Summary: Why did Sarah laugh? And what does her laughter tell us about our relationship with God?
OPEN: Dr. Short (one of the men who teaches Sunday School here) loves to share short puns in his classes… and I’m jealous so I decided to share a few of my own with memes.
#1 - squirrel spreading his arms heavenward “I tried to come up with a squirrel pun, but everything I thought of was nuts."
#2 – cat smiling weirdly at the camera “Guess who found your Antidepressant pills.”
#3 – grumpy cat with remote control on its head “That’s not even remotely funny.”
#4 – bear resting at zoo “Life is hard. I bearly made it through the week.”
#5 – dog with wrinkly face and tongue sticking out, laying on the floor “Please turn on the air conditioning. I think my face is melting.”
#6 – huge dog in owner’s arms and worried expression “Are you sure the spider is gone?”
#7 – dog laying on doggie pillow in front of a closet door, and a cat’s paw is stretching out beneath the door “The cat? I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
#8 – And lastly, a cat framed with the crust of piece of bread “I believe this cat is inbred.”
In our text today we read about a woman who laughed. “Sarah LAUGHED to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh …’ But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh," for she was afraid.’” Genesis 18:12-13 & 15
I got thinking about laughter this past week and while scouring the internet on the subject I found that there are actually scientists who study WHY we laugh… and they write books about it. “One such scholar noted “Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. Every human understands it. Unlike English or French or Swahili, we don’t have to learn to speak it. We’re born with that capacity. In fact, the first laughter appears at about 3.5 months of age --- long before we’re able to speak. One of the remarkable things about laughter is that IT OCCURS UNCONSCIOUSLY. You don’t decide to do it. We don’t consciously produce laughter. That’s why it’s very hard to laugh on command or to fake laughter. (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3077386/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/big-mystery-why-do-we-laugh/#.XZQqTkZKhPY)
Another scientist said that “NERVOUS LAUGHTER is a physical reaction to stress, tension, confusion, or anxiety. ... People laugh when they need to project dignity and control during times of stress and anxiety. In these situations, people usually laugh in a subconscious attempt to reduce stress and calm down, however, it often works otherwise. (Balandis, M. (2010). "Psychology studies". Nervous Laughter. Lithuania.)
Now neither of those experts was even thinking of Sarah when she laughed, but they perfectly describe her situation. Here she is in the family tent, and she’s been listening in the conversation between Abraham and his guests. I’m convinced she did not know WHO these 3 visitors were but as the conversation unfolds it’s pretty obvious God’s one of them (the other 2 are angels). Now, just so you understand what her emotions were like at this point… it helps to realize God has made this promise (of a child) 4 TIMES already.
25 years previously in Genesis 12:2 God promised Abraham “I will make you into a GREAT NATION ...
Then in Genesis 13:16 God says, “I will make your OFFSPRING like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.”
And again, in Genesis 16:10, “I will so increase your DESCENDANTS that they will be too numerous to count.”
And then in Genesis 17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the FATHER of many nations.”
Now, it’s hard to become a great nation, have offspring and have descendants if you don’t have kids. And God’s been making this promise for the last 25 years. Now, Sarah is 99 years old. When it comes to having babies… her ship has sailed. Women her age just don’t get pregnant. But here is God making the announcement, that by this time next year, she’s going to have a SON. And Sarah laughs to herself. (See footnote)
Now, I’ve read several sermons on this text, and most of the preachers implied (or outright said) that said her laughter was her way of saying “YEAH RIGHT! Like that’s gonna happen.” As if she was laughing in derision at what she’d heard. But I’ve always had problems with that understanding. I’ve been more inclined to believe that her laughter was like what those experts described: uncontrolled, and a NERVOUS laugh.
Yeah, there was probably some doubt in her mind - but there was also a lot of confusion, stress and bewilderment because it IS hard for her to believe. In fact, there are so many emotions at work in her that her nerves get the better of her… and then she laughs. And you can’t blame her for that.