Friday, June 29, 2007

Abraham and Isaac

Yesterday I told you about my love of writing – and by golly, there are a lot of folks out there who love to do it, too. And I promised (threatened?) to tell you a little bit more about the project that has consumed many of my free hours over the past three years or so.

It's a novel called "The Hiding of Isaac," and it's all about the biblical patriarch Abraham and his need for two things: adventure and a perfect son. He gets adventure and thinks he has his perfect son, Ishmael. Only, that son is taken away and replaced with Isaac, who suffers birth trauma and turns out to be very imperfect. He can't walk right, he's slow, and he's painfully insecure.

In those days, a father had the right to kill defective children, so Sarah (in case you didn't know, that's Abraham's mother and Isaac's mother), hides him from Abraham until the all-important weaning ceremony. After that, it's too late for Abraham to harm the child. Of course, it all goes wrong at the weaning, and before long Abraham and Sarah are on the outs, Isaac is scorned by his father, and the family is split into two camps.

If you don't know how the story ends, all you have to do is read the bible (okay, Genesis will do). In fact, I tried to stay very close to the scriptures but also fill in the blanks. And you wouldn't believe the blanks in Isaac's story! The guy has four speaking parts in the entire bible. In every scene, he's passive – he's born, he's weaned (and at his weaning, his half-brother is mysteriously banished from the family), he's nearly killed by his father in a highly unusual sacrifice. It doesn't get better when he grows up. His father sends a slave to find him a bride but won't let Isaac go to meet her (or let her family see him), his son tricks him with a pathetic disguise… When neighbors challenge his right to some wells, he says, "Oh, okay," and flees. You get the idea.

What's not to love about this guy? You can make up all sorts of reasons for such odd behavior, and there's just not that much scholarly work to say you're wrong.

But why write about him? Well, first of all, it's a great story. The heir to the chosen family is mentally deficient. He is as imperfect as anyone in that era can imagine. Yet for some reason, God foregoes the ideal and chooses the imperfect – I mean the REALLY imperfect. And it works out.

There's an old joke about a devout Jewish guy whose Roman Catholic friend tried in vain for years to convert him. Then the Jewish man took a trip to the Vatican and returned a baptized Catholic. The Catholic friend was delighted but confused about the sudden conversion. The new Christian replied, "Well, when I saw how corrupt and confused and just plain crazy everything was in the leadership of this church, I figured it had to be God in charge or the whole thing would have fallen apart years ago."

Maybe the point of Isaac is that it IS God in charge – we don't need perfect or even great leaders. We just need to know who to follow.