A Redemptive Historical Biblical “Postscript” to Fear and Trembling
In this post I explore a hermeneutical possibility overlooked by Johannes de Silentio, but one which, Soren Kierkegaard, on the other hand might find intriguing. In other words, given that Kierkegaard and his various pseudonyms must be viewed as distinct personae, it is reasonable to believe that Kierkegaard would be open to Scriptural suggestions in addressing the tensions presented in Silentio’s account. For example, Johannes does an excellent job of more or less exhausting the possibilities of rationally explaining (by way of Hegel’s ethics) Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. That is, interpreted in light of Hegel’s ethics, Abraham can only be condemned as a murderer. Why? Abraham’s act was not for the sake of the whole but was a teleological suspension of the ethical wherein the individual’s relation to God relativizes all other relationships, and hence, relativizes the ethical understood as universally applicable in a transhistorical, transpersonal and trancultural way. In light of the fact that Hegel’s ethics makes the father of faith a murderer, the Christian finds Hegelian philosophy to be an inadequate hermeneutic for understanding Scripture (at least with regard to making sense of the Abraham/Isaac story). So what happens when we replace Hegelian philosophy with the Christ-event as our interpretive lens and engage in a Christotelic reading of the Abraham story? In what follows, I explicate what a Christotelic reading might look like and explore various possibilities offered by such a reading.
Early in Genesis 3 we encounter the fall of Adam, a fall whose effects are mysteriously communicated to all of Adam’s posterity. In Gen 3:15, we read, “I [the Lord God] will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Here we get a glimpse of the Lord’s solution to the sin problem arising from the fall. As the biblical story unfolds, we see the gravity of sin and the many ways it has ravaged humankind. For example, in Gen 6:5 we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In fact, Gen 6:5 gives us a concise statement of the problem at hand, viz., the human heart (i.e., the whole person) is corrupted and a transformed or “re-created” heart is needed.
Holding this heart problem in abeyance, we move forward to Gen 12 and the election of Abraham and his seed. Here we gain further insight into the beginning of God’s slow unfolding answer to Adam’s sin, viz., through God’s covenant with Abraham all nations will be blessed. Consequently, through Abraham’s line, we eventually have the emergence of the nation of Israel-a nation set apart by God for a covenantal relationship; hence, we have a kind of “second humanity” called by God to fulfill that which Adam forfeited. (Here the idea is that Israel’s calling included not only obedience to the Torah but a mission to bless all nations and this blessing eventually translates into Gentiles entering into a covenant relationship with God made possible by the Messiah). However, as the pages of the Old Testament demonstrate, Israel also suffered from the same “heart problem.” As a result, she did not obey the LORD and failed to keep the Torah-a failure which included misunderstanding her mission to the Gentiles. Yet, as the Torah itself tells us, the LORD himself will solve the heart problem of his people, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6, emphasis added). How will God do this? The answer to this question provides the hermeneutical key to the Abraham story, i.e., it points us to the necessity of reading the Abraham story Christotelic-ly. Or stated slightly differently, it highlights the need to derive our hermeneutic from within Scripture itself.
As redemptive history unfolds, we discover that God accomplishes this “heart surgery” through the gift of His Son, the true Israelite who kept Torah perfectly and who willingly gave his life as a ransom for many. Here we have the antitype to which the Abraham/Isaac event points and which perhaps Abraham himself caught a glimpse in his expectation of the coming Messiah. That is, just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, so too the Father was willing and actually carried through the sacrifice of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. However, there are significant differences in that Isaac, though willing to go with his father, was not fully aware of what his father has been called to do; whereas, the Lord Jesus Christ was both fully aware and willing to be sacrificed for those who hated him. Perhaps there is also a sense (without moving into heresy??) that the Abraham story is meant to provide greater existential insight into the suffering the Father experienced (covenantally, not essentially as God’s nature doesn’t suffer change) in the sacrificial death of his Son. [Update: The comments seem to suggest otherwise : )].
Though this Christotelic reading does not solve all of the ethical tensions in the Abraham narrative, nor does it remove the mystery of Christ’s sacrificial death (a necessary mystery given our finitude); however, it does provide a broader context in which to interpret God’s command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac. Given this larger context, we can see that God never intended that Abraham actually murder his son, but rather this event was itself a sign pointing beyond itself, a sign pointing to that future Christ-event in which ultimate existential expression of both suffering and love was displayed.
 See also Gen 15 and 17.
 See John 8:56.