13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?
Abraham and Sarah have lived with the promise so long it has entered into that netherworld of hopes and dreams long faded before advancing age. We reach a point in life when we still speak about a trip we will take, a book we will write, a degree we will obtain, though it has become but a pleasant fantasy; no hearts will be broken that it is not accomplished.
When they were young, Abraham and Sarah stepped out on the promise of God and traveled to a new land with visions of descendants like the stars. Later, in the face of despair, they tried to take matters into their own hands and have a child by Sarah’s handmaid. Now the time for children is gone. A fervent hope has become a faded dream, not something to count on anymore.
But here come three visitors and the promise spoken anew: a child shall be born by this time next year. Sarah laughs. Abraham is 99; Sarah is 89.
Then is spoken God’s penetrating question: “Why did Sarah laugh?”
The question is for Abraham’s sake – and Sarah’s. The question is to us as well. Like God’s question to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”, the surgical knife is at work, the living and active word that divides soul and spirit, revealing the heart. “Why did Sarah laugh?”
Why do we laugh? Because we know it is impossible. We know the real world (as if God didn’t). We know it is not the poor who are blessed, the meek do not inherit the earth, a 99 year old woman doesn’t get pregnant.
We laugh because we do not believe. These are nice wishes, noble sentiments, hopes torn to shreds by life’s sorrows, haunted by fears and guilt, or covered over by life’s distractions.
But God persists with his question. His surgical knife lays bare the soul. “Why do you laugh?” Why do you not believe? Why do you not trust the promise that your sins are forgiven? Why do you not believe that the Spirit of God can make us whole? Why do you not believe that the tomb is empty and the living Christ present among us? Why do you not live in the freedom of grace? Why do you not forgive as you have been forgiven, serve as you have been served, love as you have been loved? These are not accusations, but questions that search the human heart.
“Why did Sarah laugh?” It’s a penetrating question, heightened by the words that follow “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Is God God or not? Can God fulfill his promise or not?
God doesn’t ask the question to drive Abraham away; he asks the question to bring him back. He asks the question to call us into faith, to call us to live again in the freedom and joy of boundless love.
PS Remember that Abraham also laughed at this promise (Genesis 17:17).
And with Isaac’s birth (the promised son whose name is from the Hebrew word for laughter) Abraham and Sarah will again laugh – not in unbelief but in joy.