When I lay my Isaac down
Author: Carol Kent
Hardcover: 195 pages
Publisher: Navpress Publishing Group (June, 2004)
I wasn’t going to read this book, but my wife told me it was great. She was right. The author is the mother of a successful young man — married, Naval Academy graduate, Christian — who finds that this perfect son is a murderer. Her son shot his wife’s ex-husband three times in the back, is convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
There is a little exploration of how and why the crime happened, but it is tangential to the book. The book is about the collapse of this woman’s world and her spiritual journey in coming to terms with it. The theme is that of Christian surrender. Many Christian texts make vague promises that things will somehow turn out OK if you put your trust in God. This book points out that things may not turn out well at all. Bad things happen, and there’s no way to sugar coat it. The test of a Christian, then is whether or not one can surrender to God and trust in His will even though it means the ruin of your life.
Hence the reference to Isaac. It hearkens to the story of Abraham taking his son Isaac up Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. The author notes the cost this meant to Abraham — to kill his son at the behest of God. Of course, as most know, God stayed Abraham’s hand and provided a ram in a thicket as a substitute. But sometimes there isn’t a ram in the bushes, and sometimes there is no avoiding that cost. It is a true test of faith to choose to follow a God that allows the destruction of your life.
Many people do not. There are those who believe in God and hate Him for his cruelty. I recently read an interesting article on Holocaust Apologetics that quotes theologian Jakob Jocz as saying “Auschwitz casts a black pall upon the civilized world. Not only… man’s humanity.. but God himself stands accused. Jews are asking incessantly: Where was God when our brothers and sisters were dragged to the gas ovens? …Faith in the God of Israel … is .. a challenge, but after Auschwitz it is an agonizing venture for every thinking Jew.” Elie Weisel, who survived the death camps, notes that the traditional Jewish relationship with God allows protest against God, with examples from Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Job, David, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk, but these “must come from within the covenant context, not from without. Specifically [Weisel stated], ‘The Jew… may rise against God, provided that he remains within God.’ ” (1) The Christian, in contrast, is obligated to believe not merely in the existence of God, but reject any idea of impassability to believe in His goodness.
The same is true on an individual basis. Like Job, it’s through no fault of their own, just a matter of seeming capricious cruelty on the part of the Almighty. Your life is destroyed because of a celestial bar bet. A mature Christian will accept that destruction and surrender gladly to the seeming malevolence of God. We know that life is one small part of our eternal relationship with God, and thus the loss we suffer is small in that larger sense, and we trust the greater plan of God, even if it requires sacrifice on our part.
This book discusses why.
I am not sure I am that strong of a Christian. But the author was, and this book provides an amazing account of how she arrived at a position that allowed her to retain her faith in the love of God even in the face of stunning tragedy.
(1) Barry R. Leventhal, “Undoing the Death of God: Holocaust Aplogetics” Christianity Research Journal 28(4):12-21,2005