“Here I am, Lord,” Abraham says to God in Genesis 22.
He says it a couple times. Once is after God tells him he wants to test him. I picture Abraham wiping a sweat-or-blood-stained hand across his forehead and look up from delivering a baby sheep and accepting the invitation.
The next time Abraham says this he’s standing over his only son with a knife. He’s traveled three days to a mountain God told him about, he’s tied up his son, and he’s about to kill him when an angel of the Lord appears and says, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” Abraham replies.
Common Christian parlance says that God speaks in mysterious ways. According to Jody Jahn and Karyn Myers’ work, this could mean through parents and teachers and House, M.D. Jahn and Meyers were examining messages that influenced students to choose careers and found that students framed career expectations according to those messages.
Students constructed frameworks (an ability framework, an enjoyment framework, a goal-centered framework) about the careers they wanted to pursue. These frameworks were built on the foundation of the messages they received: uncles telling nieces that engineering needs women, fathers telling sons which jobs give them money, mothers encouraging daughters to be self-sufficient, teachers telling students to “follow their passions” or their talents. “You’re good at X, why don’t you be an X-doer.”
I can’t remember the things my teachers and parents said to me growing up that turned me into a teacher/graduate student/itinerate blogger. My guess is that the students in this study won’t remember in ten years either. Losing a message the in the morass of things your brain has to remember does not make that message less real or influential.
What we say around children defines their values, frames how they understand self-worth, pushes them where they will be in ten years. Without the explicit memory of your words, a person will rely on instinct or feeling—a voice easily confused with God’s. If you tell a child she is good at X, she’ll believe you. And in many cases she won’t pursue A, B, or Q because she hears God’s voice in her “gifting” in X. If you tell a child he is smart, he is less likely to be resilient in the face of failure (Gunderson et al., 2013). When he fails he may hear God telling him he’s no good at A and should stick with X, even if he hates it.
Hearing God clearly is not an individual matter of perking up a little after we’ve asked God a question. It’s also about the messages given to us over the years—even the ones we can’t remember. The miracle of that Genesis 22 isn’t simply God’s providence of a substitute sacrifice caught in a nearby thicket.
The miracle is Isaac’s ability to hear God’s words, to know what God expected, and to act accordingly. Most sources place Isaac at 25-30 years old when he allowed his father to tie him up on an altar. Genesis does not list every message Abraham gave his son Isaac—spoken and unspoken, telling him that Molech killed children, not YHWH, obeying YHWH in everything so that Isaac could see the blessings—but it shows us the possibility of sending the right messages to those we love.