You opened your Bible and placed it carefully on the podium, which also served as my laundry basket only a few hours earlier. You draped a cloth around your neck and wore the only white long-sleeve dress shirt that you owned.
You looked out at your audience with only a slight hint of apprehension and drew in a long breath to gather your thoughts. The audience – Dad and I – sat across the room on the living room sofa. I smiled broadly with both my lips and my eyes – the way parents do when they want to encourage their child from a distance.
With your 10-year-old voice that had yet to deepen, you began reading the scripture that you had selected on your own as the basis for this surprising and quite impromptu sermon. It was the first time you had ever done a sermon in the living room – and the last.
Yet, 17 years later, I remember the details as if they happened yesterday.
“Genesis 22:1 …” you began.
“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied. Then God said “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
You continued on, reading about Abraham and Isaac’s journey up the mountain and how Isaac eventually questioned his father about the lack of a lamb for the burnt offering. You continued reading…
…Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
You looked up from your Bible, making eye contact with your audience.
I was prepared to break out into sanctified applause for a job well done, but before I could do that, dad – who was not yet a Bible reader or regular church goer at that point in his life – asked the tough question.
“Why did God do that?”
It was a fair question.
With the confidence and poise of someone three times your age, you explained to your congregation of two that this passage was a test for Abraham, to be sure that he was completely surrendered to God. You told us that Isaac was very loved by his parents because he was born after many years of prayer, after they thought they couldn’t have a child. So, for God to ask him to sacrifice Isaac seemed like a very bad idea. However, Abraham proved he loved God by obeying his command even though it didn’t make any sense to him – Abraham trusted God.
And just like that, the most memorable sermon I have ever witnessed was done. You closed your Bible and retreated to your room, first returning the laundry basket to its proper place.
Thirteen years later, you left with the angels for heaven, at 23 years old.
During your 8-month battle with cancer, you never resigned to die in the prime of your life – no one could ever fault you for that. Even Jesus did not want to die (though he did it willingly for you and me).
Like Abraham, I never heard you question God’s sovereignty. Yes, you fought tooth and nail to continue your life here on earth with all of us, but there was no shaking of your fist towards the heavens in despair. That was not who you were…
You were brave, like Abraham. You passed your test.
I know you loved God, and you trusted Him.
So, now it’s my turn to ask the tough question.
“Why did God do that?”
It’s a fair question, right?
Perhaps we’ll never fully know the answer on this side of heaven. After several years of grief and unease – I can say that I no longer need an answer. For now, it’s enough to know that we will see you again.
In the meantime, I work every day to live above the pain…to pass the tests that come before me, as you’ve inspired me to do.
Sometimes, I imagine that God is smiling at me with both his lips and his eyes, the way parents do to encourage their child from a distance…