The section in the book of Genesis known as The Binding of Isaac, is a challenging scripture for contemporary people to understand because of the difficulty we have in comprehending why a loving God would ask someone to sacrifice their own child in order to demonstrate obedience and fidelity. Here we have God commanding Abraham to take his son, his “only son” whom he loves, and go up the mountain to “..offer him there as a burnt offering.” These days if anyone heard God tell them something like that they’d be considered psychotic or deranged.
However, it isn’t this aspect of the reading that I’m drawn to, but rather how in another part of the reading, “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son..” Two things stand out in particular. The first is how children, by virtue of birth into their family of origin or adoption, have no choice but to be at the effect of their parents’ world view, religion, social location and prejudices—all those things which are part of their ancestral traditions or the parents’ own life experience and learning. Children are born free of preconceived notions of hierarchies, biases, and the like, so the traits and beliefs that are exhibited by their parents, who naturally want their offspring to internalize them, become a burden for them to carry if it is not in their nature to embrace them. So, too, can a parent’s aspirations for a child become a burden if the child doesn’t have the same dream.
Second, after we leave our families and enter into the world as supposedly autonomous individuals, we can continue to carry those things with us so that they go on contributing to the formation of our identities and world views. Sometimes, we are even unaware that this is occurring, we have so embodied the beliefs of those who reared us. And then on top of it all, as we go on carrying this burden, we add to it our own burdens, e.g., bad life-style choices, unhealthy relationships, and addictions. So, taken together, all these things become, just like the sticks being carried up the mountain by Isaac, the things that could burn us up and perhaps lead to our own deaths.
It is my hope that God reveals to us what burdens we are unnecessarily carrying on our backs and instead of being bent over with the weight of them, ask to be relieved of our burdens so that we can become the people that God actually created us be.