Imagine that you are surrounded by people who assume that you have to give acceptable sacrifices to the gods—the gods who control harvests and herds, for instance—to keep the gods on their side.

If floods or droughts ruin their crops, they assume that the gods have turned against them. Their sacrifices have been too puny. If their goats stop giving milk or start dying off from some disease, the gods must be peeved. Their solution? They up the sacrifice to get the gods back on their side.

corrupted_innocence_by_taralundriganphoto-d6k21n3Some of these people used to give grain offerings. But wheat and barley didn’t cut it. Crops failed and livestock died. So these people slaughtered sheep and cattle.

Blood is life itself. Nothing is more valuable than life. So, they turned to giving blood to the gods.

When the goat and cow blood failed to ward off the famine or the locusts or the blight, there was one more step to take. Human blood.

And not just the mean-spirited crone or the doddering codger down the street. You have to give somebody really important. Somebody special. Like children. Like maybe your only child.

In case you’re thinking that nobody did such things, I invite you to brush up on your history of the ancient Near East. For instance the king of Moab offered his firstborn son as a burnt offering. It seems that the Assyrians may have made child sacrifices to the god Moloch.

Now imagine that you wanted to change the world’s mind about the gods. How would you convince them that the gods—or in your case, God—is compassionate and nurturing? How would you convince them that God is not bloodthirsty when almost everybody has been convinced forever that the gods are hungry for gore and burnt flesh?

Well, you could announce rules against human sacrifice. The Bible does just that. That should go well. Right? We’ve had lots of success with laws against popping off fireworks within city limits, driving over the speed limit, distributing drugs, selling women like sex toys, and shooting schoolchildren and coworkers.

Okay, so humans don’t change their worldview and their deeply engrained behaviors just because some authority tells them to think and act differently. So maybe you tell a story. A jarring, powerful story. A story that sends their hearts throbbing right in their throats. A story like the binding of Isaac.GettyImages-666990506

God promised Abraham and Sarah a child. In their old age—and I mean really old age—Sarah gave birth to Isaac. While Isaac was still a boy, God orders Abraham to sacrifice his son.

This is just where most people say, “Hold the bus! God said what!” As Rob Bell puts it in his latest book, “What kind of God would ask a man to sacrifice his son?” (What is the Bible?, Kindle loc. 1579)

Exactly. What kind of God would ask a man to sacrifice his son? A bloodthirsty god. An immoral, capricious, wrathful, unreliable god.

That is precisely what the writer wants the reader to think. That’s a god I can fear and loathe, but not a god I could love and joyfully serve. And that is not the God of Abraham.

The story ends with an angel staying Abraham’s hand. This God, our God, doesn’t want human blood. Only humans have wanted that. God is not bloodthirsty. The story is designed to change our minds about God.

And maybe, just maybe, when we’ve changed our minds about God, we will change our minds about each other. I believe that this is what Jesus is about. His way of living embodied God’s way of being.

Jesus never said, “If you hit me I’ll punch back ten times harder.” Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.”

Jesus never said, “Crush your foes and destroy their families.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”

In the story of Isaac’s binding, in Jesus’ life and teaching, we see that God is not bloodthirsty. God blesses. God nurtures growth and makes peace. God gives live. The blood that we spill does not honor this God. This God desires only one kind of sacrifice:

“To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

25 Comments

  1. I was thinking about the power of bargaining this week myself….how powerful and insightful your words are in understanding the desperate, not to judge but to understand in order to teach

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  2. I always love to read your take on current life happenings that are hard to understand or swallow as a Christian. Thankyou!

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  3. Bishop Jake, this resonates with me. We are reading the Old Testament in our bible study. How do I reconcile the God you speak of here with the actions of God in Joshua, for example, when God gives the cities to Israel and they carry out the “holy curse” (from The Message) and kills everyone in the cities? There are some who tell me that God isn’t all love, that I have a rose colored view of Christianity. Micah 6:8 is what I live by. I don’t know how to respond to people who use the Old Testament examples to say that war is justifiable, or who say we are not called to turn the other cheek – look how God told Israel to conquer all. My thought is that Jesus brought us new understanding of God’s message and that the people of the Old Testament needed the Messiah to come to give them better understanding of God’s intent. But I have been told that is heretical, so I need a better understanding. If this isn’t the place to ask questions like this, please accept my apology. It’s just that your blog got me pondering this again. Blessings and all good – Cindy Robertson

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      1. Bishop Jake, it took me to a place of relief and comfort. I will read things with a new perspective. It is good to know that there are others thinking the same way I am. Whew!! Any more reading suggestions for me? That one was awesome! ( I listened to it. I may have to get a hard copy so I can revisit and make notes.)

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          1. What Jesus calls us to do and how He calls us to live. As a long recovering (almost 25 years) alcoholic, I feel God’s grace in my sobriety and feel drawn to a life like the church was pictured in Acts. I have been told I am a fool for working for pennies so I can serve others and for giving away as much of my income as I do. I encounter MUCH resistance when I say that is what Jesus called us to – giving away what we have and looking to the Lord for sustenance. Am I wrong in thinking this and trying (not so effectively) to live like this? What DID Jesus call us to in life and love and liberty (given this is July 4th!) and happiness? Any suggestions on what kind of life Jesus calls us to?

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          2. Maybe I should just mention people I read: Anne Lamott, Sara Miles, Parker Palmer, Rowan Williams, Rachel Held Evans, Richard Rohr, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Richard Rolheiser. The list goes on, and not every one of their books will crank your tractor. But it’s a place to start on Amazon.

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  4. And in the Binding of Isaac, “God” tells him to sacrifice his son. The boy is saved when the angel of the “LORD” intervenes. Some Jewish midrashes stress this as a moment when Yahweh is distinguished from the more general God of the Abraham family.

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  5. I totally agree with your above writing—and, have used the same argument with others, especially, when they THANK GOD that he did NOT hit them in the tornado, but wiped out the next town! I think, too, that forces outside of ourselves–i.e.earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. happen and we have to endure it and hopefully survive and be there for each other. However, much closer to home, we live within ourselves–operating from a God of Love is a challenge; we have to forget ourselves and step away from indifference. For some reason, we people seem to find it “easier” to be mean–WHY? About 30 years ago—time flies–I read how the mark on Cain’s head, was NOT to brand him as a murderer—as I recall being taught when a child, but to show that God had forgiven him. It was a “protecting sign”–a sign of God’s love and forgiveness and that we too should love and forgive. When did the negative image of God—and the Fear factor—enter into theology? Thank you for your good writing and for sharing it!

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    1. I’ve heard the same “Thank God it wasn’t me” theology more frequently than I like to think. It really does miss the point. Or more accurately, it distorts the point. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to reply!

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      1. Or “there but for the grace of God go I” – used too many times by recovering folks looking at those who haven’t opened themselves to God’s redeeming love. It isn’t that God has given anyone more grace or blessings – it is that we are open to accepting what S/He freely gives to all.

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  6. I think the word Sacrifice differ in every individuals perception. In every Avatars God is trying to teach us the meaning of Sacrifice from Materialistic World like (lord Shiva) but we are humans mistakes are in our DNA & from mistakes we are able to learn the real Knowledge.

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  7. Reblogged this on Who GOD is Not and commented:
    Yes, as you say, Bishop Owensby, Jake…”just maybe, when we’ve changed our minds about God, we will change our minds about each other. ”

    We also work and write to change the way we see God so that the world might turn from its “blood thirsty” and vengeful image of humanity because WE each and all of us have come to see God differently.

    You and your readers might be interested in WHO GOD IS NOT http://whomegod.wordpress.com and PAINTED PONDERINGS https://theshebee.wordpress.com and a few other blogs like God Going Rogue and Rite Beyond Rome here on WordPress.
    We will definitely put a link to your blog on our sites.
    Blessings on you and your followers and readers,
    Sister Lea and Sister Consilia

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