Jul/Aug 2022  •   Salon

Sarah's Choice

by Marko Fong

Public Domain image

I've been thinking about what "God's" take on choice must be. All the Abrahamic religions, Christianity being one of them, share a single central story. After a century or so of trying to conceive with his wife Sarah, Abraham is blessed with a child, Isaac. Isaac isn't actually Abraham's first child. Some time earlier, he fathered a son, Ishmael with a family servant Hagar through some arrangement falling somewhere between surrogacy and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In any case, God decides to test Abraham's faith by ordering him to kill the innocent Isaac, a sort of preview of God sacrificing his son Jesus for the sake of all those sinning sinners.

1) God actually gave Abraham the choice to kill a very much living son.

2) Abraham chooses faith in this one God over the life of his own child, maybe because sometimes we have to do that.

My take:

The story makes it clear that obedience to God is more important than the life of your child, born or unborn. If you have to make that choice, you're supposed to choose God.

I did go to Sunday school briefly as a child and remember being taught the story through some book with color illustrations. That version had an angel in it (Abraham and the angel both looked Caucasian, and Isaac had blonde hair and blue eyes), but there was no mention of Hagar or Ishmael, whom Abraham didn't kill; he just sent them into the desert to die of thirst due to some conflict with Sarah. I understand the omission. Back in the 60's, kids would have found this confusing. Today's children would just say, "Oh yeah, sort of like Donald Trump and Marla Maples, but not so much like Stormy Daniels and Melania."

In any case, the kids, not knowing any better, got a little terrified. "Wait, you mean my dad could maybe hear from God take me to some rock and stab me to death and that's supposed to be a good thing?" Someone brought this up. It might have even been me.

Mr. Sam, the Sunday School teacher, much to his credit, didn't punish whoever asked the question. Instead, he pointed out God didn't let Abraham go through with it, he just wanted to see if Abraham would do anything he told him to do. This was God's way of showing that killing your own children is just part of a father's right to choose.

"But not the mother's?"

"Of course not, Sophie. Eve forfeited that for all women for all time. God's gift to man was "Free Will" and Abraham exercised it by choosing not to tell Isaac's mother."

"So he orders Abraham to kill Isaac, but he won't actually let him do it? Isn't that sort of messed up? It's what my mom said my dad would do before he left three years ago to pick up a pack of cigarettes at his secretary's house after Mom called him passive-aggressive. My dad says I now have a two year old half-brother because my mom forgot to buy his cigarettes at the grocery store."

"God's way is sometimes beyond our understanding. Remember, your father has dominion over your household. As his child, you must never question his authority."

One of the girls asked, "About Sarah again, shouldn't God have given her some say or at least some kind of notice? She's the one who carried Isaac around for 9 months. And I was wondering, if Isaac had been a daughter would God have let Abraham go through with it?"

Mr. Sam's very thoughtful response: "Some day, when you're old enough to have children of your own with your husband or your employer, you'll understand this choice business better."

Another girl raised her hand. "So God has Abraham sacrifice a sheep or was it a goat instead? Our neighbors from Iraq say it was a goat, something called Eid."

"No, your neighbors worship some other God, not the real God. It's just a coincidence they make a big deal of the same story. I hope you do what you can to convert their kids by any means necessary."

"Like stealing their house, so we could take their pool?"

"If that's what God wants you to do. Tell them they can play in your pool that used to be their pool if they start going to your church."

"Did God maybe help Abraham use the sheep for stem cell research?"

"Of course not, God tells us killing is a sin."

Sadly, my Sunday school teacher Mr. Alito stopped teaching us because he suddenly decided to teach adults about abstinence instead. Others said he didn't come back because he heard some of us wouldn't pray with our teacher at Two Corinthians Elementary, even though the principal, Mrs. Coney Barrett, offered us extra recess and better grades if we joined in. She made clear we didn't have to, so some of us didn't and went to not pray in a storage closet in Mrs. Engel-Vitale's classroom so we wouldn't make the kids who did choose to pray uncomfortable. I did hear that years later Mr. Alito's son got a really important job where he found a lost Bible passage in the intent of the framers of the US Constitution that explains Abraham and Isaac and what God must have been up to. His find also saved America from the myth of Climate Change and giving the wrong people the vote. The passage talks a lot about history, much like the Old Testament talks about history. It's called Dobbs.