In Hebrew Scripture classes in seminary, we would occasionally take attendance responding with the Hebrew word for “here,” “הִנֵּֽנִי׃” or “hinene.”
“Hinene” doesn’t exactly mean “here” in the same, casual way that we often use it. “Hinene” implies that not only am I physically present, but I’m mentally and emotionally present and at your disposal.
You say “jump,” and I ask “how high?”
When God reaches out to Abraham, Abraham responds “hinene.” God, somewhat sadistically, orders him to sacrifice his son Isaac—his promise fulfilled of a future for his bloodline and security for his family. Abraham has already sent off his other son Ismael into the wilderness with mom, Hagar, and now God seems to want to devastate Abraham again.
“Hinene,” Abraham says, ready to do whatever God commands, much to his family's dismay.
We can get caught up with certain aspects of this story and wonder about what kind of a God would demand such an unnecessarily gruesome gesture from such a faithful servant. We can ask why God would every want to practically destroy anyone's family, families often being the primary community in which we learn about all different kinds of love. We can write off this and most other stories in the Hebrew Scriptures in exchange for an easy theology of being nice. And you know what, the world won’t end if we do. Life will go on, and God will go on being God. But for the sake of discussion, let’s ask ourselves what we might glean about our lives and our relationship to God from this horrid tale.
After all, one does not watch The Godfather expecting to acquire a solid set of family values and high moral life lessons, but the film franchise does depict how criminal business practices can be family and relationship-shattering and life-destroying. Even difficult stories have lessons to teach.
So what does this story of a sadistic God and a overly-obedient and hinene-uttering father cause us to consider for our own lives?
Could it be that if we considered our lives, our priorities, and our possessions, we would find that we are often unwilling to part with those things that seem to guarantee for us security and the promise of a future? How might we reorient those attitudes so that we had that spirit of "hinene" (without the whole, "kill your son," thing)?
The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. His website is FatherFarr.com, and his Tumblr blog is BowingToMystery.com.