To Switch or Not to Switch, That is the Question… Abraham and the Loyalty Test (Genesis 22)

In just a few short days Nintendo will release the long-awaited Nintendo Switch console into the outstretched arms of their adoring fan base.  As a die-hard Nintendo fan myself, I will confess to a large amount of bias for the company that that represents many of my happiest memories from my childhood up until now.  They have earned my goodwill, and to be honest they have earned my brand loyalty as they have continued to innovate and defy market trends by remaining steadfastly “Nintendo” without apology.  So needless to say, when this console releases I will be coming home with one on launch day just as many of you might as well.

What is it about Nintendo that inspires such fan fervor?  It has to be more than nostalgia, because many of their new IPs such as Splatoon and Pikmin are just as beloved as their classic licenses like Mario and Zelda.  It is all about the word “loyalty”, and the more I thought about this the more I questioned what this really means in this day and age.  Celebrities are one ill-timed tweet away from disgrace, directors are one failed movie away from unemployment, and game makers are cast aside as soon as they have shipped their title in many cases.  Marriage relationships are failing at an all-time high rate and those who merely co-habitate don’t fare any better.

As a society we have struggled to come to terms with the word loyalty and have mistaken it for “mutually beneficial relationships”.  Loyalty rarely lasts longer than the length of time it benefits the individuals involved, and unfortunately our relationship with the Lord is no different.  One of the best examples of this is one of the hardest to understand sequences in the Bible… when the Lord asked Abraham to do the unthinkable and sacrifice his dream as well as his son Isaac to see if his loyalty was real.  After years of a mutually beneficial relationship, Abraham’s loyalty would be put to the test in an effort to see whether he truly followed the Lord, or just the blessings that were promised to him.

In Genesis 22:2 the predicament presents itself.  God calls out to Abraham and utters a phrase that I doubt anyone could imagine coming from His lips, “Take now 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 of which I shall tell you.”  That would be a moment in which I would be quite certain I had not heard the Lord clearly and would need to do some validation.  But this is occurring in Genesis 22, which means there was no Bible to refer to yet, no Scriptures to cross-reference, and no Christian bookstores full of self-help books on what to do when God asks you to sacrifice your child on an altar.  There was just the command of the Lord and the expectation of an obedient response.

Place yourself in this man’s shoes for a moment.  He has lived his entire life with a name that held a meaning that was a mockery of his childlessness.  He has carried the burden of a dream that seemed impossible only to finally experience the breakthrough that should lead to good times, and now he is being commanded to personally KILL his dream.  When the Lord requires you to return what He has given you, that is an entirely different level of losing.  With Job, Joseph, or Ruth they did not have any choice in what happened to them.  There was no warning, it simply happened.  Abraham, on the other hand, has the unique requirement to be the executioner of his lifelong dream.  Not to simply give it up, but to hold the knife in his hand and end it.

Further complicating this is the awkward reality that God is not asking him to merely give up on his dream to own a home with some land, or a career choice, or maybe a ministry that you hoped to build.  He is requiring the life of his physical child to be returned to Him through a sacrifice on an altar.  This runs completely against everything we thought we knew about the Lord at this point and may challenge many people’s theology in a very uncomfortable way.  But remember, as the Creator the very dust we are made from belongs to Him, along with the breath of life He breathed into our lungs.  We may not always agree with the means with which these are returned, but when He requires our dust to return to dust we cannot forget that He is sovereign and has the right to.

Abraham, to his credit, does not appear to flinch in his obedience to lead his dream down the green mile.  He even got up early in the morning (Gen 22:3) and got right to it.  For someone who is about to sacrifice their child and lose their dream forever this is a demonstration of remarkable unwavering faith that at this point seems a bit misplaced.  As he and Isaac proceeded to face down the loss of both Abraham’s dream as well as Isaac’s life God steps in at the last minute to put a halt to the proceedings, having fully tested Abraham’s faith and obedience and proving that Abraham would give back to the Lord anything that he requires, no matter how precious.  If Abraham was going to lose, he was going to do it with the belief that the Lord would still provide.  He didn’t understand how, and he didn’t have to.  He simply chose losing at the hand of the Lord over any other alternative, and by proving to God that he would rather serve his Creator than serve his dream, he received the blessing of both in return.

So now for us.  It is not terribly likely that God is going to ask any of us to perform an act of obedience to Him similar to what Abraham just endured.  But He does require things from us, and many times it is through these tests that we have the opportunity to prove to both him and ourselves the true nature of our devotion.  Do we serve Him only when He is answering prayers and fulfilling promises, or are we more than fair-weather followers?   God is looking for early-adopter disciples like Abraham, who look at circumstances such as these and understand that they are a validation of our loyalty.  Anyone can follow Him in the good times, but only someone who is truly loyal to Him will blindly obey even when it doesn’t make any sense and stretches our understanding of who He truly is.

I will be there day one for the Switch, and Nintendo will always be able to count on me to plunk down my hard-earned dollars to support their next innovation.  But much more important than that, as I consider what loyalty truly means, it meant following them through the dark days… playing cartridges when others were showing off their shiny CD-roms.  It required espousing the virtues of Mario in a world that was embracing space marines.  And when everyone else had a controller that made sense, I had to wave a remote around and pretend that this was optimal.  But in the end, we are here at the launching point of yet another hardware and I want a front row seat.   And with the Lord, we also must choose to follow when the directions make very little sense, when it seems that we are behind the times, or when what He is asking looks embarrassing or is unpopular.

Someday He may ask for what you value the most, such as with Abraham and Isaac.  Will your loyalty to Him go beyond when the relationship is mutually beneficial?  Do you follow Him, or your vision of what He is?  When He asks you to lose, to suffer, or to deny yourself will you still follow?  It is not easy to be loyal.  There is a cost requirement which involves suspending your disbelief and restricting your impulsive, instinctual responses.  But this is the follower that Christ is looking for… and the deeper we prove ourselves loyal to Him through accepting the undesirable the more fulfilling our relationship with Him becomes.  Each and every day we are given the opportunity to choose between loyalty to the Father or to partake in only those actions that are of benefit to both of us.  To step out onto troubled waters or wait safely in the boat.  Are we ready to flip the Switch?

 

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