Welcome to The Sword & Shield, an official blog of Providence Academy! Join us for regular reflection on the true, good, and beautiful in the ordinary and extraordinary places. We'll be drawing from the annals of Church history, the pages of Scripture, the halls of our school, and the joys of our home. May our eyes be focused on our Lord Jesus Christ!
A Loving Father’s Call: The Crisis in the Wilderness
Editor's note: Ms. Carrier’s article is a reflection on episode three (“The Crisis of the Wilderness”) of the Learning in Wartime podcast. Listen now! Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, and Stitcher as well.
A few weeks ago in The Learning in Wartime podcast, Mr. Ballard reminded us that God often uses the crisis of the wilderness as a time to “set us aside to remind us how much we need the Lord.” This is not the same as punishment, rather it is a calling, a wooing we might say:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:14-20)
You may remember the story of Hosea, the prophet whom God commanded to marry and later rescue a prostitute in order to serve as a living word to His people about their own spiritual adultery. The focus on sin may make you think of this wilderness reference as a punishment, but in context, we find this section is actually the turning point from God’s wrath to His redemption.
Echoing Mr. Ballard again, we see that it is quite common for God to call His people, the ones He loves, away into the wilderness. Hagar. Joseph. Moses. Israel. David. Elijah. Job. John the Baptist. Paul.
Then we have Christ, driven by the Spirit, choose to withdraw into the wilderness. He does that for us. This is where, perhaps only second to the Garden and the Cross, we see so concretely Christ choosing to endure the crushing weight of the Fall and at the same time conquering it. These forty days are a picture of the wilderness He chose in coming to earth to dwell among us.
But as wonderful as these truths are, we still don’t like the wilderness. At least I don’t. I may cling to some of these stories, Hagar’s in particular, but if I’m honest, I don’t embrace them perfectly. Especially the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Even though I know the ending and the parallels with Christ, the story has always disturbed me, and I don’t even have children. When reading Bible stories to my younger siblings, this has been the one I hope they don’t ask me to read, the one in which I’ve wondered if I could, um, “make” the pages stick together so they don’t notice I’m skipping it. Recently, I was required to mull it over for fifty-two pages.
My philosophy class read and discussed Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in which he meditates on this very story. One of his comments struck me in light of this past week’s podcast. Considering Abraham’s seeming moral dilemma and crisis of faith, Kierkegaard writes of what he thinks to be an often glossed-over event in Scripture:
If I were to talk about him, I would first depict the pain of his trial. To that end I would like a leech suck all the dread and distress and torture out of a father’s sufferings, so that I might describe what Abraham suffered, whereas all the while he nevertheless believed. I would remind the audience that the journey lasted three days and a good part of the fourth, yea, that these three and a half days were infinitely longer than the few thousand years which separate me from Abraham. (423, emphasis mine)
Three and a half days. I hadn’t noticed that detail before. Abraham traveled with his son for three and a half days in the wilderness, knowing that each step he took towards Mount Moriah was a step closer to the death of the son he has waited for so long. He had already banished his other son to the wilderness with his mother at the command of his wife, and for the express purpose of preserving this child of the promise who had by now probably grown to be a young man conceivably old enough to think about starting a family.
What about God’s promises? What about His presence, if he dared to desire it by this point?
Yet Kierkegaard, really echoing Paul, reminds us that Abraham believed the preposterous, believed God, really, and he highlights this with a “what if?”
What if Abraham had sacrificed himself instead of his son? Sounds noble right? God gets his sacrifice, and you don’t do the dirty deed of killing your own child who also happens to be the child destined to bless all of the nations. But Kierkegaard writes, “He would have been admired in the world, and his name would have been forgotten; but it is one thing to be admired, and another to be the guiding star which saves the anguished” (409). Without unreserved obedience, Abraham would have missed the opportunity to point us to Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it well in The Cost of Discipleship “Only those who believe obey...only those who obey believe” (68). Every step Abraham took in that wilderness was a step of faith and obedience. This was where God had called him and his son, the place where God was to reveal Himself as Redeemer, to remind Abraham that He would do all of the work, sacrificing Himself, because He is a Good Father. The call to die, the call to the wilderness, was a call to rest in the I AM.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Simon and Schuster, 1959.
The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Crossway, 2008.
Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling. Translated by Walter Lowrie, vol. 34, The Great Books
of the Western World, 2nd edition. Edited by Mortimer J. Adler, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1990.
Chelsea Lee Carrier teaches eighth and tenth grade English at Providence Academy. She earned a B.A. in English from Union University and is studying in Faulkner University's Great Books Honors Program. She has six younger siblings and a cat named Strider.