Did God Tempt or Test Abraham? If so, how and why? – Greg Albrecht
I really appreciate your daily CWR Unplugged programs. Recently you made a comment about Genesis 22, and you remarked that God was not testing Abraham, but he was revealing the love of God to him. So, I am struggling with this. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Issac, but what, it wasn’t really a test on Abraham but a show of God’s love, I guess not requiring the sacrifice?
But when I read in Genesis 22, it clearly is described in verse 1 as a test, and in verse 12 that Abraham had passed the test. Can you help me understand this better?
Here’s what I get out of this narrative:
Sometimes a variation of this question is asked like this: Since Genesis 22:1 says God “tempted” (Authorized King James) Abraham, but James 1:13 says that God does not tempt anyone, what is the correct perspective to take of this seeming contradiction?
More contemporary translations go with “testing” and “proving” rather than “temptation” – as translators feel temptation is far too much of a negative term, and that it is also used of the wiles of the devil who tempts us, indeed tempted Jesus (Matthew 4). But the same basic question remains – whether the word is “tempt” or “try” or “prove” or “test.”
On the one hand, God was testing and proving Abraham – in the sense of two people who are not yet married test and prove one another. They watch and observe actions and reactions. They see how the object of their affection deals with a variety of situations. As I used to teach in a class of young people who one day planned to be married – if you want to know how your prospective spouse relates to kids, borrow or rent some kids with runny noses, one or two of whom is still trying to learn to control their bodily functions … and take them on a several hour road trip, followed by a tour of a museum they could care less about, and ending the day with a meal of grown up food – vegetables, no burgers, no fries, no mac and cheese. See how the person you are considering as a wife or husband deals with such a situation.
On the other hand, God was not testing and proving Abraham in the sense of a test of virtue, a test where there are right and wrong answers and failure is possible, in fact, probable, a temptation of sorts in which Abraham in fact is bound to fail, being human. God was not “testing” the humanity of Abraham – nor has he nor is he nor will he, for he knows full well who we are. He knows, as the Psalmist uses the term, “our frame.” We are limited, fragile and hugely imperfect. God is not testing us to see if we can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or stop a locomotive in (or on) its tracks. We could take a small child down to the ocean and test that child to see if they can swim 25 miles across a passage – say the English Channel. What would that be? A crime – murder. A little child can’t swim, and if they can, certainly not that far.
What kind of a brute, tyrant and abusive god would “test” someone to do something they are completely incapable of? God knew Abraham, just like he knows you and me – God knew Abraham was a liar (see chapter 12) – then there was that whole business with Hagar and Ishmael, not a perfect “church going” family. I like the sense that God was continuing to get to know Abraham, and that in the midst of all of Abraham’s failures, God gave him faith – and as Paul says in Romans 4, Abraham was not justified by “works” – Abraham was not given the grace of God because of his perfect obedience. Abraham did not pass all the tests in such a way that God said, “OK Abraham, you have earned my love.” Abraham had no reason to boast of what God owed him (Romans 4:2) but Abraham had every reason to thank God for God had justified him just as he does all the ungodly (Romans 4:6).
There is a sense here, in addition, that God as our heavenly Father, educates, trains, matures and works with and through us as his children – in the New Testament sense we mature in Christ – we grow. So Abraham was having a growing experience – and growth involves growth pains, and awkward adjustments … most young men who first dance with a young lady look back and shudder about how clumsy and inadequate they were. “Testing” is therefore part of life, not some inhuman, impossible obstacle course that God had fiendishly designed to show Abraham how inadequate he was.
In this sense, the circumstances facing Abraham were like those all of us, to some degree encounter – God knew that Issac was the child of promise. Why would God ask him to kill him? Why would God ask Abraham to kill anyone? We wonder – God loves us, he doesn’t want us to suffer, and even though he doesn’t promise we will never suffer, he is allowing this moment in time which is “trying” our faith, our patience, our belief in God. Why did God let our wife, our child, die? Why, why, why? When it seems that we are enduring life in a reverse gear to that forward progress it seems those who follow Jesus Christ will have, we wonder…. Why?
God is “testing” Abraham to give him a greater appreciation of the love of God, and of course all of this in Genesis 22 is about the cross of Christ, and the greatest love demonstrated and unleashed there. The faith God gives us, by his grace, and a faith that our risen Lord lives in us is a faith and a walk in Christ that is counter intuitive to what we humans would call common sense, affection, and the goals and objectives of life. The faith God gives us, and by which we walk (not by sight as Paul says) is not about our security and safety and physical well being – it’s about something far different, a spiritual dimension that is far beyond our time and space world.
Just a few thoughts – hope this is of some help.
In Christ, Greg Albrecht