The great Jewish patriarch Abraham had a tremendous test in his life, a test that would be a life-changing encounter with God. And the story is puzzling. If we don't understand it, we can ask ourselves "Is God an abusive Parent? How can I trust THIS God?"
If you remember the story, (in Genesis 22), God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to Him. Abraham finds God's command absolutely incomprehensible, because why would God want him to sacrifice his son, his greatest treasure, and a human being?
But Abraham obeys, leading his son up the mountainside (without telling him why). At the very moment that Abraham has a knife in his hand, ready to sacrifice his bound son, an angel stops him and tells him that God is pleased with his firmness of faith and his willingness to sacrifice what is most dear to him, and that he should sacrifice a ram instead.
Now, WHY would God ever give a human being a test like that? It's good to know the times in which this story takes place. The pagans whose land Abraham was in built idols and often sacrificed children to them. Many of his friends had learned this abominable custom from them and practiced it, a custom which God speaks out against in various parts of Scripture. In fact, at the time this story was finally written, many Jews were following their pagan neighbors and sacrificing children to idols.
So some scholars say that this story is a great lesson to the Jews that God does not want human sacrifice. Abraham, out of love, wanted to give his best to God and, knowing pagan customs, thought (erroneously) that perhaps his God wanted this BEST - his child - from him. So God, realizing Abraham's human mistake, stops him, but is still pleased that Abraham's love for and faith in God are so great. The good that comes out of this is that, through Abraham's anguish and pain, his faith in God is strengthened - God stops him, after all - and God's entire people learn the lesson that human sacrifice, the worst kind of child abuse, is wrong, evil, not pleasing to God.
How often do we think up human mistakes - and yet God either stops us before we make them or manages to bring good out of the situation after we've made them? Remember Jesus' story of God as the Father of the Prodigal Son. The son makes terrible mistakes, goes through his father's money, yet the father waits patiently for his son's return, even goes out into the road to welcome him home.
And, when we lose loved ones to death, we know it is, in certain ways, a test of our faith in a loving God. When my son died, I had such conflicting feelings about a God Who would allow my son to die. At that time, Abraham inspired me. He believed in God, trusted God, even when what God seemed to ask of him seemed incomprehensible, tragic. And I remember Jesus' words "I Am the Resurrection and the Life." (John 11:25.)