The nature of sacrifice

Monday, January 28, 2008

I wrote this little reflection on sacrifice a few days ago for my other blog, and I'm thinking it might be good to present over here. My thoughts come directly from some hard lessons I'm learning as I continue to discern the religious life.

I've been thinking quite a bit in recent days of the difference between Soren Kierkegaard's "Knight of Infinite Resignation" and his "Knight of Faith." I've loved the distinction he makes between them ever since I read Fear and Trembling during sophomore year of college. I've loved it, but haven't really understood it. Still don't, probably. But some recent, um, experiences have prompted me to consider the difference between the sacrifice each makes.

I'll cut right to the chase and skip the lengthy and difficult summary of what, exactly, these two knights are.

For Kierkegaard, the Knight of Faith par excellence is Abraham when he sacrifices Isaac. A normal father, and even the best Knight of Resignation, could not have done what he did. He could not have resolved to kill his son for the sake of Almighty God, raised the knife, and then been given the son back alive. Normally when one decides to give something up, one must make some sort of judgment about it, like "I didn't really love it anyway," or "it wasn't good for me," or "it's better without it." One must divorce oneself from the beloved person or thing to be resigned, and after that movement, one is incapable of truly loving it again. One cannot take it back.

But Abraham did. How?

His sacrifice was a true sacrifice in faith. He was willing to give to God his most beloved son, in whom rested all his hope, because God asked it of him. But he never wavered in his love for that son, nor in his hope in the divine promise which he embodied. Isaac remained beloved of Abraham, even as his father's hand guided the knife toward his tender throat. Abraham continued to hope in Isaac's life, even as he made to kill him. And therefore, he was able to receive his son back, just as beloved and just as alive.

There are a lot of sacrifices that God can ask, even of us, even in our time. Often we are even glad to make them for His sake, because we love Him. But do we make them in resignation, or in faith? If the Lord asks you to give up something beloved (say, a career, or a home, or a talent) for His sake, for the sake of His work, would you be able to receive it back again without despising it?

Remember that to sacrifice something assumes that you love it. Does the nature of sacrifice remain intact if, to give up the object of your love, you cease to love it?

And finally, if you discover that you have ceased to love what you have sacrificed for God, how do you learn to love it again? Is it possible to do so?


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