It was bedtime, and together we were reading the story of Abraham and Isaac from The Jesus Storybook Bible. I was well into reading aloud before I realized that maybe this particular story is better processed during the day instead of bedtime — these images of a father climbing a hill with his young son, tying him down on an altar, and raising a knife to offer him as a sacrifice. My boys’ eyes grew wider as we got closer and closer to the end of the story, and they breathed an audible exhale when we heard God relent at the last minute and spare Isaac’s life.
This is at best one of the more troubling stories of the Old Testament.
Tucker said, “I am so confused right now. Why would God do that? Why would God ask Abraham to kill his son?”
“Well, buddy, I don’t understand this story completely, but I think it’s because God had a very, very important job for Abraham to do. And he needed to know that Abraham would trust God and obey him, no matter what, even if it didn’t make sense to him. And when he saw that Abraham would obey, then he didn’t make him actually kill his son.”
“So God rescued Isaac. And he didn’t make Abraham give him up.” I watched him trying to connect the dots.
“Mommy, do you think you are like Abraham?”
Tyler interrupted. “Tucker, she doesn’t want to kill us.”
“I know that. It’s not what I mean.” He glanced to the ceiling in exasperation over the people in his life whom he must deal with. “But, Mommy, do you think God has an important job for you to do? And that’s why he asked you to give up my dad?”
I had no words. Even now, as I remember him telling me his insight, I have no words.
In my silence, he continued. “Mommy, do you know God has picked you to write these books? He made you a writer to tell these stories. And so maybe God had to know you would trust him no matter what.”
Good grief. Who is this child teaching me theology in my bedroom?
“But here’s what I don’t understand, Mom. If God rescued Isaac once he saw that Abraham would obey, why didn’t he rescue my dad?”
Tucker was all questions, and Tyler was all ears right alongside his brother.
“I don’t know, honey. I’ve asked God that question almost every day. Sometimes I get pretty angry with God over the whole thing.”
He looked at me with pleading eyes, and his voice was gentle. “Mommy, no. Please don’t be mad at God. I don’t want you to go to hell.”
“Oh, Tuck! That’s not how it works, buddy. I won’t go to hell for asking questions.” I stroked his face that’s becoming less little boy and all young man.
“Honey, God lets us feel how we feel, and he lets us ask him questions. In fact, there’s a place in the Bible where David reminds us to tell God every one of our concerns. That means we can tell him anything we are feeling. And sometimes I miss your dad so much, and it makes me so sad that you don’t have him, and I wish God would have made a different decision on that day. So I tell him.”
It is impossibly heartbreaking to be so vulnerable in front of my children, to watch their faces reflect the conclusion that some of their greatest questions have no answers, to let them see that I just don’t know.
“Come here, guys. Let me tell you something.”
They climbed into bed with me. I wrapped my arms around them, and I told them what I think is true.
“You guys, your dad could have died twenty years ago. When he was in his sledding accident and his spleen ruptured, he could have died right then. But I think God thought to himself, ‘If Robb Williford comes to heaven on this day, then Tricia Lott won’t get to marry him. And if Robb and Tricia don’t get married, then Tucker and Tyler will never be born. I need those boys to be born because I need the world to have what they can bring.'”
My children were crying. I held them close, and I forged ahead.
“I think God wants to show other people your friendship with each other. And he needs your hearts, and your tenderness, and your compassion. He needs you to play sports and tell stories. He needs you to make friends and love people. He wanted you here, so he let Robb Williford live long enough to become your dad.”
“Really. And I think he thought, I’ll have Robb stay for another twenty years. It won’t feel very long for Tricia, and it sure won’t be very long for Tucker and Tyler, but it will be long enough for what I want to do.”
“Are we here so Daddy could die?”
“No, baby. I think he lived so you could be born.”
“It makes me so sad, Mommy.”
“I know, sugar. Me too.”
I wrapped a blanket around the mound of us, and we cried. And I told God how we felt, right then and there so my boys could listen.
God, help me.