The Biblical story of Abraham is an interesting story for me on several levels. In the past, I’ve talked about different academic perspectives of him, my personal discomfort with how he mistreated his wife Hagar, and I have also compared the Book of Abraham to Islamic texts. Tresa Edmunds has her own blog, and is a survivor of child abuse. She spoke with Dan Wotherspoon at Mormon Matters, along with The Mormon Therapist, Natasha Parker. They discussed how traditional stories of forgiveness may not apply to victims of abuse. The podcast was interesting in its own right, but I wanted to share Tresa’s discussion of Abraham as both abuser and abused. I thought it was a unique take on a story nearly all of us are familiar with.
Tresa, “As an adult through my own study, I came to the story of Abraham, and what we have in the Pearl of Great Price tells us that Abraham also is a survivor of childhood abuse through his father attempting to sacrifice him to the god Elkenah. Once again, the Spirit said, ‘I’m going to take you and move you to a place where you know not. I am going to remove you from this threat and get you out.’ With that bit of the story of Abraham, I think that it takes the story of Abraham and Isaac in a completely different direction, because then it’s not a story of blind obedience to the point of being willing to kill your child, it’s a story of an abuse survivor repeating patterns and succumbing to those same scripts, and the Lord intervening and healing that behavior, healing those wounds so that he doesn’t inflict that same violence onto his child. So it’s the story of Abraham as so commonly viewed as either blind obedience or threat of child murder, but I think it can actually be an incredibly powerful story of an abuse survivor healing and breaking that cycle of abuse.”
Dan, “Awesome. Hey I want to do that some more, and I’m thankful for this. Before we do it though, there are different ways that story is also heard, and that is, look at how much the Lord knew that he could trust Abraham, this is Abraham in a very righteous way doing it. How do you two, when I would guarantee you, what you just said Tresa doesn’t ever come up in church. There’s never-this Abrahamic story is problematic and I know that a lot of people who have really wrestled with things in their lives do see the story of Abraham as problematic. So before we discuss it as as this wonderful–wow, I’m just blown away right now with what you said about this pattern of abuse being repeated because I know that in friends of mine who have wrestled with this, how do you guys spin the story on Sunday? I mean just practical advice? How do you honor the story in some way at all, or can you?”
Tresa, “The story of Abraham specifically?”
Dan, “Right, well in the sacrifice of Isaac yeah.”
Tresa, “Well, I just said how I do it, how I do believe that it’s Abraham–”
Dan, “So you’re able to share that?”
Dan, “Oh, awesome!”
Tresa, “Yeah, I’m pretty brave Dan! I don’t keep much to the vest, ok? [chuckling] Yeah, I just flat out say it. But if somebody wasn’t comfortable saying it that way, you know Carol Lynn Pearson has a beautiful interpretation too, that it was just about God needing somebody who could understand him, being a father who was about to sacrifice his son in Jesus Christ. How God was always going to stop Abraham, but he needed somebody who would understand what he was about to do. So you know, I like that as an alternative narrative, but to me it’s always about breaking the cycle.”
Dan, “Awesome. Natasha, do you have any examples? Have you been able to problematize the story of Abraham successfully?”
Natasha, “No, I’ve usually hated that story, so I’m liking what I’m hearing. [chuckling] I’m stealing your stuff, lady!
I’ve had similar thoughts of symbolism as far as Carol Lynn Pearson’s kind of take on it as well, that’s how I’ve thought about it before, as kind of a symbol, but when symbology kind of crosses the line into behavior, you know such as problematic as feeling like you’re in threat, you know by your own father, those are things that I have a hard time making that connect with the god that I worship and believe in, that God would put one of his children in that type of position, so those are things that I wrestle with I think just personally all the time, especially in the Old Testament stories, not just the Abraham one. Â There’s many stories that just don’t seem to make sense when I really put it into position. Now symbolically a lot of things can mean different things, and there can be a lot of beauty in that, so I’m always kind of willing to look at it more from a symbolical position.”
Dan, “Good, well thank you and forgive that sidebar. I read The Gift of Asher Lev. I know most people have read My Name is Asher Lev, but the second one, The Gift of Asher Lev is all about this, and that was my experience years ago of really, really starting to wrestle with the Abrahamic story and you know as somebody who still loves the scriptures and you know wants to wrestle with them and stuff like that, I’m comfortable problematizing it the way you are Tresa, but I’m not sure that a whole lot of people–I can imagine the collective sucking in of the breath during a Sunday School thing when it’s not treated in this idealized way and so I always look for practical things.”
Tresa, “Well, I think that there’s still some idealism to be found there. I don’t think that it’s a character flaw that Abraham to repeat these patterns, because we all do it. We are all striving to overcome these destructive patterns, wherever we got them, or however they’ve hurt us. That’s the journey towards growth for all of us, so I don’t think it’s any knock on Abraham and instead what it becomes is a parable of the incredible healing power of the atonement. Not just the power to heal sin, but to heal these very destructive psychological, behavioral issues that cause such trauma. The power of the atonement to heal the trauma, that we can experience through issues like this.”
Natasha, “Yeah, I really like that. Because otherwise my other concern that often comes up, and I do share this in my Sunday School lessons. You know, at what point is our relationship with God, I mean that’s obviously something that’s very personal for every person, but if our relationship with God is going to put somebody else in danger, then do we need to rethink that?
Obviously the time frame of Abraham is very different from our time frame today where you would be locked up as psychotic person if you were going to kill your own son. It is something that is interesting to wrestle with in our own time and age as far as can these stories have meaning, and I very much appreciate the meaning you have put forth today Tresa.”
What do you think of Tresa’s angle on this story?