The Voice of Pain and the Voice of God: Old First E-pistle 08.14.14

The Voice of Pain and the Voice of God: Old First E-pistle 08.14.14

(While away, Michael asked for guest E-pistle-ists. 3 people came forward, all newer members in our community, who surely not all of you will know {we will add their photos to help in that regard}.

Each offers an interesting “academic background” for writing an E-pistle. (Not that academic credentials are needed, but it is interesting that it happened this way!);

08.14: Richard Hurst studied at the Unitarian Universalists’ Starr King Seminary in Berkely.
08.21: Barbara Gurley is a student of the New Life Bible Institute at Beulah Baptist Church.
08.28: Michael Johnson just finished his B.A. in Philosophy at Temple and is looking towards undertaking a Ph.D., but theological concerns are never far for him.

Be sure and read their contributions today (below) and over the next two weeks. And Michael C. is grateful for their effort and help. –MC)


[God] said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” Genesis 22:2

I’m not beach person, I’m a mountain kinda guy. I’d blame this on being a park ranger for many years, but the truth this there are many national park units that are beaches– Fire Island, Key West, the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara. But I’ve always been up high, where the Israelites believed they were closer to their God in the sky– where Moses was delivered the Ten Commandments, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus at the Transfiguration turned radiant under the sun and the figures of Elijah and Moses returned to offer words of wisdom. I will tell you that in the mountains, where the air is thin, odd and unlikely things happen; the Holy appears bidden or not. No wonder Tibet is a land of monks that produced the Dalai Lama. Does one imagine him emerging from the beach culture of Malibu? Alas, no.

The mountains of Moriah are also where Abraham undertook a three-day journey to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of faith. It’s a horrible story that strikes us moderns deeply– it goes to the heart of our theology– the heart of our vision of God. We are forced to ask ourselves if God is really a child abuser or indeed a child murderer, a God that asks for or needs sacrifice from us. We hope against hope, against the text of the Hebrew Bible itself, that the answer is a resounding “no.”

Fortunately God stops the sacrifice at the last moment– or at least an angel does. But Abraham returns from Moriah alone, without Isaac, and never again do Abraham and God speak, at least as recorded in the Bible. The relationships among them appear to have been ruptured beyond repair. The scriptures appear to teach us that sacrifice (including child sacrifice, which was widespread at the time) does not have any healing effect. Its harms, even if the act is incomplete, are still devastating and long-lasting.

Yet Abraham heard the voice of God speaking directly to him. As a community that lifts up a “still-speaking God,” what does this say to us?

The voice of God is dangerous indeed. Jews read this same passage at Rosh Hashanah, a time when they gather to atone for sins and thereafter seek the voice of God in their lives. Though we know that God is that “still voice” within, that isn’t the whole story.

Rabbi Michael Lerner explains that the Hebrew Bible presents a “voice of accumulated pain,” a crushing voice inside that drums up all the hurt and slights and failures over a lifetime of regrets, that by the process of human frailty we so often repeat endlessly not even aware of what we’re doing. Lerner says the first voice that Abraham hears is that voice, the voice that would seek to repeat the pain inflicted by his own father upon him, the father who sold icons, a life Abraham rejected and thus for which he suffered his own trials and tribulations.

However, Lerner tells us the second voice, the voice that tells Abraham to let Isaac go and not harm him, is not the voice of pain but the voice of God. God is that power in our lives that makes things new; it is the power that breaks the cycle of destruction and pain; it is the power that Jesus proclaims when it tells us the Kingdom of God, the blessed community, is at hand, is available to us.

Others have called this God “the Outlaw God.” We must be the people of the Outlaw God if we are to hear the voice of God that is “still speaking,” if we are to hear the voice of God that tells us to break the chains of pain and hurt we so often inflict unwittingly on ourselves and on others.

See you in church,

Richard E. Hurst