Chapter 16


Yahweh appeared on the top of a rocky, treeless ridge overlooking a rocky, treeless plain in Palestine. He laid the calf on a stone altar, then sat on the altar himself, looking far out over his land. And his eyes saw multitudes of armies charging each other with swords held high. He saw swords descend and limbs severed, bodies hacked, blood spilled. He saw vast explosions with plumes of smoke towering miles into the sky, laying waste to whole cities in a moment. He saw famine and starvation that drove parents to eat their children, and children to kill each other. He saw sickness and plague destroying family upon family. He saw cats gleefully killing mice. Vultures ripping dead flesh. Animals eating and killing plants. He saw death upon death in endless chains reaching backwards and forwards in time. He saw wasteful death. Useful death. Needful death. Senseless death. He heard the screams of the dying, the screams of the living and the silence that comes to all and is the hardest sound to bear.

He knew he'd condemned the world to pain, suffering and death. It's the way the world is. He could explain it. Describe it. Define it. But never, ever, justify it. Every death was part of him dying, just as he was born in every birth. And all of that death and all of that birth came together here, in this one dead calf with the white stripe down its back.

He put his hands on the calf. It was wet and cold. It would never run or suckle. Its potential would never be fulfilled. That was the hardest to bear.

He looked around him. Naturally, he knew where he was. He saw old Abraham bring his trusting, beautiful Isaac to the altar. He saw Abraham lay trusting Isaac on the altar. He saw Abraham lift the sharp knife high in the air then wait, suspended. He saw Isaac's look of surprise, then fear, then forgiveness, all in a moment. That was why he stopped Abraham's hand. For father and son, each in his own way, had proved themselves superior to Yahweh: one in his duty, one in his love, and both in their devotion. At that moment, Yahweh knew he had failed both as creator and as father.  Or, rather, he'd succeeded in ways he'd never imagined. For the father and the son both surpassed him in that one critical area in which he was so lacking: humanity.

Which is why he became flesh and lived among his people. It was why he was born in pain and why he died in pain. It was why he redeemed the redeemer. And it was why he could not forgive himself for eyes that saw everything, yet understood nothing. He was his own hardest judge. And now came the hardest task of all.