Q&A: Faith and Feelings

Faith and Feelings

Question

How can we explain the fact that a God of love asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac? Why would a God of love ask Abraham to do such a horrifying situation? How can we explain that a God of love put Isaac through terrifying him and allowing him to believe he was about to be sacrificed by his own father?

Answer

Thank you for your question. In answering it, let me start off by posing these questions: How can we explain the fact that the eternal God of love actually ordained the literal execution of his only begotten Son? (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28; 1 Pet. 1:18-20). Why did God the Father put himself through such a situation? Why didn’t he just zap us all into an enteral hell? After all, we each deserve it. Why did God the Son agree to go to the cross? What kind of love is this? The answer is it’s the kind of everlasting covenant love (John 15:13) that saves all the elect for God’s glory alone!

We must remember that God is not just a loving God. He’s also the redemptive God (Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:15). He is also faithful (Exod. 34:6; Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:22-23; 2 Thess. 3:3) and so demands faith (Heb. 11:6). We could go on and on about who God is and isn’t (Please see, "What are the Attributes of God?" below), but answering your question really involves more than just addressing God’s love. This sovereign God, the Eternal Potter, has all rights over his clay! He is the one that makes his vessels in a particular way, and we each fit into the puzzle of God’s creation in a particular way. He has a purpose for each vessel to fulfill. He has made us each to fulfill his purpose and will. If he calls me to die for the sake of the gospel, then should I resist? (Please see, "What does it mean to be sold out to the gospel?" below).

Abraham received a command from God himself, and without hesitation, he obeyed God (Gen. 22:1-3). Abraham believed God’s word. He shared this word and this faith with his family. This was a covenant family. They too believed God’s word and had faith in the everlasting God. Both Abraham and Isaac had genuine faith in God.

Abraham had faith that Yahweh was the God of his everlasting covenant. He believed God when he said:

"I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will stablish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you" (Gen. 17:6-7).

So, Abraham believed (1) God’s covenant was everlasting; (2) that he would be exceedingly fruitful; (3) nations and kings would come through him via Isaac; and (4) there would be more generations yet to come.

But just where were all these nations and kings? There were none at this point because more still had to be fulfilled. So when Isaac asked about the burnt offering, Abraham could genuinely say, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (Gen. 22:8). He even told his servants that both of them would return saying, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you" (Gen. 22:5). But how could Abraham say and believe this? It’s because his faithful God had not yet finished fulfilling his end of the covenant. As a result, "they went both of them together" (Gen. 22:8), and they both had faith in God’s word – his everlasting covenant.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son (Gen 22:9-10).

Clearly Isaac knew there was going to be a sacrifice. As a former homicide detective, I note these interesting pieces of evidence in this text and the ones surrounding it: He asked about it. He observed the knife. He carried the wood for the sacrifice. He at least saw (if not assisted in) the building of the altar. He was bound and laid upon the altar. And absolutely nowhere does it say Isaac struggled. I don’t think Isaac was a dumb, weak kid. He was probably stronger than Abraham, especially since Abraham was really, really old, and could have struggled, fought, or at least run away. That he didn’t reveals faith on Isaac’s part. It reveals faith on Abraham’s part also. They both knew that if Yahweh would not have stopped this event – as he did (Gen. 22:11-13) – that God must have had in mind some type of resurrection to fulfill his everlasting covenant.

But let’s consider why God put Abraham and Isaac through this. I can think of many reasons, and here are a few:

First, this test wasn’t for the all-knowing God to find out Abraham and Isaac’s sincerity of faith. Rather, the purpose was that Abraham and Isaac would know about their own faith. There would still be many more trials for both to go through in their lives, just as today’s Christians all have trials. God puts us through many a test, and he does this so that when the fires come – and they will come – we will stand through them all. So, for Abraham and Isaac, to say the very least, this was a genuine confidence builder for father and son alike.

Second, it proves that God is faithful to his covenant promises. We should be faithful as well. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23; cf. Num. 23:19; Tit. 1:2).

Third, Abraham and Isaac knew this was about something more than just this life. Hebrews 11:10 tells us, "For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." And here God was proving to them that they had a future he would assuredly bring for them. God is a hope builder. (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13).

Fourth, there is more to life than just our feelings. In Moses’ era, Israel was pursued by the Egyptians and they faced death either at their hand or in the Red Sea. But the God of the everlasting covenant came through and it was all the Egyptians who drowned in the Sea (Exod. 14:28). Many years later, three men of the covenant, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, faced the fiery furnace, but a fourth covenant man was there with them. We’re told the fire hadn’t "so much as touched the three men – not a hair singed, not a scorch mark on their clothes, not even the smell of fire on them" (Dan. 3:27-28). Then there was Daniel where, when placed in the lion’s den, "no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God" (Dan. 6:23). And finally there is Jesus who faced the cross. After suffering and dying, the God of the everlasting covenant came through and resurrected him bringing him back to life three days later (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Today, God will most assuredly do the same thing for each and every saint. He will resurrect us all up for his glory!

So, what about our feelings? Are they important? Of course they are, but life isn’t just about our feelings. They must be understood by way of God’s word where we’re shown life is about faith. It’s about covenant. It’s about God’s eternal purpose and will for each of us. At times we will face impossible odds – even death itself (Rom. 9:28-29) – and we may actually be called to die! However, the God of the eternal covenant always has a plan and purpose for everything under the sun (cf. Eccl. 3:1). He is faithful, just and good, proving his eternal love! So, our feelings should be continuously transformed by our faith so that God will always be glorified in and by our lives.

Feelings find comfort when we realize how very special we are. The Psalmist exclaims, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well" (Psa. 139:14). We each have a special purpose. We are each a precious piece of God’s eternal puzzle.

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Rom. 9:21).

Related Topics

What are the Attributes of God?
What does it mean to be sold out to the gospel?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).