16th century Dutch painting of Jesus cleansing the temple
We are supposed to be better than this, guys!

We did spend time in Sunday school this morning considering why Abraham did what he did in Genesis 22. I said, I think that if we think he obeys God because he believes God will make him rich, or great, or famous, we would probably have to question whether he is a moral model for us. Because normally we condemn people who are willing to kill even one other human being for the sake of becoming rich, or great, or famous. And why would we feel differently about that just because God was the one who presented the person with that choice? So that seems to take us back to the idea that Abraham obeys God because he believes that God should be obeyed; that God is in charge; that he and Isaac and everyone belong to God and that what happens to them is up to God; because we can argue with God up to a point, but after that point, what we need to do is what God asks of us. If this involves faith, it strikes me that it is the faith that God is in fact good, despite the appearances to the contrary. [In this regard, it is worth seeing Abraham here as being in practically the same situation as Job … only, perhaps, for not quite as long.] What God says God knows is that Abraham “fears God” (Genesis 22:12).

But in church we learned that rules “make us who we are.” Like the rules that our families have for us, because our parents are trying to teach us how to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, and so we learn rules like cleaning up after ourselves, and being honest, and responsible, and working hard and being kind … And like how the Hebrews in Exodus received instructions from God about how to use their freedom, now that they were no longer subject to – though they had never been under the protection of – the laws of Egypt (see Exodus 20). So, God becomes the law-giver, and the people of Israel become the people who receive that law, and what God’s people are supposed to do about that is to follow that instruction. So when Jesus cleans up the Temple in John 2 (John 2:13-22 to be precise), it is like that reaction “this is not who we are,” that comes from not following the rules that make us who we are. We are not required to be the people who receive God’s instruction and follow it, we’re free to reject all of that, but what we are not free to do is to show up at the Temple or at church and sing and pray and say we are these people and yet behave the same as people do who don’t follow that instruction, follow some other law, the law of the marketplace or self-interest or whatever other god we worship. We’re not free to do that if we are going to be the people who, in fact, love God and love our neighbor …

And I got caught up thinking about how it could be that “fearing God” and “loving God” might amount to the same thing in the end … how, if our highest priority is to please another, to make that other one happy, if what we are most trying to avoid, if what we fear most is that person being displeased or disappointed by something we do … probably most of us have been there at one time or another, with a parent or a boss or a teacher or a spouse or even a child, though hopefully not to the point of its being unhealthy or abusive … so the text of Genesis says Abraham feared God, but would we be wrong to understand that Abraham loved God? In that way that amounts to being indistinguishable from fear? More than absolutely anything … ? With his whole heart and soul and might … ?

Which, if we loved anyone besides God that way – anyone including ourselves – it would be wrong. To say nothing of dangerous. But when it’s God … well, it’s still dangerous, at least in the short run. But not wrong. Or so we who are being shaped by these particular rules trust.