Would You Do Like Abraham? The Problem of Parenting “Our” Children

October 29, 2014

Would you do like Abraham did?

Worst Father-Son picnic ever.

Worst Father-Son picnic ever.

There has been a little conversation bubbling up over the last week, at least in my corner of social media, the question being would you do as Abraham did?

Meaning, would you pass the “test” that Abraham passed when he placed his promised son, Isaac on the altar?

Predictably, there are a lot of people who say “Surely I would!” They announce their confidence that they would absolutely be willing to murder their children if God told them to. They proclaim their willingness as a sign of their faith. It’s just a good thing that God does not tell them to do so.

And on the other side are the people who say, “Surely I would not!” And from this side, the “faithful” are prodded about what kind of God would really ask them to do such a thing. What is faith worth if God is so evil as to ask something like that?

Now Cheri and I have not waited nearly as long for our son as Abraham and Sarah did. But we have learned a couple of things about what it means to be long-waiting parents.

And one thing that we have learned is that while God may never ask us to place our child on a literal altar, the same test that Abraham faced, the rest of us also face, whether we know it or not.

What Would You Do?

It is kind of a moot point to declare what you definitely would do if you only happened to be a wandering nomad, the father of the Jewish faith, and alive six millennia ago. After all, I like to believe that if a murderer broke into my house that I would spring into action and heroically defend my wife. But I just don’t know what would go down until it goes down.

Likewise, I also think we miss the point when we take the story of Abraham and Isaac and read it as people who already know the end of the story. There is something missing when we just read the story as twenty-first century Christians and say “I would never do that!” (or vice verse.)

We have to remember that Abraham was the first of his kind. He heard from God before He even knew what to call him (or that He was the only one.) He lived in a time when child sacrifice was the norm. And so for God to ask him to sacrifice his son was nothing out of the ordinary. It was not shocking the way it shocks us.

The test is simply: is Abraham willing to be as obedient to God as all those other people are willing to be to those other gods? And in the process, Abraham learns that this God he has heard from is not at all like the others.

Those Pesky Possessive Pronouns

The problem that Cheri and I have realized are those pesky little possessive pronouns that we use to describe children.

My child.

Our son.

Our daughter.

We use the same possessive pronouns to describe people as we do our property. Doesn’t that strike anyone else as weird? Maybe that’s just a limitation of the English language.

No, we do not own our children the way we own our homes or cars or iPhones. Our children are not our property. We did not purchase them (though some of us paid a lot of money for them!) Yet Cheri and I have felt this tension, this pull as we prepare ourselves for the little one, to think of our children as belonging to us. This is no one else’s child. He is our child. And we do not have to share him!

The Real Parental Test

And so we come to the test, and it is this.

We will not be asked to give away our children, but all of us will be asked to release our children.

We will not have to sacrifice our children on an altar, but we will have to let our children go.

Sooner or later, we will have to acknowledge that our children do not belong to us. They are not ours the way our other possessions are ours. We will spend a few years making decisions for them, trying to control their behavior, paying for their needs, but all of this is not to make them more ours, but to make them less ours.

For the more we invest in our children, the more ready they are to leave us. We raise children so that we can release them, not keep them or hold onto them. We are but stewards for a little while and after that, we have very little say about what happens to them.

That is the test we all face. Do we believe that a mother or father’s love is the highest, deepest, most intense love? Or do we believe that God loves our children even more than we do? It does us no good to boast about hypothetical obedience, nor can we boast that we have the capacity to love our children more than their Creator.

What do you think? Do we get too caught up in the “ownership” of parenthood?


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4 responses to Would You Do Like Abraham? The Problem of Parenting “Our” Children

  1. Boom. Exactly. Right on. Yes. This is such a better perspective/response that either Rachel’s or Rick’s over at Reformation21. Why? Because you got to the point, the context, and the important theology of this passage of Scripture. You’re not pointing fingers; you’re pointing to God. And, as one who is still walking the path waiting for God to bless us with children — see We Were Pregnant for the latest in that — I’ve been thinking about how miscarriage changes the way we think about “our” children. Kids are a blessing from the Lord. My recent experiences have shown me that I really have very little say in the rest of it. Abraham takes that lesson a step further. Will we learn it?

    Thank you for writing this and putting it so well.

    Luke Holzmann recently posted..How do you read?

  2. Wonderful. You made the point so well. I continue to appreciate your blog and your perspective.
    Paul Vander Klay recently posted..Tim Cook, work is life

  3. Excellent. I linked this on my blog for Sunday morning.
    vanilla recently posted..Loving Parent, Responsive Child

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