Laughing at God

I noticed something new today in Genesis – can you believe it? I have read Genesis every time I ever tried to read the whole Bible, which is tons of times. Like, I grew up trying to read the whole Bible. Never have gone cover to cover, although I do believe that by now I have read the entire Bible at one time or another. My Old Testament class at Tyndale really helped me push through Leviticus and not celebrate by stopping half way through Numbers.

But enough about me.

In Genesis 17, God promises Abraham (whose name he has just changed – pretty big deal) that he will have a son by Sarah (also a new name to reflect their new destiny), and that nations and kings will come from this son.

Abraham falls on his face, and he laughs because the promise is just so ridiculous. He is almost 100, and Sarah is 90 and Sarah has always been barren. Abraham’s only son, Ishmael, had been conceived by Sarah’s maidservant 13 years earlier because that seemed to be the only way for Abraham to ever have an heir. In response to this mind-bending promise from God, Abraham says,

“Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”

Sometimes when God makes a promise, it seems better to us that he would have consulted with us. Abraham already has a son, and he prays that God would bless him, that he would reel in his extravagant promises of Sarah having a son and just bless Abraham through the son he already has. Abraham can’t muster up hope for another son, especially by his now 90 year old wife.

One of my new favourite verses in Scripture is Zechariah 8:6, which boils down to God saying, “If what I say is amazing to you, does that mean it is also amazing to me?” Here, God has just promised restoration to a conquered and exiled nation, and I guess he knew that everybody was a little hesitant to take him up on his offer, to put their hope in a promise that was too amazing to really believe. It must be a familiar feeling for God, since we know it goes at least as far back as Abraham.

God is never content to give us the best things we can imagine for ourselves. He understands that we humans are prone to doubt, that time weighs heavy on us, that our hearts can only hope for so much.

But he doesn’t give in to our smallness, our frailty, our fatigue. He accounts for it! But he doesn’t limit himself by it. He tells Abraham that Ishmael’s blessings are already in place, that the child conceived in desperation to make God’s promise come true has not been forgotten or left out, but that the original promise also stands. A son will be born, and his name means he laughs.

Nothing is impossible for the God who has always been making people laugh in disbelief at his promises.

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