God of Abraham

Abraham re-thought what God is. He accepted all that was good from the religions of the Near East, starting with Sumerian religion but also including aspects of Semitic and Egyptian religion. But he removed all aspects of their religious practices that involved acts that his conscience decided were evil, most prominently being child sacrifice. This was a big step. He strongly believed that God revealed to him that he should sacrifice his most beloved son, and this was consistent with widespread practice and belief in his culture. But somewhere deep within him, he felt it was wrong and then “an angel” revealed to him that he should not sacrifice his son but sacrifice a ram instead. But that required Abraham to decide whether to follow the dictates of this angel or the previous dictate that he believed came directly from God Himself. He followed the angel’s instructions. This is an important principle: If ever God “tells” us to do something that egregiously violates our conscience, we should know that the evil direction was not from God. God gave us consciences to use.

And this critical incident of Abraham and Isaac builds upon a principle that Abraham used in re-conceiving what God is like. Abraham intuited that God is all good, and there is no evil or imperfection in Him. Abraham argued with God about the morality of destroying all inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. He also decided that no particular part of Creation could represent God, because God was Creator of all Creation. Every part of Creation is good, but God Himself is greater than any part, and He didn’t need any helper gods or subordinate gods.

Bottom line, Abraham began to see God as the truth and reality of a divine Purpose beyond all contingent facts, beyond humanity’s understanding and beyond Creation. He trusted that God always has the greater good in mind, and always champions justice, and that all apparent evil and “bad things happening to good people” would ultimately be resolved in favor of the greater good. He saw that encumbering his understanding of God with unnecessary baggage, whether images, representations, or gods of particular forces and aspects of nature, were beneath the true dignity of the true God. Abraham believed in God, but he didn’t anymore believe in the specific dogmas of his culture’s previous religious traditions, if those specific beliefs violated the understanding of God as a pure, all powerful, all good monotheistic God.

The history of the Abrahamic religions has, at least to some extent, built upon and further refined this focus on a monotheistic, all good God. But perhaps there is further to go. All the Abrahamic religions have in common a belief in an all-powerful, all good, Purposeful God that can be trusted to leads all beings to the ultimate good, and that it is the duty of humans to try to imitate the goodness of God. Maybe that is more important than any specific differences in dogmatic beliefs.

But Abraham did not throw out the baby with the bathwater. He kept and maintained the good things from previous religious practices, especially all emphases on doing good. He also kept some ritual practices. He set up altars to God and performed animal sacrifices. He honored the religious practices of others when they did not violate his new understandings. For instance, he honored Melchizadek and participated in Melchizadek's worship of El. El was the high God in many middle eastern traditions. Most importantly, Abraham recognized the importance of worship, prayer, ethics and morality.

He also established , or continued other practices to distinguish and maintain unity among his new faith community, especially circumcision. These kind of practices are not crucial to any ethical standard but are sometimes useful in community building and maintenance.

We could do worse than to worship the God of Abraham. But we need to respect and honor other religious traditions, and we need to practice spiritual disciplines that involve gratitude, awe, devotion, and a firm commitment to ethics and morality. These virtuous activities can be found in any of the Abrahamic religions and also in many other religions that recognize something like the Golden Rule.

In my case, Christianity is the Way, because I recognize Jesus as the ultimate Exemplar of God and as our Savior. But all who practice moral religions should cherish the wider community of good religious beliefs in the world.

The God of Abraham is an Awesome, Transcendent, Beyond, First Mover and Sustainer Who is all loving and all demanding. How would Abraham apply his conception of God to today’s situation, given an additional 4000 years of human history and experience?