Matthew 22:37

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind..." Matthew 22:37

Friday, 8 February 2013

…On Abraham, the Rational Theist

After a long hiatus, I am praying that the Lord would permit me to write on a more consistent basis.  I have been thinking through theism and rationality and whether or not this is a new concept cooked up by modern philosophers, who are hoping to reconcile their faith with modern developments in thought… So what the heck does that mean?  Simply, is there any evidence of this in the Old Testament and how can it be formulated.  I have found a wonderful example of rationality in Abraham.
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Gen. 22:1-5
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. Heb. 11:17-19

Let’s start with a working definition of rationalism:
  1. Reliance on reason as the best guide for belief and action.
  2. Philosophy The theory that the exercise of reason, rather than experience, authority, or spiritual revelation, provides the primary basis for knowledge.

In philosophy, rationality is the characteristic of any action, belief, or desire, that makes their choice optimal under a set of constraints. It is a normative concept of reasoning in the sense that rational people should derive conclusions in a consistent way given the information at disposal. It refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons to believe, or with one's actions with one's reasons for action. However, the term "rationality" tends to be used differently in different disciplines, including specialized discussions of economics, sociology, psychology, evolutionary biology and political science. A rational decision is one that is not just reasoned, but is also optimal for achieving a goal or solving a problem.

I see here what looks like a defeater but only on the surface, if God were doing the thinking for Abraham, then it couldn’t be said to be rational, but even with a spiritual revelation (our defeater), we are still given the chance to think our way through the circumstances, but we are also left with the consequences.
So Abraham is given the spiritual revelation from God, that doesn’t call for any rationality, as a Christian I take that as granted, a non-believer or someone of another faith may not, but that’s not the argument.  After the spiritual revelation is given Abraham uses his reasoning to arrive at what would be considered an optimal result based on the constraints.  I see no flaw here but maybe I’m confusing categories.  In the scripture passages written above we are givens Abraham’s constraints or circumstance, his belief, his action and his desired result.
The constraint was that he was a slave of this God and he’s been following him for about 30-40 years by this time, and now he’s asked to take this son and kill him, that’s the situation.
The belief is given to us in a later passage in a Christian writing from the book of Hebrews, and it says that Abraham reasoned that God would indeed raise his son.  His reasoning is very logical I think, This God has called me out of my home and I have followed him (Gen. 12:1), he promised me a son and said he would make a great nation out of him (Gen 17:19), now if he promised to make a great nation and my son hasn’t had any children, then this God must have something planned in order to bring that about, which is how he came to this idea of resurrection, which, strangely enough, Abraham had never seen.
The action was simple enough he took his son up the mountain with him and was about to perform the act when he was stopped by an angel, who told him to replace his son with a ram, that was caught in a bush.
The desired result was both to God’s glory and to Abraham’s relationship, which seems from a Christian standpoint to be the optimal achievement for both parties.
 I hope I haven’t minced too many words and categories, but I just don’t see any logical flaw in saying that Abraham received a revelation from God, the message from God itself, required no reason, but in order to follow through with the revelation he reasoned his way to what he thought was the best outcome, though it was in the end interrupted and changed by God.  Let me know what you think.  Until next time...


  1. I agree with what you wrote and I believe there are many other examples of logical reasoning throughout the bible. But also logical reasoning isnt necessary when the proof is right before my eyes. Reasoning is necessary when we are seeking surety, if our perceptions have already been validated in someway logical reasoning moves into the realm of over thinking. But truly I do agree that Abraham with his limited understanding of God knew enough about God to know that God is sovereign over all forms of matter and that everything he speaks is already in existence so when the seed is promised through Isaac, Abraham knows that logically Abraham must exist for this to occur. I guess the other question is would Abraham do it if he didnt reason his way to that particular conclusion. Also the story of abraham is beautiful in terms of relationship like you said it also shows God moving from humanity from human sacrifices like so many nations were doing around that area. It brings about a true civil loving God. Great words keep up the beautiful work God bless and love you cuz... Damion

  2. One interesting side note here is that it was G-d, not Abraham, who proclaimed Abraham's love. Abraham, for his part, seemed to side more often with Ishmael. This test may also have served as a "warning shot" to Abraham, to remind him not to forsake the son that G-d had provided - a good reminder for us all.

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