God Embraces the Joke
I discover in Genesis 18:1-15 two characteristics of God that I tend to overlook but which I want to pay better attention to for the refreshment of my soul: God is not in a hurry, and God gets the joke.
The passage begins with Abraham sitting at the entrance to his tent “in the heat of the day.” This is the time for rest. It is the time for taking it easy—especially when one is 99 years of age. But as the passage unfolds, Abraham does very little resting. The text reads, in part, “When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them…. And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.”
Abraham is 99 years old, but he is consumed with rushing and hurrying. This report of Abraham’s hurriedness is presented in contrast to the unhurried nature of God. While the text describes Abraham as running and hurrying and getting others to hurry along, we find the Lord standing with Abraham in verse 1, given the opportunity to rest under the tree in verse 4, being refreshed by some bread in verse 5, and eating in verse 8. Moreover, God is content to wait until Abraham is 99 and Sarah is 90 before giving to the two of them the child they have longed for.
What we find in this passage is a 99-year-old man who is driven by anxious hurry, and a God who is not.
I am like Abraham. I rush. I hurry. I get impatient. I want to be more like God who is willing to stand, to rest, to eat leisurely, to be refreshed, and to work things out in God’s good timing.
Many years ago, Ruth Graham wrote, “He was not quite tall enough to see over the dashboard of the car I was driving. ‘Hurry up, Mom!’ he urged. But he was too young to read the road signs that said 45 miles per hour.
“As I began to apply the brakes, he demanded, ‘Why are you stopping?’
“‘There is a school bus that has just stopped,’ I explained.
“As soon as we started again, he urged, ‘Pass him, Mom.’ He was too small to see the double yellow line.
“I thought to myself, ‘How like me when I pray!’ Spiritually I am too young to read the road signs, too small to see what lies ahead. Yet how often I am guilty of telling God how to run things.”
In verse 10, the Lord announces that Sarah will have a baby within the year. Verse 12 reports that “Sarah laughed to herself.” (In the preceding chapter—in Genesis 17:17—we are told, “Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”)
Gordon Wenham suggests, “She laughed not out of cocky arrogance but because a life of long disappointment had taught her not to clutch at straws.” Sarah laughed because it was the only safe response. If she didn’t laugh, her heart would break.
I would be inclined to think that such a response would result in a rebuke or punishment from God. I tend to fear that God is perennially bothered by my doubts and by my miniscule faith. But that is not what we find here. God gets the joke! Rather than rebuking them for laughing at God’s promise, God embraces the joke. God tells Abraham to name the son Isaac, which means, “He Laughs” (Genesis 17:19).
Perhaps one of the best kept secrets about the character of God is God’s ability to embrace and enjoy the humor of life. G.K. Chesterton says about Jesus, “His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud, proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something.
“Solemn Supermen and Imperial Diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down from the steps of the Temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something….
“I say it with reverence—there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth [His merriment].”
I want to grow in the likeness of the God we meet in Genesis 18:1-15. I want to become less hurried and more willing to embrace merriment with God.