God has a habit of asking his people to do difficult things. Unthinkable things. Nonsensical things. He asked Noah to build a 400-foot ark in the middle of dry land. He asked Gideon to send 32,000 troops home before the battle with the Midianites, leaving him only 300 men. And he asked Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman—a prostitute. In all such instances, God calls his people to radical obedience. He calls us to trust Him.
But do we? The issue isn’t just whether we obey. The issue is how we obey. Do we do the difficult thing God is calling us to do with hope and confidence that all things work for good? Or do we obey God with a sense of resignation and despair? I fear the latter is all too often the case. Sure, we may do the unthinkable thing God is asking us to do. But we have already determined ahead of time that all hope is lost. No good can come from this. So, we obey out of sheer duty.
But there is a better way. And Abraham models it for us. Perhaps no one was tested more deeply and profoundly than Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his one and only son (Gen 22:1). Not only was this the beloved boy that he and Sarah had waited and longed for, but all the promises of God converged upon him. Abraham had been told that all nations would be blessed through his offspring—blessings that included the coming of the promised Messiah. And Isaac was the key to all of these promises.
While this scenario would certainly constitute a good basis for wallowing in despair, Abraham does not take this path. Instead, he does something radical. He believes. We see this amazing faith at a point in the story that is often overlooked. After reaching Mt. Moriah, Abraham tells his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Notice that Abraham expressly states that both he and the boy will return from the mountain. This is not just Abraham putting on a good face for his servants. Abraham really believed that somehow, some way God would keep his promises regarding Isaac. In fact, Hebrews 11:19 tells us why Abraham was so confident, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.”
In other words, Abraham didn’t just obey God. He obeyed with hopefulness. He obeyed with a Godly optimism. And that is the only way we can obey God in the midst of unthinkable trials. And it is the only way we can obey God over the long term. Our obedience must flow from our belief that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28).
For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.
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Dr. Michael J. Kruger is President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. In addition, he is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serve as an Associate Pastor (part-time, of course) at my home church, Uptown PCA.