Pastoral Perspectives

I felt really bad when I broke a promise to a friend recently. When I made that promise, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to keep it. Personally, I felt that I have lost my honor as a person. While I struggled to find a rational explanation to what had happened, I was in the midst of preparing to teach the Boy’s Brigade boys about the character trait of loyalty. As I pondered over the English word “Loyalty”, a Chinese character 義 (pronounced as yì) which have the same meaning comes to my mind. And the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, suddenly became alive. What does “Loyalty” and 義 (yì) got to do with Abraham?

Before we touch on the story of Abraham, let me explain the structure of the word. The Chinese character 義 (yì) means justice andrighteousness; it also means being loyal or faithful. The traditional form is based on the radical 羊 (yáng – meaning lamb). The bottom half of 義 is the character 我(wǒ) which is the personal pronoun “I”.

After years of struggle, Abraham finally had a son.  A son that would bring God’s promise to pass, a son that will carry out God’s plan to make him the father of a great nation. Abraham should be extremely happy and proud to have Isaac, who probably is everything to Abraham. I can imagine that whenever Abraham carried Isaac, he would be singing praises to God, praising Him for His faithfulness. It would a blissful period raising up Isaac to be a young lad. However such blissful state came to a sudden halt when God told Abraham in chapter 22, “Take 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.” At this point in time, how would Abraham feel? Probably he would feel like being struck by lighting. But we were told that early next morning, without saying much, Abraham saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac with the wood for the burnt offering, and set off for Moriah. After reaching the place, as the story unfolded in verse 6, Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac while he himself carried the fire and the knife. At this point, Isaac asked the most important question in his life, “Father, the fire and wood are here, where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” What was Abraham’s answer? “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. After studying the context, all evidences point to the fact that Abraham did believe God will provide the Lamb. However in verse 10, Abraham’s action told us that Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac even when God didn’t provide the lamb. The question is: why did Abraham still want to sacrifice Isaac? Abraham’s rationale can be explained with the Chinese character 義  (yì). 義  (yì) means, being loyal or faithful. Thus the reason why Abraham still carried out God’s order was because he wanted to honor God by being faithful and loyal to God. To carry out the burnt offering procedure, which means sacrificing Isaac, is more important than his personal desire. Thus placing the Chinese word 羊  (yáng – meaning lamb) on top or above the character 我  (wǒ – the personal pronoun “I”), appropriately describe 義 (yì – loyalty and faithfulness).  It signifies that the Lamb of God is above me, God’s preference is before my own preference. The perception is even clearer in John 1:29-30, when John the Baptist said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I mean when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”  The whole perspective of 義 (yì) just fall into place and I know how I should respond to my struggle. Even though I was not able to keep my promise to my friend thus being without 義 (yì), I still need to keep my 義 (yì) towards God, as Christ is the ultimate Lamb of God. The Lamb of God is above me, thus I need to be faithful and loyal to God above my personal honor, desire and preference. I need to stay faithful to God even when I failed to be a faithful or loyal friend because of my limitation and all the more so when others betray my trust. My honor is nothing compared to God’s honor.

So the next time others betray your trust, how should you respond? Look to God and do what God would want you to do and not what you prefer to do to honor God. We need to place “The lamb of God” above us and above our own preference.

Pr Alvin Lim