Abraham’s “Only” Son?

—-By Jennifer B.
As we read this week’s lectionary reading, Genesis 22:1-14, verse 2 immediately jumped out at me:

He 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.”

I always feel somewhat dejected after reading those words, “your only son Isaac.” How could God call Isaac Abraham’s only son?! Last week, we read Genesis 21:8-21, that most painful passage in which Abraham, at the behest of his wife Sarah, sends his son Ishmael and the boy’s mother Hagar off into the wilderness with nothing but a bit of bread and water.

Growing up, I never liked or identified with Sarah very much. As a descendant of slaves, my allegiance laid with Hagar. I felt only contempt for Sarah, especially when she harshly abused the woman who was under her total control. Then, in a final indignity, the ruthless Sarah tells her husband to throw Hagar and Ishmael out like so much refuse.

However, the truth, which my heart refused to acknowledge, is that God told Abraham to send Hagar and her son away. He never even uttered her name, instead referring to her as “the slave woman.” Then, we arrive at today’s lesson, where “the son of the slave woman” has been obliterated from history, and Isaac has become Abraham’s only son.

I feel some kinship with Abraham’s dysfunctional family story because of my own family’s history. My ancestor, Matthew Broome, had a White family and a Black family all living there on the same plantation. I can imagine what he looked like based on pictures of his male descendants. They were all tall and thin with the same long face, long nose, and long ears.

I had never given much thought to Matthew’s wife, Elizabeth, until I heard Sally’s poignant monologues featuring Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham. It was then that I realized Elizabeth and Sarah were victims too. More than once, Sarah is given to other men by the duplicitous Abraham in order to save his own skin. She certainly must have doubted his love for her. What must it have been like for Elizabeth to see those little brown boys with her husband’s face walking around the homestead? She must have doubted her husband’s love as well.

I experienced some healing as God spoke to me through Sally’s words, as I did during the first session of our Seeking Racial Justice, Part 1: Christians Listening film series. The documentary, Unchained, explores how the brutal systems of slavery, racism, and segregation damage both victims and perpetrators. In one scene, Dr. Gus Roman recounted how, as a boy, he asked God if He only loved White people. God’s response to him was, “No, no, don’t you ever believe that.” God’s words to him were also a healing balm to my heart.

I have questioned why God has, seemingly, allowed Black people to suffer more than Whites. Why didn’t He shut the mouth of the neighbor who came out of his house to sing “n****r, n****r, n****r” at my mother as she walked home from the school bus every day? Why didn’t He stay the hand of the White man who shot at my grandmother as she sat on her own front porch? Why did he tell Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away? I have no good answers to those questions, but I know that the fact that God allowed them to suffer does not mean they were unloved.

I choose to allow God to heal me of the generational trauma of slavery and racism, and I have hope that, by His grace, we can achieve true reconciliation. As Paul proclaimed in Gal. 3:28 “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

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