Throughout the Old Testament, there is an abiding theme of God testing His people and putting trials in front of them in order to demonstrate or prove their faithfulness to Him. The most famous of these tests is a story about Abraham and how God tested his priorities and his faith in God’s ability to keep His promises.
“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, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded 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.’
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’
‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied.
‘The fire and wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’
Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’
‘Here I am,’ he replied.
‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.'”
(Genesis 22:1-8 NIV)
Now that’s a crazy story. There is so much controversy tied up in this. How could Abraham possibly feel justified in killing his son?!? Especially since as part of Abraham’s story he had been childless and waiting for so many years waiting on the promise that God would give him offspring even as he entered into old age. And we don’t know how old Isaac is in this story. Most artwork depicting this scene show him as a young man or child, but some believe Isaac may have been a grown man when this happened, which really changes his role in the story.
These tests seem harsh and cruel, but the response that God heaps out on Abraham is also mighty. In games, tests are a regular part of the way that we challenge players. Their decisions, their priorities and their integrity is on display throughout games and how they handle the decisions that are put in front of them. Tests sometimes put temptation directly in front of the player and see what they do with it and what that says about who they are. Like Galadriel in the Fellowship of the Ring when she rejects the One Ring and remains who she truly is. I did this in my once a month lunch game of Dungeon World by dropping a magical cursed dagger in front of the halfling thief who was more than intrigued when it started whispering to him and offering him power at a price. I did something else like this in a special one shot adventure for one of my long time players who was performing the ritual trials required to become Queen of the Dark Elves. The end of the ritual would have given her the chance to reform the crystalline heart of the Drow and rededicate them to Lolth’s service or she could carve out her own heart and place it on the crystalline pedestal and take the Drow heart for herself which would free her people from Lolth’s influence. It was a weird test and she wasn’t sure what it would mean for her or her people.
Tests bring out some of the best of us. It is the challenge of not knowing how we will respond that makes it interesting and roleplaying games are awesome at this kind of thing. So test yourself, test your players, and put situations that are more complicated and challenging than merely knocking down pegs, but that draw those deeper questions out about who you are and who you are playing. It makes for a much more compelling experience and takes advantage of all the fun possibilities that roleplaying games offer to explore identity and morality as well.