Critical scholar finds Open Theism in Genesis 22

From Jews, Christians, and the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures by Joel S. Kaminsky:

So what might we learn about God from this story? I remember the moment when that dimension of the text opened up for me. My homiletics colleague, Richard Ward, and I were doing a teaching session together, and he recited Gen 22 from memory. In the freshness of that new medium, I heard a verse I had always passed over before, although I do not recall his giving it any special emphasis. Again, the angel of the LORD is speaking: “Do not stretch out your hand to the lad and do not do a single thing to him, for now I know that you are a God-fearer, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from me” (v. 12). If we take those words seriously—and in this narrative not a word is wasted—then we have to believe that there is something God now knows for the first time. (For all its theocentricity, the book of Genesis gives little comfort to the doctrine of divine omniscience.) What God knows now is so crucial that this most terrible “test” (v. 1) was devised, in order to show whether in fact Abraham cares for God above everything and everyone else—even above Isaac, his son and his own slender hope for fulfillment of God’s promise.

I spoke earlier of cultivating generosity toward the text, if we are indeed to befriend it. Generosity toward the Old Testament must mean this at least: accepting the text on its own terms, literally, working seriously with the language it offers us. The advantage of this present reading is that it is directed by the words of the passage rather than by an extraneous idea—the immorality of child sacrifice, the omniscience of God—however valid that idea might be in another interpretive situation.

This reading also coheres with the larger narrative context, to which the very first words of the chapter point us: “After these things, God tested Abraham.” After what things? Where are we in the history of salvation? At this point, all God’s eggs are in Abraham’s basket, almost literally. Recall that after the tower of Babel, God gave up on working a blessing directly upon all humankind and adopted a new strategy: channeling the blessing through Abraham’s line (Gen 12:3). Our story takes account of that new divine strategy: “And all the nations of the earth will find blessing through your seed, because you heeded my voice” (22:18). God, having been badly and repeatedly burned by human sin throughout the first chapters of Genesis, yet still passionately desirous of working blessing in the world, now consents to become totally vulnerable on the point of this one man’s faithfulness. But the narrative has just cast a shadow of doubt over Abraham’s total faith in God. Remember those two episodes in which Abraham has Sarah pass herself off as his sister? In Egypt and again in Canaan he lets his beautiful wife go into a king’s harem, rather than trusting God to protect them on their sojourn (Gen 12:10-17 and 20:1-18). “After these things, God tested Abraham.” After all that, we can begin to understand why God must know for sure whether the single human thread upon which the blessing hangs will hold firm.

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