“God put Abraham to the test.” Would a loving and merciful God really put someone to the test by asking them to sacrifice their beloved child and then tell them, “Only testing”? What about poor Job whom God gives over to Satan to test him by destroying his family and possessions. What kind of a God is this? This image of God is a heartless and fickle despot. The purpose of both of these biblical stories, however, is very different from what they appear to be on the surface. They are meant to teach a religious truth not to give an historical account.
The story of the testing of Abraham is really the story of God’s rejection of human sacrifice. The sacrifice of the first-born was common among some of Israel’s neighbors and the purpose of this story was to teach Israel that the one true God finds such a sacrifice abhorrent: “You shall not worship the Lord, your God, that way, because they offered to their gods every abomination that the Lord detests, even burning their sons and daughters to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31). Abraham thinks the God requires the sacrifice of his first-born son, God says, No!
In the book of Job God puts Job, who is “blameless and upright,” to the test by allowing his whole family to be destroyed in a storm. The book of Job is not a historical account but a parable, a book of prayer. Throughout this book God gives us permission to talk back to Him and to protest against His seeming injustice. The book even gives us inspired words to question God. Why do the evil prosper and the “blameless and upright” suffer? God allows Himself to be questioned and challenged.
As Christians we always need to interpret the Scripture through Jesus. The God Jesus reveals and incarnates is not a fickle despot who puts us to the test or leads us into temptation. As Pope Francis has taught, one might get the wrong impression from the common English translation of the Our Father, Pope Francis writes: “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation. I am the one who falls. It’s not God pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation – that’s his department.”