Abraham and Sarah are old, like really old. God appears to Abraham and tells him the most ridiculous thing ever. You will have a son. Abraham bursts out laughing. Like Abraham really laughs until he collapses on the floor. Like seriously, Lord? Are you for real? Nah, you are joking. Do you know how old I am? Have you seen Sarah lately? Dude, Sarah is old, like old. Everything with her has gone south. Are you kidding me? Abraham informs God (God rolls his eyes) that he already has a son. Why do you need to give me another one? I have this one. Where is he? Bring him here? God tells Abraham, Nah, this one will not be your heir. Isaac the son I will give to you will. (Genesis 17:15-22)
The same Abraham had thirteen years before slept with his maid to satisfy Sarah’s whims. A passive man and adulterer. Many years preceding this event, he had conspired with his ‘sister’ to lie to Pharaoh. God gave Abraham a sinner made righteous a promise, a magnanimous promise.
Sometime later, God appears to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham is savvy enough to know these aren’t the usual guests. He says to Sarah quick make some roti (chapati) and let me get the young man to make some beef curry. They make the dishes and serve the guests. Like a butler, Abraham stands silently as his guests eat. As they eat, the main guest asks where Sarah is. Sarah is in the tent, eavesdropping. The guest says to Abraham, next time this year, Sarah, your wife will have a son. Unlike Abraham, Sarah laughs within herself. “Like I am old, but have you seen Abraham? Can I even enjoy making love? I am too old for such things”, Sarah laughs. The laugh wasn’t audible, but God heard it. Why did Sarah laugh? The guest asks Abraham. Is anything too difficult for the Lord to do? But Sarah denies it, making her a liar. (Genesis 18:1-15)
Sarah doubts, is a liar, and thirteen odd years before she made Abraham sleep with Hagar and give her a son. Years preceding this incident, she was a co-conspirator with her husband when they lied to Pharaoh. Sarah is a sinner indeed.
Imagine saying this to your kid, one day we will be very rich. One day. Then your kid bursts out laughing, rolling on the floor. She laughs until tears fall from her eyes. You stand there and look at her. She is still laughing. Her laughter is tinged with doubt and even a hint of mockery. Like we will be rich one day? Haven’t you noticed we don’t even have enough money to take care of ourselves? You only have this one low-paying job? Mum, you are out of your mind? Like seriously? For real mum? The laughing continues. If I am the mum, I’d be offended. How dare my kid doubt my words? I’d walk away and most probably shed a tear.
But this is not how God responds to Abraham and Sarah. It’s as if he is not moved by their laughter. He doesn’t even break a sweat. He says to them, “Oh yeah, next year you guys will have a son. You shall name him Isaac. Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” Then he sets out from there and goes to Sodom. Just like that. No offense was taken. No hint of anger towards Abraham and Sarah. A bold response is what God gives these two.
Abraham and Sarah’s laugh has always amazed me. Two sinners had the audacity to laugh at God’s face. Abraham laughed so hard he fell on the floor. Sarah was ladylike in her laugh. Both laughed, however. Religious people want to take correction fluid and whitewash these pages. This cannot be. God is too holy to be laughed at, they say. Non-religious people look at this incident and say, there is no way this took place. This is just a made-up story. The Hebrew writers wanted to humanize this experience. We cannot trust the Bible. But this is a true incident. The Christian faith does not shy away from depicting God as God and humans as humans. Abraham and Sarah laughed at God and God handled it. It’s the overemphasis of God’s holiness that makes God distant and detached from us. Is God holy? Yes, indeed. His holiness, however, is touchable and reachable. The Christian scriptures depict a God who broke into time and spoke to people and still does to this day. In the Bible, God gives people such ridiculous promises that they fall over with laughter. And yet, their nervous, doubtful laughter doesn’t intimidate or offend him.
Two sinners had the audacity to laugh at God’s face.
Here’s the kicker for me, it seems to me Abraham and Sarah’s nervous, doubtful laugh spurred him on. It was a dare – God I dare you to fulfill your promise. And God fulfilled the promise. A year later, God gave two old sinners a child. God loves a challenge. He only works on the most difficult tasks. An angel puts a file on God’s desk. He opens the file. It reads, Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90. They want a kid. God jumps with joy, rolls his sleeves, and gets to work. Nothing is too hard for the Lord!
I wish they taught me this in Sunday school. I wish I knew that you could laugh at God’s face and his promises and he wouldn’t be intimidated or offended. I wish I knew I could doubt him. They taught me to say yes, yes Lord. I say yes, yes, Lord. I say yes, Lord. I say yes, Lord. I say yes, yes, Lord. Remember this song? I wish I’d say, are you kidding me? Do you know who I am? Do you know who my parents are? Do you know the ethnic status of my family? Like Gideon of the book of judges, we come from the smallest tribe in Kenya. We don’t do such things. We don’t aspire for much. We don’t go there. We don’t achieve those things. We don’t buy houses in that area. A kid? Jenny and I can’t have kids. All the while, rolling and laughing on the floor.
Can your God take a nervous, doubtful laugh? Could you doubt God to his face? Abraham and Sarah say yes, yes, yes. Even better, they say, God will make true his promise to you.
The next time God promises me something great, I will laugh at his face. Like for real. I will burst out laughing and wave him off like you can’t be serious. If Abraham and Sarah’s laughter was a dare he took on, I dare him to take mine on.
Jenny and I are laughing hard because of the ridiculousness of what God has promised us. God has big shoulders, he can take it.
That’s what grace looks like.