Passages That I Hate
I want to pose a question that you might find too disrespectful to answer: Are there any passages in Scripture that you absolutely HATE? I have a number, especially those that have been used as a weapon against other people in God’s creation. But I suppose my all-time favorite to hate is that one from Genesis, when Abraham is asked to take his only son up the mountain and kill him (Genesis 22:2). [I can’t even stand to post the most common depictions of it].
I learned many of the interpretations of this passage as I’ve wrestled with it over the years. Paul uses it to point out Abraham’s great faith (Romans 4). Or you can view it as the supreme test to see if you are obedient to the Almighty and can count on His goodness no matter what He requires you to do. Then there’s the real possibility that this passage was put into Genesis to call an end to child sacrifice to gods who had altars in the high places. Christian writers were eager to point out that God’s son was not spared like Abraham’s was—because of our terrible sins that needed washing away with blood.
But once my wife and I had a firstborn son, this passage went right to the top of my all-time hate list. I could understand the terrible possibility that something might happen to him. I used to listen to him breathe at night in his basinet, just to be certain he was okay. Being conceived, born, and growing up are all miraculous, given the number of things that can go wrong. I could only hope my faith would be strong enough if the unthinkable happened. But being told to end his life as if the answer were needed for some high stakes loyalty test—well, that would be too much for me. I hesitate to write, but it’s true, that I can’t believe in a God who would ask that.
So, you may legitimately wonder: Well, then, how can you believe in a God who requires His own Son to suffer a criminal’s death so that YOU might live eternally in happiness, instead of in perpetual torment?
To answer that, let me explain what all this has to do with the Transfiguration, the story in Matthew 17 and in all three synoptic gospels:
I always thought the Transfiguration was a great story! It’s so visual!: there’s a mountain, a transformation that involves Jesus’s body and his clothes, there are appearances of two prophets long dead (well one of them, at least), and there is this thunderous voice from heaven claiming Jesus as the Son of God whom everyone should listen to. What could be the problem with this wondrous scene?
So I was shocked when an episcopal priest of my acquaintance declared this passage the one he hated (I think he actually says “disliked”)! He hates it because if it is taken as history, it is a way of telling people of all other religions and beliefs (Hindus, Moslems, Jews, for example) that Jesus is the only one to be listened to. This passage can be one more log for the fire of Anti-Semitism.
How do you get out of this way of thinking—that God only loves those who listen to Jesus? You have to think about what Matthew is saying to his Jewish audience. If you keept thinking that this story means that Jesus was replacing Moses and Elijah or—what the heck—everyone important in Jewish history, then you’d have to be the kind of exclusionist that Jesus never was!
But you CAN accept this story (and, I suppose, that one about Abraham) as an emblem of what happens when you encounter God. You’re thrown off your feet (or your game). You cannot resolve the experience by thinking about it. You rather stand before it like Moses did in his own Transfiguration in Exodus 24. It is a burning bush experience. It can open your heart as if with a not-too-sharp can opener; and you have to acknowledge, like Job, that you haven’t a clue, that the God who created this universe is bigger than you are, and that the best thing you can ever do is to keep believing in Him/Her, even when God acts like a moving target and won’t let you build a tent that you can crawl into and get comfortable.