The Song: "Highway 61 Revisited," Bob Dylan. Words & music by Bob Dylan. Track 7 of Highway 61 Revisited, 1965.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 2008.
The Old Testament reading in today's missal is the Bible story that bothers me most, the story of God's demand that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac as proof of his devotion. Abraham takes Isaac up the mountain to the place of sacrifice, and begins to prepare him as he would a lamb; at the last minute God intervenes and spares Isaac's life.
This story is a foundation myth of three of the world's religions, and was presented to me as a child as evidence of God's great mercy. I don't see it that way. I see it as something much more mysterious and terrifying. What kind of God demands so great a sacrifice? (What kind of God, for that matter, demands a sacrifice at all?) And then, when God sees that Abraham is willing to make that sacrifice, what kind of God disrespects that by saying, "Never mind, I was just testing you." I find the reprieve even more disturbing than the original demand. Are we not to believe what God tells us, what God asks of us? Is God so capricious and careless of our feelings and our faith?
The Catholic theologians who taught me said that this was both a paradox and a promise, a mystery solved by God's own sacrifice of Jesus as a symbol of God's love for us. I wasn't sure about that as a child, and I am not sure about it now. If God exists everywhere and in all times simultaneously, how does God learn? How is God's nature revealed to God? Is God self-aware? How can God not be? (I am deliberately avoiding pronouns; "God the Father" is a convenience but in my mind a limiting form of reference to that aspect of the Almighty.)
I'm not saying I don't believe. I do believe, which is why this troubles me so much. Later, in the book of Job, God blasts Job for challenging God's decisions -- "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"
Ultimately, the only way a thinking person can get through a day, much less a life, is to accept that we never know when we're going to wind up on Highway 61. Things happen for reasons we don't understand. As the proverbs say, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.