the tramp of sacrificial animals says good-bye
they go carnal and bright carrying warmth on their necks
and ignorance of fate on foreheads marked with horns
they fall on their foreknees very surprised at their own blood
The elements the animals shout to you the road is open
-from “Altar” by Zbigniew Herbert

 

Prelude

Once upon a time there was a girl who heard the story of Abraham in a Sunday School class. Abraham’s faith was tested, the teacher explained, holding up a popsicle stick with an image of a bearded man wearing sandals Superglued to the top. “He was ready to sacrifice his child, Isaac,” she picked up another popsicle stick in her other hand, this one fixed with a picture of a young boy, “to show his love for God, but at the last minute God stayed his hand. God revealed his grace and Abraham proved his faithfulness.” The child, being simple and pious, thought this was a ridiculous story, a cruel test. Why would a loving God require a parent to sacrifice their child for the Biblical version of fame and (limited) fortune? The girl was beloved to her parents, and could not imagine that either her mother or father would strike and kill her with a knife out of love to prove their faith in God or anyone else. The child did not yet know the word sadism but felt a cool, hollow place in her belly that would never again be filled. How could Abraham, a father, bear such a gruesome task, such a monstrous duty? For three days, trotting up that hillside to Mount Moriah with Isaac, his son, at his side, preparing to murder him violently? And the mother, Sarah, waving through the window and then sitting passively at home until her husband returned, covered in the blood of their son? Who could love such a creator or such parents?

The girl became a woman who went on with her life, and although she yearned to understand the story, even studied it in several languages, she could not grasp its meaning. She had been told it was a simple test, that the story had a simple plot, that faith itself was simple, but it actually felt quite complex in the way that rare and significant things always are: true love (which was a kind of full faith, she believed, with the threat of a wild grief attached to it), seriously good novels, well-written songs, elaborately baked layer cakes. God took note of the girl’s confusion.

And then the woman became a mother, and she understood the story even less. God saw her resistance go up like a blaze in her heart. He couldn’t get it out of his bigger-than-the-sky mind or make it disappear from his epic radar, this image of her too-alive and flaming heart, and he could not spend so much time worrying over just one person when billions of others required his divine attention and some part of the world was blowing up or getting flooded or being overcome by violence or overrun with war every time he turned around. He was exhausted. This woman and her hot little heart were getting irritating and dangerous. Some action was required.

 

I

If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the foundation of all there lay only a wildly seething power which writhing with obscure passions produced everything that is great and everything that is insignificant, if a bottomless void never satiated lay hidden beneath all – what then would life be but despair? (Kierkegaard, “Panegyric for Abraham”).

It was early in the morning when the mother was visited by God — shortly after her baby, a son, was born. You will have to give him up soon, God said, trying (for once) to be gracious about this request, because he’d seen her heart and although he would not admit it, he feared her, feared all mothers because he didn’t have one of his own, but he tried the soft, persuasive approach first. You must sacrifice him for me, to show that you love and fear and trust me. You must prove you believe, make an offering. But this mother, unlike Abraham, did not want to believe in the preposterous and had no interest in being exalted. She didn’t want to be great in the eyes of God. She wanted her child to live. I never liked your story about Abraham and Isaac, she reminded him. This is why I’ve chosen you, God replied, as if doing her some terrific favor. The father of the woman’s child had been knocked unconscious and drugged by some bullying angels and locked in a relatively comfortable basement in an undisclosed location.

Meanwhile, there was a three-day stand-off between the mother and God, during which time they both threw tantrums. The woman flung trays of food at the nurses who entered the room with her child’s catastrophic blood test results, which became increasingly worse the more she resisted this sacrifice business. She pulled out her IVs and would not let the child spend the night in the nursery. God sent hurricanes and thunderstorms to show how serious he was, how ardent. The woman broke all vows and would swear no oaths. She kept her child close to her, and when the electricity went out during one of God’s mood-generated lightning storms, she hugged her baby against her chest, covered them both in an overcoat, slipped out of the hospital and hit the road. God, momentarily blinded by her disobedience, and strangely shocked by his ability to feel hurt and rejected, could not find her straight away. Fear made the woman fast. It made her stealth. It made her an expert liar, able to answer, “Who are you?” to strangers with a totally made-up name and make them believe her. Grief and determination altered her face and nobody recognized her from the photos that God had put up all around the world by planting them in people’s heads — he had no time for telephone polls or billboards or news announcements or radio warnings. This will be a haul, the woman said to her child, who looked unconcerned and blinked at her like the innocent being that he was.

This woman was a thinker, and she thought it ridiculous that God wanted her to be “remembered” for relinquishing her child. Such a remembrance was not enviable or glorious, it was stupid. She found some of God’s old angelic crew that had since defected and could teach her ways to hide. They fed and washed the baby and then held her within an inch of her life for hours at a time, which is just what she wanted. They required nothing for their love and when she left them they embraced her and kissed her.

This woman had studied the Bible for many years, but in the end, in this moment, she found no hope in it. God could be monstrous, she thought, but she did not have to play along. The mother never weaned her child or let him out of her sight.

 

II

It was early in the morning when the mother and son set out, day after day. They traveled a long way to be free of God. Early daylights on empty roads, shivering nights in unlit trains, sleeping bags on bumpy cabin floors, a few hours of dreamless sleep in cheap hotels. A whole network of rebellious helpers had sprung up across the country, across the world, annoyed at the whole thought control experiment God had started with the planting of a strange woman’s mug shot in their brains. They encouraged the mother to stay on the move, to stay away from any mountains where sacrifices might potentially take place as they had in the Biblical story. Finally the mother and her son boarded a plane to Asia, the baby’s passport as small as his thumb, a tiny, magical packet not unlike putty that the mother slipped beneath her tongue and kept safe. This was a trick she learned from the fallen angels and it made the baby invisible. Nobody knew they were on the lam from God, who was busy checking flight manifests. The baby appeared on none of these, and the woman changed her name every minute. They flew to Bangkok, where cabbies slept in shorts and t-shirts on the tops of their cabs, and women sold crackling treats from carts in the middle of the steaming street. We can do this the woman thought, buoyed by the idea of living life with her child but without God, and she rented a by-the-week room in a hotel where every morning she heard a man’s footsteps in the alley beneath her window, sandals slapping his feet as he placed his garbage in the largest bin. But then the woman began to notice that when she and the baby were walking around the heat was always intolerable, the women were dressed up very early in the day in clothes that should be reserved for the night, in too-tight shirts and glossy, faux leather heels, and that everywhere she looked men were stumbling around, drunk, looking for depravity or release or both. There was longing in their eyes and this frightened her. She packed her bag and the baby’s few things. In the cab on the way to the airport, statues crumbled along the road. God she thought. He had found them, and she cursed him.

 

III

God thought perhaps that becoming a woman, even briefly, would appease this stubborn mother; that woman to woman he-now-she (He would even drop the use of the capital letter if it pleased her, if it made him more relatable somehow), could convince her to give up her child. Did she not want to be known as Abraham was known? Greater than all, great by reason of his power whose strength is impotence, great by reason of his wisdom whose secret is foolishness, great by reason of his hope whose form is madness, great by reason of the love which is hatred of oneself. The mother did not trust this new female god. Her beauty looked untrustworthy and manufactured; her hairstyle and lipstick choices were woefully out of date. She wondered if this God had ever heard of the feminist movement that had raised her; she knew enough to resist the pro-self-hatred line and she was no Abraham’s Sarah. It’s 2012, she insisted to the girl God, who was slowly turning back into the male God that the mother could recognize because she had been taught to see Him; the “she” God had been a bit of a stretch for her. (And God wanted the capital “H” back, too). But she would not separate from her child. What have you ever weaned? She asked God. What life have you grown with your life? When God responded with yours she did not believe him. You don’t think I know what slaughter is? She demanded. If you want a sacrificial lamb just visit a farm! She was not sending her child up any ramp to any slaughterhouse. God was getting frustrated and pissed off and raising his voice as well, disturbing worldwide weather patterns. He made his heart a stone and filled the woman with despair as if pouring an endless stream of water into the deepest bucket. You can’t have my faith, she insisted, although she was frightened now, swimming in this weird and troubled water, holding her baby over her head, and you cannot have my child.

 

IV

It was early in the morning, and God decided that he would move the mountain that the mother feared, and this would force her to climb it and he could end this story, once and for all. Everywhere the mother looked there were mountains, sharp and snow-covered; pointy slaughterhouses looming all around her. She was trapped. Ride with me, God said, and pulled up on a horse, knowing how much the woman loved cowboys. The woman, with her child strapped to her, got on. She was just pretending to be impressed; she had decided that she would ride with God to the top of the mountain and push him off and this, and only this, would be proof of her faith. In the meantime, she focused all of her rage and love on making him small; she pictured every member of her family, every friend, every lover, every triumph, every time she cried, and every time she felt her heart grow swollen and bright with unexpected, logic-shattering love. She harnessed all of her wrath, remembered each of her passions, all of her desires. She counted her blessings like crazy as the old hymn her mother used to sing to her suggested. All of the despair and sadness God had poured into her spilled out into the world, into God, and she felt him growing weaker; she was softening him, shrinking him. The scenery flew by: snow-tipped blue spruce trees, arroyos full of blooming violets and crisp daisies, then alpine lakes ringed in grass the deep-green color of seaweed. God was shriveling beneath her palms, and the child strapped to her chest was growing stronger and stronger, bigger and bigger, his limbs casting long shadows on the ground. The horse limped to the top of the mountain and collapsed. The woman and her child were as big as the world and they stood over God. The mother drew a knife, calmly and quietly, but then her child began to speak, as he had grown up a great deal on their long trek up the mountain. He is so weak and small, the child insisted, and the mother delighted in his voice. Shouldn’t we take pity on him? The mother looked at her child’s wise face and a tremor passed through her. She looked at the body of God, at the mouth of God, which was screaming have I not shown you some grace in your life? Can you not show some to me? He was a mirror for her fear. A beggar, at the last, as we all are. God was tiny and almost snail-like, shining and white, his wiry hands over his head, his whole body — his soul —  trembling with terror, and she dropped the knife and wept. She turned to her son, who was dry-eyed, and looking pretty sturdy and robust. She smiled at him and then looked down at God. Pity I’ll give you, she said, but that is different from grace.

Years later, the mother would still wonder about this story, about God. She would sink down with weariness, fold her hands, and wonder who was capable of understanding this weird, supposedly all-powerful and benevolent God who, in that moment when she’d had the power to kill him but stayed her hand out of love for another, had been a thing reduced to its unknowable and deepest desires. She wondered how, knowing this about her creator, she would ever understand herself. In the end, nothing was revealed to her.

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EMILY RAPP is the author of Poster Child: A Memoir. A former Fulbright scholar, she was educated at Harvard University, Saint Olaf College, Trinity College-Dublin, and the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She has received awards and recognition for her work from the Atlantic Monthly, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation, the Jentel Arts Foundation, the Corporation of Yaddo, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Valparaiso Foundation. She was the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University and has received a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Sun, The Bark, The Texas Observer, Body & Soul, Good Housekeeping, and many other publications. She has taught writing in the MFA program at Antioch University-Los Angeles, where she was a Core Faculty member, UCLA Extension, the University of California-Riverside Palm Desert Graduate Program, the Taos Writers' Workshop, and the Gotham Writers' Workshops. She is currently professor of Creative Writing and Literature at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is currently at work on a novel and a new memoir, Dear Dr. Frankenstein, which chronicles her life with her infant son, who is dying of Tay-Sachs disease. Excerpts from the book can be found at http://ourlittleseal.wordpress.com and you can visit her at www.emilyrapp.com.

27 responses to “The Open Road: Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling Revisited”

  1. Emily, You are a genius theologian! Thank you for re-imagining the story of Abraham and Isaac, a story that has always always bothered and infuriated me. I had a professor in divinity school who said, “The most important thing we can remember is that sometimes even God can be wrong.” She was talking about Abraham and Isaac, and that maybe Abraham’s job was to say no to God instead of yes. I have carried her words with me as a reminder of why I choose to be agnostic–that acknowledging at all times that you could be wrong (that your construction of God could be wrong) is an ethical position . . . I love that you imagine God on the altar, a perfect reminder that sometimes we have to let go of old constructions of God when they no longer work, and that we can do it non-violently, and that this work can be holy. Your story is a powerful testament to your mama-love and to your brilliance. Thanks for writing it–Sarah

    • Emily Rapp says:

      Thanks, Sarah. And thank you for encouraging me to write it. Which professor said God could be wrong? xo

    • Krissy says:

      Emily is a beautiful writer but NOT a genius theologian. She is an obviously brilliant woman who has missed the entire point of the story of the Bible, which is: Jesus. Jesus loves us so much that HE (God) lays down his life for us. That is what God looks like–sacrificial love for us–and the ENTIRE Bible must be read and understood through the lens of who Jesus has revealed God to be. (Anyone who has seen me, has seen the father. – John 14:9). Did you never consider that Abraham KNEW that God would rescue Isaac? He might not have known how this would come about, but God had made this promise to him: “…your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Genesis17:19. Obviously Abraham would have realized that God could not establish his everlasting covenant with Isaac if he were dead, so he knew that God would come to the rescue somehow. When Isaac asks Abraham where the offering is, Abraham even says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

      All of which is not to say that I don’t find bits of that story mysterious. But it IS to say that Emily clearly does NOT understand the character of God as it is revealed in the Bible. Whether or not you believe in God, you should at least understand the story the Bible tells about him if you’re going to criticize it. Read “Is God to Blame” by Greg Boyd–HE is a brilliant theologian.

      • Rosemarie DiMatteo says:

        Oh for cryin out loud, the Abraham/Issac story is in the Old Testament. No Jesus yet. It’s a STORY. When I was a kid and still a Catholic, I thought, Well, so God wanted Abraham to be really grateful for taking back His order to kill Issac. I tried to make sense of it but eventually I freed myself of all that insanity.

        I love this creation of Emily’s. The Bible only means one thing to me–we need to keep writing stories that help us make sense of our lives. Today’s lives.

      • Telaina says:

        I’m just interested in knowing what “character” of God is revealed in the Bible. An eye for an eye? Let’s destroy the world because it’s sinful? (The world is 6000 years old and alllllll the animals fit on a big ark? Except for the dolphins and such because you know THEY weren’t sinful and didn’t deserve to die. Even though two animals means that there would have been no adequate gene pool to repopulate? Elephants banging their sister elephants? And shrimp are evil. And figs. Figs are evil!) In the Bible, God is an awfully unreliable narrator.

        I love this story, Emily.

        • Krissy says:

          Wow, you sound really angry. I’m sorry if what I wrote offended you. And no, I don’t believe that the world is 6,000 years old, or that everything in the Bible should (or was meant to) be taken literally. From your tone, I’m given to think that you are not really interested in learning about the character of God that is revealed in the Bible–although, this is the written word in an online format, so it is always difficult to “read” someone’s tone. If you DO want to know, read the Gospels and the words of Jesus. Everything in the Bible points to him–the Old Testament, too, points to him–although certain passages, for sure, requiring a lot of wrestling, so to speak. I’m truly not trying to disparage Emily, who is, as I said, an incredibly intelligent, beautiful writer, and seems to be a lovely person–and my heart absolutely breaks for what she is going through as a mother. (I too, have gone through unimaginable circumstances as a mother, although they were different than Emily’s.) What I AM saying is that she (along with you, apparently) is dismissing something that she seems to have only seen through the lens of religion, rather than stripping away the religion and seeing what is at the heart of my faith–Jesus. The Bible doesn’t–when read as one whole story–tell the story of an angry, punishing God, but, rather, of a God who is love. God is love and gives us freedom of choice, so that we may freely choose love–or not choose it. He is all powerful, but CHOOSES to relinquish some of that power so that we have TRUE free choice–we are not puppets on a string. There is a battle being played out on a number of planes–such as the natural, physical plane and the spiritual plane. There are more factors involved than we know or understand–but God is on the side of love, and on the side of good. There is not ONE instance in the Bible of Jesus coming across a sick person and saying,”Oh, well, you’re in that dreadful, diseased state because God wants you to be.” NO! Jesus HEALS every sick person he meets. THAT is God’s character–not that everyone who is sick is healed in this world (obviously), but that that is God’s will–for us all to be healthy. He mourns for the sick. He mourns for the mother who mourns for her sick, dying child. And if you say that the Bible tells a different story than that, you need to read it again. (Or for the first time, because Jesus calls us to a MUCH different standard than an eye for an eye, so I’m inclined to think you have no idea what you’re talking about.)

          • Tessmama says:

            Krissy:
            If Jesus heals every sick person, why hasn’t he healed Ronan?

            • Krissy says:

              That is an excellent question, and one that I cannot possibly answer sufficiently in the space we have here. I’ll give it a shot, though, knowing in advance that I will fall far short.

              Note that what I said that it is God’s WILL for all to be healed. What I mean by that is that I don’t believe for one second–and I believe that the Bible supports me in this (read the Gospels–ie, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–and see if you find a single case where Jesus doesn’t heal a sick person but, rather, leaves them as they are), that God wants Ronan to be sick. The story that the Bible tells is that sickness happens because we are caught up in a spiritual battle. We live in a fallen world, where even nature is fallen, so we get things like genetic illnesses (and tornadoes, and tsunamis, etc. etc.) The Bible’s explanation for WHY the world we live in looks more like a war zone than like paradise is that the world we live in IS a war zone. The Bible teaches that our whole world is “under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) and that Satan is “the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). In his book “Is God to Blame?” Greg Boyd writes, “We are the heirs to an incomprehensibly vast array of human, angelic, and natural ripples throughout history about which we know next to nothing but which nevertheless significantly affect our lives.”

              The thing is, we tend to want to simplify our theology. I’ve seen many Christian leaders who do this, when they say things like, “God’s will is mysterious. Yes, he wants you (or your child, or whoever) to be sick, or to die, but ours is not to question why.” (Or worse, they believe that God does things like this as a form of punishment–but that’s another question entirely). And that kind of theology certainly leaves many people to go on their way believing that God is really just a jerk, so either he must not exist, or, if he does, they don’t want anything to do with him. I think those Christians have formed their theology that way because they think that believing otherwise would mean that they were questioning God’s sovereignty, which would be heretical. But, you see, that story is simply not the story that the Bible tells. As I wrote above, God has CHOSEN to give up some of his power, not because he has to, not because he isn’t truly all-powerful, but because without giving us (and, the Bible says, spiritual agents as well) free choice, then we cannot freely choose love. Love is the very essence of God’s character, and it is, it would seem, an end worth the risk God has taken, ie, the risk that we say no to him, because that’s our choice.

              So, ultimately, in answer to your question, all I can really say is that the universe and all the factors that brought Ronan’s illness about are far too complex for us to begin to comprehend. But I do not buy the lie that condemns God’s character and says that he wants it to be so.

          • Telaina says:

            Krissy, you are right about the Internet not conveying tone. I’m not angry at all. It’s just that the Bible is full of incongruity and ludicrousness and then people say well, no, no, no, go by the New Testament and then one must admit that God changed His mind (and I also find it ludicrous that God has a gender). Because an eye for an eye is quite clear and now a bit later we turn the other cheek and forgive. I groove on Jesus. I think Jesus is awesome. The Bible… not so much. Transcribed by man’s hand over and over and over again. A little tuck here and little nip there. A little something to oppress the women, line the pockets and keep people in line. So when you say the “character of God” you are looking at a mythological document through the lens of comforting religion. I’ve read the Bible completely once and read parts of it many, many times. We pick and choose don’t we? Out with polygamy, up with monogamy. That slavery thing may be ill-advised… where is that garden of eden? We pick and choose and then hold it up as the Holy Word of God?

            I’m sorry for your struggles as a mother. I have two children myself. I am glad you find comfort in your faith. And I hope you can understand that some situations are beyond the faith and the hope of a series of stories propagated and used by a patriarchal society to control its populace.

            • Krissy says:

              Thank you for your very gracious response. I just wrote a whole response to you and hit a button on my keyboard that deleted it all. ARG. Anyway, I get where you’re coming from. I didn’t actually become a believer until I was 34 (ten years ago). I had all the same objections that you have.

              Actually, the Bible does give plenty of examples where God changes his mind, but I don’t think that Jesus himself is an example of that. I DO believe that the revelations of God that are written in the Old Testament are less reliable revelations than Jesus. Jesus says that he “is above all,” and that he “speaks the words of God… without limit.” (Those are taken from John 3:31-34. I put in the Bible citations simply so you can judge for yourself whether or not I’ve taken that out of context.) So I read the Old Testament with that in mind, and through the lens of who Jesus has revealed God to be. I’ve found that the bulk of the O.T is right in line with the teachings of Jesus. But, for sure, there are a number of passages which are hard to reconcile with who Jesus is. Sometimes when I wrestle with those passages, so to speak, I think I get clarity about what God was trying to teach there–and sometimes I just have to let it go, for now, anyway.

              One thing that has guided me as much as anything else is learning about the cultural and historical contexts in which the Bible was written. So, when I first read the teachings of Paul, I couldn’t stand him–what a male chauvinist pig, right? But after getting some background information about the culture in which he was writing, and after sometimes having to go to the original Greek text rather than any particular English translation, I actually came out thinking that Paul was a feminist! But he has been misunderstood, for sure–not least by the church itself, and his writings have definitely been used–are still used–to oppress women. That’s a battle I’m fighting within the church. But that’s how it is–religion has a tendency to get in the way of Jesus.

              After doing a lot of research, I think there is good reason to believe that the Bible is reliable, and not the way you characterize it. But that is too much to get into here, I think. If you read my response to Tessmama, above, that may clarify some of my thinking. Blessings to you!

  2. Lew Bagby says:

    I’m stunned into silence starting now.

  3. Mary McMyne says:

    Emily, as a mother, and someone who studies and writes critical fictions and reimaginings of folktales and myths–I’m amazed. I laughed; I got chills. Loved this: “… and although [God] would not admit it, he feared her, feared all mothers because he didn’t have one of his own, but he tried the soft, persuasive approach first. ” Wonderful piece.

    • Mary McMyne says:

      And also, this: “He made his heart a stone and filled the woman with despair as if pouring an endless stream of water into the deepest bucket. You can’t have my faith, she insisted, although she was frightened now, swimming in this weird and troubled water, holding her baby over her head, and you cannot have my child.” It made me cry.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Amazing. Just amazing. What a fantastic story.

  5. Julie Miller says:

    I really enjoyed this! It reminds me of stories from the Cree side of my family tree. Your strength of character is so evident in your writings. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Shoshana says:

    Emily, you truly are a gifted writer. The way that I look at the world is forever changed after reading your writing.

  7. Pam Crawford says:

    Beautiful.

  8. Nancy Kate says:

    From one that has been there, you keep doing what you need to, living these days now with Ronan.
    Powerful piece, complicated and simple.
    This world without will come when it does and there are no answers then as well, while you can hold him, feel him and your love exchanges pour all you have into it. Love large and one hurts close to equally, worth it. Joel’s mom

    And to this Krissy – find somewhere else to be a ‘know it all’, how thoughtless you are to tell a parent how to grieve.
    Listen, listen.

  9. Emily Rapp says:

    Thanks for all the great comments, everyone. This is, in a sense, what I wanted to happen. Biblical parables from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were meant to disrupt people’s worldviews, and to provide people with what Paul Ricoeur would call “a metaphorical shock.” Where online can you have a conversation about the character of God? This is fascinating.

    There is an absolute ton of exegetical work that has been done about the sacrifice of Isaac — and it is certainly meant to be read (by Christians, at least) as a kind of precursor to the story of Jesus, to the notion that God WOULD sacrifice his child, would not stay his hand, for the love of the world. And different translations of that passage provide different nuances to the story as well, in terms of Abraham’s willingness and God’s feelings. So there’s a progression there, narratively, that the early Gospel redactors/writers (of which there were several), were well aware. Jesus was a Jew; his followers were Jewish. The Gospel writers would have had to draw upon the stories that this group used to understand who they were in order to cultivate Christian followers.

    The point of this, for me, was to revisit Kierkegaard’s re-telling of this story in Fear and Trembling. In fact, I’ve lifted some of the lines from that story (he can’t get mad, because he’s dead!), and also tried to write this in the style of a Biblical parable, as he did. So it’s kind of like a song mishmash – a little bit of Kierk, a little bit of me. And I find the story disturbing, because I think it calls into question how we’re taught to view God – yes, as all powerful, but how can someone all powerful have feelings? Can we say that God is alpha and omega and then anthropomorphize him? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think there’s one way to logically think about God, to analyze the nature of God. There are people with faith, and there are people without. Faith is not a logical construct/state of mind, which doesn’t mean people who have faith are stupid or ridiculous. On the contrary. Faith, like love, doesn’t make “sense,” per se. It either is or it isn’t. I have no judgment in that respect, and I think people who are ardent about their faith are admirable, even if I don’t agree with them, or share the same feelings of the heart. This is a head vs. heart discussion, after all. Apples and oranges, really.

    I thought of the Isaac sacrifice story after my son was diagnosed, because watching him slowly fade into a vegetative state, with no power to save or help him, felt like I was being asked to make a sacrifice. People told me it was “God’s will” and that everything happened for a reason, and that made me want to pull my hair out (and theirs). In my opinion, Biblical stories are meant to be read, as all stories are, in a sense, as guides for people, as possibilities for ways of looking at and understanding our role and purpose in the world. Because I’m not a person of faith, I don’t think they are prescriptive, and I don’t think they can be read in just one way. That’s why I went to divinity school, and that’s where I first read Kierkegaard with any real depth. I think he’s an amazing thinker, full of passion and wisdom.

    For the record, this story of the sacrifice of Isaac was the pinnacle of faith for Kierkegaard, who coined that term “leap of faith.” He thought Abraham exemplified faithfulness, trust, the whole “leaping before looking” that is a part of love, and he certainly described the relationship between God and humanity as a love affair — intense, moody, life-altering. Part of the reason I love Kierkegaard is his willingness to be emotional about matters of theology, of the heart. And that’s what’s happened here. So I thank everyone for weighing in, and for reading.

    • Paul says:

      John Ch9 makes it clear that nothing is achieved by the ‘blame game’. It was NO ONES FAULT that the boy was born blind. Jesus didn’t cause it,neither did the parents. Somewhere along the line faith does coexist with mysteries. Christianity doesn’t answer the many WHYS and WHEREFORES OF LIFE. If we knew everything there would be no need for FAITH>

  10. Helen Qiu says:

    Great writing however Emily I believe compliments about your writings is not what you are looking for right now in your life. Sympathy of your situation though tastes sweet is probably not what you are looking for either. To be smarter than God or more powerful than God to the point that God is sacrificed by your pen is not going to fill your void either. What you really want is that You want your child to live.

    Now the question is what are you willing to sacrifice for your child to live? Are you willing to sacrifice your judgement of fair or not fair? Are you willing to sacifice your independenc and claim to be dependent? Are you willing to sacrifice your pride and break diwn in front of God to beg for his mercy? The news which is supposed to be a good news and also the key to open the mystery of Abraham and Issac’s story is Romans 4. Are you willing to read Romans 4? There are are many who sacrificed their lives for this country, mothers and fathers. There are many who lost their babies in the last weeks of their pregnancy. There are many who lost their babies at the delivery table. There are many who lost their babies within 9 months. Among them many are Chistians. Many still are. In fact , many became Christians! Why is that? Have you thought about that? Are they not thinkers? Are they blind? Do they lack of ability to comprehend? Are all Christians throughout history fools and ignorant without inderstanding and without feelings?

    People die. Children die. Infants die. Unborn fetus die. Death stings not matter in what form it shows up. A dying old man’s death is not easier to swallow for his love ones than a dying baby’s death. If your writing or philosophy system does not have a saving God that can destroy death and give life eternal, you got nothing in this life — that is, you got nothing you really want in this life. You will get compliments about your writings and cheers about your courage or even beautiful memories to cherish but none of these sweet things will give you life.

  11. Maria Armas says:

    Helen: Did you read what she wrote? “. Faith is not a logical construct/state of mind, which doesn’t mean people who have faith are stupid or ridiculous. On the contrary. Faith, like love, doesn’t make “sense,” per se. It either is or it isn’t. I have no judgment in that respect, and I think people who are ardent about their faith are admirable, even if I don’t agree with them”.

    She have not questioned anyone’s believes but her owns, she have not questioned anyone’s haves or not. Just read. Might agree or not, but that’s just that. It is ok to disagree, but to question what she have? Personally, I don’t know if you go to church, but if you do, it is not working dear.

    • Helen Qiu says:

      Maria, did you read my post? I don’t think agreement or non agreement, judgement or non judgement matters to Emily at this point. She wants her son to live! Period.

  12. CB says:

    This is an interesting take on the problem, but it seems that the real issue at stake (at least for Kierkegaard) is the relationship between the ethical import of events and our narrative understanding of them. Since this is a story it is basically a rational, ethical, and narrative take on events. Isn’t the role of faith to transcend the ethical?

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