  God sent Abraham to a place he would show him.  God knew the three days would be a “between” time to evaluate Abraham’s commitment to His command.  God wanted to see Abraham wrestle.  God wanted to see how he would respond.  If you read on in Genesis 22, God actually says at the conclusion of the story, “now, I know”…as if God was waiting to see what Abraham would do!  God wasn’t sure of the outcome!

This passage speaks to difficult decisions we all face in life.  Will we stay with the “3 day” journey?  Will we move patiently through the “between” times in life as tension-filled as they may be?  Or will we seek to do away with the tension?  I wonder what God will learn about us if we seek to reconcile things before we’ve journeyed to Mt. Moriah.  The opportunity for second thoughts is always possible.  Only at the end of the journey can God say, “Now I know.”

A final thought…

For those who say, “God already knows everything.  God knows what we will do and not do!”, I say read Genesis 22 again.  How can this actually be a test if Abraham has no choice?  Look again at Jesus’ struggle in the garden as he faced his death.  God does give us freedom to choose!  As Thomas Merton wrote, “A [person] who fears to settle their future by a good act of their own free choice does not understand the love of God.  For our freedom is a gift of God given us in order that He may be able to love us more perfectly, and be loved by us more perfectly in return….He Who loves us means to leave us room for our own freedom so that we may dare to choose for ourselves, with no other certainty than that His love will be pleased by our intention to please Him.”

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