Around the world there are a large number of different denominations. They vary in their intensity and in their moral principles. Which do you think is the strangest of all? I have come across one which befuddles me. They worship their own god and it’s a pretty odd situation. In order to prove their absolute fidelity they must agree to kill their own children if their god demands it. Can you guess which one it is?
Yes, you’ve got it: it is the Chosen People, and inherited by Christianity. The evidence is clear in chapter 22 of Genesis. Abraham is required by God to sacrifice his own son Isaac. It is only about fifty lines, so, if your bible is nearby, you can read it in a few minutes. But you may think about it for rather longer. Certainly, philosophers have argued about it it over and over again. It is particularly associated with Søren Kirkegaard – a 19th century philosopher, who effectively wrote a book about it.
It is only at the very last second when Abraham raised his knife over his son’s body on the pyre that God stops him. Abraham’s fidelity is rewarded by God: he is told of the great blessings he will receive for his fidelity. He will have innumerable descendants. “All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants as a reward for your obedience.” (Jerusalem Bible)
There is no suggestion that this is simply a parable – it is an incident in the story. And it is quite realistic and detailed. God’s phrase “…you have not refused me your son, your only son” relates it to the history of Redemption, but the original readers might not have realised that at the time.
The quandary lies in the idea that God’s infinite goodness may somehow be expressed in a wicked act. We must ask ourselves if we would have been prepared to sacrifice our children simply because God demanded it. Even Socrates had a go at this in his Euthyphro dialogue: does God love the good because the good is lovable? Or is the good lovable because God loves it? Or, if you wish, does God define the good arbitrarily? Or does the good exist independently? In this case we ask whether God is entitled to demand evil action in order to test our faith. Or does it cease to be evil simply because God requires it? If you can get a clear answer to that you’ll do better than Socrates.