When Stories in the Bible Don’t Make Sense

Yesterday, NPR’s Morning Edition aired an interview with who they see as a growing portion of our population – young people who do not believe in God.  While the percentage nationwide is around fifteen to eighteen percent, the percentage in young people is higher.  One of the young people interviewed said that he had trouble believing stories in Scripture.  He referenced Abraham almost sacrificing his son.  He said, “If a man today heard a voice to kill his son, we would lock that man up.”  The young man simply did not, as I didn’t for a long time, know the real context of the story.

Most people know in ancient times people sacrificed their best animals to God or the gods.  This practice is a widespread human phenomenon that cuts across many ancient cultures.  Our first barrier to fully appreciating this though is that our most expensive possessions are not our animals in the 21st century.  As a matter-of-fact, today we treat animal life incredibly casually because it is easy for human beings to breed and produce more of them.  In the past, this was not the case.  So, to give up your animal was a real sacrifice, showing devotion to God.  But the real problem was that in many cultures people starting asking how they could even do better than sacrificing their best animal.  And human children have been sacrificed in many cultures (and it was prevalent in the middle east among certain cultures).  The Book of Genesis is a book of origins and rules.  And the point of the story of Abraham and Isaac (or Abraham and Ishmael for Muslims) was that God did not want that.  Ancient peoples hearing that could say to themselves, “If Abraham was a man known for having the most faith and was not required to do that, then I am not required to do that either.”  But all this nuance is largely lost on our modern world and to us, all we can think of is, “What kind of God would ask for such a sacrifice?”

I raise up this particular story to highlight what I thought as I heard all six young adults interviewed, “Where was a clergy person of merit in these adults lives as they grew up?”  If our churches, synagogues, and mosques are being less successful in passing on the faith, I don’t put that as a problem on young people but on the older adults who have to be presenting a faith that young adults are having trouble reconciling with their knowledge and the world around them.  God knew from the dawn of time that human beings would grow in numbers, in wealth, and in knowledge.  God has not gone anywhere.  But God is calling on us who do believe to pass on our faith as people of faith have been doing since before the time of Abraham.  If less people believe, then all of us believers need to do a better job.

One of my favorite comments from seminary was when a professor said, “You know, to really understand the nativity story, we need to do more than send kids up with a script dressed in bathrobes and with canes and halos.”  We who have studied the stories need to explain the context and then discuss with people what all that might mean for us today.  God does not expect us to live as ancient peoples.  But God does expect us to be faithful people in our time and in our context.  The only question is whether we are up to the challenge.

What do you think?

Until next time,

Tom

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