For about 6 months now, I have wrestled with the “Abraham sacrificing Isaac” story. During this time, I have discussed with my classmates, read a daunting amount on the subject, and simmered the topic in my mind with no avail.
The main argument, or oddity if you will, about the story is Abrahams true state of mind in the famous Isaac sacrificial story. Was Abraham crazy; was he marvelously obedient; or was it simply the social norm to sacrifice children without despair? Granted we only get the biblical writer’s side of the story, but I have spent many night wondering why Abraham would not rebel at the thought of killing his precious son whom her waited decades to birth.
Yes, there is a mystical side to this story as well as a faith-based assumption that Abraham knew what he was doing. But being the heretic that I am – I use heretic very lightly – I have to ask about the ethical implications of such and action and what it means to Bible readers today. I mean, come on; am I the only one who thinks its weird that one of the most celebrated stories in our faith tradition is a story about the “Father” of all Nations willing to murder his child in God‘s name?
Either way, while reading the jewel of a theologian by the name of Soren Kierkegaard, I came across this summary of his thoughts on the ethical implications of the Abraham- Isaac narrative. This may seem like a stale end to a very controversial post, but trust me, Kierkegaard is throwing around some heavy ethical brainage within this summary. Enjoy.
From Kierkegaard’s religious perspective, however, the conceptual distinction between good and evil is ultimately dependent not on social norms but on God. Therefore it is possible, as Johannes de Silentio argues was the case for Abraham (the father of faith), that God demand a suspension of the ethical (in the sense of the socially prescribed norms). This is still ethical in the second sense, since ultimately God’s definition of the distinction between good and evil outranks any human society‘s definition. The requirement of communicability and clear decision procedures can also be suspended by God’s fiat. This renders cases such as Abraham’s extremely problematic, since we have no recourse to public reason to decide whether he is legitimately obeying God’s command or whether he is a deluded would-be murderer. Since public reason cannot decide the issue for us, we must decide for ourselves as a matter of religious faith.
McDonald, William, “Søren Kierkegaard”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .