Monday, October 18, 2010

The Binding

He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood (Genesis 22:9).

Late last spring we purchased a bike rack for the car. A Yakima – very boheme, the kind of bike rack that requires a trailer hitch bracket under your car. You can ride around Atlanta with this bike rack on your car, sans bike, just to look cool. Other drivers will see you and your Yakima and think that you’re athletic and outdoorsy.

Little do they know that our Yakima is for the kids’ bikes. We tend to mount it on the back of the car when we make our annual beach trip.

Each year we go through a ritual of packing and loading the car for the beach. The liturgy usually calls for miscellaneous beach stuff to go in first, then the luggage followed by bags of groceries and a large cooler. Once the back of the car is loaded, barely leaving oxygen for us to breathe on the trip, I close the back hatch and attach the cool bike rack.

As sturdy as our bike rack is, I don’t quite trust it when it comes to long trips on the highways. So once I’ve actually maneuvered the bikes into place and secured them with the rubber straps that came with the rack, I pull out my bungee cords and go through a final ritual of binding. I weave the stretchy cords through the bike frames, binding bike to bike. I do it again and search for clever ways to bind bikes to rack.

At some level, this binding is born of fear. I’m doing all I can to keep what I’ve got. I don’t want anything to get away or slip off. The binding is an act of securing what’s mine, holding it tight.


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The Hebrew word for binding is Akedah. It’s the word that rabbis use to designate the story of Abraham’s binding his son Isaac to the altar, obediently preparing to give the promised child back to God.

We don’t like this story. At the very least, it baffles us. As people who love God, the story sometimes embarrasses us, raising more questions about God than it answers. At worst, the story simply offends us. Why would God ask this? What’s God doing? What’s going on?

I’m not even going to attempt answer to those questions. I’m limited by space and by a very finite mind. I will, however, lift up a single verse from the Genesis 22 story that gives some insight into what is happening with Abraham while shedding some light on our own tendency to make and cherish idols in our heart. The key to the story seems to be at verse 12.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” [God] said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

The word that catches my attention is “withheld.” The habit of holding something back, tucking it aside, putting it away for private use or enjoyment. I’m given to withholding Oreos, guarding some of them from my voracious son.

Abraham’s disturbing story on Mount Moriah has much to tell us about our idols – but one simple lesson is this: Idolatry is not about what we believe in our heads. It’s about what we hold in our hands. Strangely, plenty of idolaters in the Bible believe in God. Israel is exhibit ‘A’ for the sin of idolatry, and they never rejected their belief in God. They simply refused to trust the God they claimed to believe in, refused to live according to his word and carry out his will.

Abraham on Moriah is our model of radical trust, binding Isaac, nothing held back. He had spent years learning such “habits of relinquishment.”

There is a kind of “binding” that tries very hard to keep something in place – like bikes on the back of the car. But there is a different kind of binding, like the Akedah on Mount Moriah, where we give something up, let it go. Idols are discovered in those recesses of heart and mind where we say silently to God, “You cannot have this.” Often, we may not even be aware that we’re saying such a thing. But we are holding back, and the holding back is grounded in fear.

The question today: What are you withholding? What would it look like to bind it to an altar and offer it to God?

Prayer:
Show me, O God, what I’m withholding – keeping from you, fearfully binding it so I won’t lose it. Give me the grace I need to bind it to an altar where all I am and I have is yours. I ask this in the name of Jesus, your only son, freely given for the world. Amen.

1 comment:

Charlene said...

You may wonder when you get this comment, wonder where it is coming from. Well, it's coming from me, here in New Brunswick - Canada... waiting for you to post again to our blog because I truly believe you have a gift...

Please do...

Charlene