Thursday, February 24, 2011

Abraham: A Man of His Time

In this post, Level 3 Catechist Lynn Winkelman shares some of her own preparation for presenting the Abraham materials to the nine to eleven year olds in the Golden Thread Atrium.

Honestly, I dreaded studying Abraham with the children and put it off until this year.  The reason for this is that I have never been comfortable with the “Sacrifice of Isaac.” Like many of you, I was taught that Abraham’s willingness to obey God’s command to kill his son Isaac was evidence that he was a great man of faith. I could never reconcile my own understanding of God with a God that would ask such a thing of a parent. My own daughter asked her father several years ago about this story and what he thought of the “test of obedience” given to Abraham. To my surprise, (because of the tradition I had been raised in), he responded that Abraham actually failed the test by agreeing to sacrifice Isaac. He told her that God never wanted death in his honor.

I came to a new understanding of this story in my EfM class ** and some new materials developed for the Level III Atrium that made the teaching of the whole story of Abraham, including the “sacrifice of Isaac,” congruent with the God of love and life.

The new scholarship on this story suggests that this was a lesson that was intended to show that human sacrifice was unnecessary and never acceptable to God. To understand why this lesson was important we must see Abraham as a man of his time and place. Human sacrifice to the Gods was practiced by many cultures in his part of the world, even sacrifice of ones child. 

So, it should not be so surprising to us that Abraham considered such a command a test of faith. The part of the story where God stops him from killing Isaac demonstrates that, for the descendants of Abraham, human sacrifice would never be a part of their worship or culture. This relationship with the one true God was different from anything Abraham saw around him.

Knowing this, I looked forward to presenting the study of Abraham to the children, including the story of Isaac.

** EfM or Education for Ministry is an ongoing course that meets weekly at Christ Episcopal Church. Speak with Leslie if you would like to learn more!


  1. Lynn,

    First thank you for your years of service to the children of Christ Church. You have been a steady and spiritual guide for both of my children and my wife.

    Thank you also for this reflection of the Issac "sacrifice" story. I too have always struggled with it and your reflection is new and refreshing to me. I now have a whole new way of thinking about this story.

    Thank you for this; good luck and I look forward to hearing how this goes with your students.


  2. Thanks Lynn - I, too, gained a new appreciation from your post - and you did it so succintly - just like catechesis, isn't it (less is more!).

  3. Very interesting thoughts. I have also struggled as to how to present this story. With what age group did Lynn have this lesson?

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone! Sheila,the Abraham work is actually a series of works that Lynn presents to our 9-12 year olds. With the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we begin to present Hebrew Scripture at this age level. Before that, the only Hebrew Scripture the children work with is the Prophecies. I'll try to do a post soon to talk about the reasoning behind that!


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