By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[Genesis 21:12] Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.Hebrews 11:17-19
This passage is found in the famous “hall of faith” section of Hebrews chapter 11. This is where the writer of Hebrews recounts all the many acts of faith done by those in the old covenant. The phrase “by faith” is used 22 times in this chapter. And it all points to the reality that they acted by faith even though they didn’t see the completion or fullness of the promise given to them. How much more should we, who now know the fullness of the promise in the new covenant through Jesus, act in faith? Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Yet, what I find so striking about this passage is the combination of faith and reasoning that we see from Abraham in his decision to do something that seems crazy. Sometimes people of faith, and faith itself, get pitted against reasoning…as if you can either choose faith or reason but not both.
But what we find in Abraham is a different kind of reasoning that is empowered by faith. Abraham was asked by God to do something that seems crazy. But context is everything. First of all, the crazy thing he was asked to do wasn’t to sacrifice his son. In the pagan world, it was very common to offer children as sacrifices to the gods. This was sort of standard practice for pagans. This was culturally “normal” for Abraham’s day. And before we get too judgmental, we need to remember that even in all of our modern advancements we live in a society that has legalized the murder of babies in the womb by their own mother.
The crazy part was that all the promises that God had given Abraham all rested on Isaac. Not only was God asking Abraham to do something that felt more like a pagan practice, but he was asking Abraham to give up all the promises that God made in favor of obedience to God. God was asking Abraham to choose the Promise Maker over the actual promises themselves. God continues to ask this of us today.
But notice Abraham’s reasoning. This wasn’t haphazard fideism or irrationally blind faith. Just as Abraham’s faith was grounded in the nature of God, so was his reasoning. He reasoned that God can raise the dead. In other words, his reasoning factored in the miraculous power of God and the goodness of God. So his obedience was both an act of faith and an act of reasoning.
Is it irrational to give your life in order to spread the gospel in closed countries knowing that you might be killed? It might seem that way to some. But if your reasoning factors in a God who is good, a God who sacrificed everything for you, a God who is powerful and loving, a God who longs to see others come to know the truth of Jesus, then it’s reasonable to give your life for such a God.
When God is factored into our reasoning, suddenly the impossible looks possible, the irrational becomes rational. As we see from Abraham, a life of faith is not just having God factored into our beliefs but having God factored into our reasoning. This is the God who can raise the dead to life, give sight to the blind, and heal impossibly broken hearts.