Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Four-year-old theology: Abraham and Isaac

My four-year-old daughter handed me one of those big children’s Bibles. You know the kind I mean: set in a dour Calvinist typeface and filled with big angry ink-drawn pictures of bearded unsmiling Americans, with stories punctuated by thunderous pronouncements from a brow-furrowed Baptist-preacher God. The kind of children’s Bible that has you scared to go to sleep, lest divine horrors invade your dreams or you are woken, like Samuel, by the summons of that shrill and unfamiliar Voice. (It’s no coincidence that today’s Hollywood directors – so obsessed with brutality, fear, and a kind of pure excessive violence – were brought up on this species of children’s Bible, together with its close relative, the hellfire gospel tract.)

Anyway, my daughter had opened it to the story of the binding of Isaac, and she asked me to read. The picture darkly portrayed Isaac bound to an altar, his father’s knife raised high above him, and in the foreground a white ram tangled in brambles. I had mixed feelings about the way the story would be presented, but eventually I went ahead and read it: God’s command to Abraham; Abraham’s all-too-willing obedience; the angel’s last-minute intervention; the provision of the ram; the final triumphant bloody act.

As I read all this, I wondered what my daughter must be thinking. When the story was over, she looked intently at the picture for a few silent moments, and then finally said (in a voice filled with sympathetic concern): “The poor goat.”

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