We only have a couple of weeks left in this series on idols, and I’ve chosen the topics for the weeks with a specific order in mind. As we come to the end, the idols are perhaps progressively more subtle, more hidden. What that means is that we’re typically more unaware of their potential danger, which, in some respects, makes them more dangerous.
One of the greatest blessings that God gives us in this lifetime is the gift of family. Almost regardless of how smooth or troubled a person’s family life has been, regardless of whether they are a believer or unbeliever, virtually every single person on the planet will tell you that “family” is a beautiful concept. When you see that type of universal praise, it’s obvious that a blessing is inherently wonderful. What I’d like to challenge you to think about today though is whether or not it’s possible that family ties could be too close, whether or not family could be a very real idol to us as well. And I’d like to do that by way of Bible illustration.
You might think that from a narrative standpoint, the account of Abraham in the Old Testament should end with the birth of Isaac, the long-awaited son. Pregnancy had finally become a reality for his old, barren wife Sarah, and a son is finally born to Abraham. It was a miracle! The promised Messiah would come through this line and all nations would be blessed. End scene. Right? But that’s not how the narrative ends. It continues with one of the most heart-wrenching tests of faith in the Bible, one that more transparently than any other foreshadows God’s coming action in sending his Son to die for mankind’s sins.
In Genesis 22:2, God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” What?! Why?! If you continue to read in Genesis 22, you discover that these seemingly natural questions don’t ever come out of Abraham’s mouth. Clearly they must have gone through his head. This is the son he had literally waited a century for. And now God wants Abraham to sacrifice his own son? It doesn’t seem to make any sense. But, Abraham doesn’t challenge God, because he knows God.
In all of this,you see, God recognized something we sinful humans wouldn’t have. A child that was as longed for as Isaac was could quite easily become the most important thing in Abraham’s life, the epicenter of his self-worth, his ultimate value. And as children of God, nothing deserves that spot in our hearts and in our lives except God himself.
If a parent puts a child in the central spot in life, the love for child (a good thing) becomes idolatrous. And interestingly, since this idolatrous love goes against God’s will for parenting, not only will the parent suffer a strained or broken relationship with God, but the parent, suffocating a child with a love that is disproportionate to love for God, will likely strain or destroy relationship with the child too. It’s a tragedy that many well-intentioned parents are blindly unaware of (loving kids too much in relation to love for God).
Now, as we back up a step, we want to ask an obvious question: Did God really want Isaac dead? Is that why he told Abraham to go to Moriah and sacrifice his son? Answer: Of course not. It makes no sense that God desired a human child’s sacrifice and that would violate his very own teachings on the sanctity of human life elsewhere in Scripture. What God was doing here was challenging Abraham to see what he valued more – God or family?
It was understood in ancient Israel that, like all blessings, the blessing of family comes from God and belongs to God. Abraham knew that. The covenant of circumcision and dedication to the Lord was designed to show that. Later, God would expressly state that “your family (as represented by your firstborn son) belongs to me” (Ex 22:29, 34:20, Num 3:40-41, 46-48). So Abraham knew that God had every right to do with his firstborn son whatever he wanted. But Abraham also knew the grace of God and trusted his holy and loving promises, promises which stated that many descendants would come through this son. Consequently, even though Abraham didn’t understand God’s direction, he was able to faithfully follow God’s direction, trusting in God’s good and perfect will. This is what allows Abraham the willingness to climb this mountain to do what a parent would generally deem unthinkable.
The story comes to its climax as Abraham demonstrates full willingness to sacrifice his son. But with Abraham’s arm raised, knife in hand, God interrupts him, saying, “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Gen 22:12)
God’s words here are perhaps a bit misunderstood. It wasn’t as though God couldn’t tell what was in Abraham’s heart all along. An all-knowing God whose vision penetrates the hearts of humans does not need an external proof of love to come to conclusions about hearts. However, Abraham needed a pause in his life to discover that Isaac was NOT the most important aspect of his life. God was. So you see, operating the same way he does in our lives, God doesn’t provide this test so that he can see Abraham’s love, he provides this test so that Abraham can come to a realization of Abraham’s priorities.
This clarifying realization that God was the greatest love in his life, difficult as it was, enabled Abraham to love Isaac wisely. In other words, had this incident not happened, Abraham likely would have been led to either overly control & discipline Isaac – seeking for him to be the perfect, flawless center of his life that he thought Isaac was, something Isaac would never have been able to live up to. OR, had this incident not occurred, it could have led to Abraham spoiling Isaac – seeing only the good and ignoring the bad, fearing the rejection of his son and therefore failing to discipline him appropriately and as needed, which inevitably would have caused Isaac to grow up into a self-absorbed brat.
The point: No child, spouse, or any other family member can be your Lord or Savior. And it’s entirely unfair to put him/her under the pressure of having to be. If your family is your reason for living, when they fail you (and as sinners, they will), it will destroy you. Only God is mighty to save. God alone is all we need. And understanding that allows you to love everyone and everything else in your life appropriately.
The story of Abraham and Isaac finds its culmination in Jesus. God guides Abraham to a substitute sacrifice on that mountain which was to be slaughtered in place of Isaac. A couple thousand years later another substitute sacrifice would arrive on those very same mountains. It was not Abraham’s son, but God’s own Son who would be sacrificed. Yes, God demonstrated willingness to temporarily part with family and see family suffer in order to make his family greater by means of addition. And because he did, heaven is our home, and God is our Father.
Again, I hope you understand that family is a great gift from God. Peace within family can make for more enjoyable earthly life, but it can’t redeem our lives or give us eternal life, which means that if our family revolves around our family and not around Jesus, it’s a temporary family. However, if Jesus is at the heart of family, the joy of family becomes a perfected and eternal blessing.