A while ago I was given four more churches to pastor, bringing my grand total to seven congregations in an area larger than all of Great Britain, and just two local elders to help me out too, both of whom were filly employed elsewhere.
I responded with wide-eyed disbelief, followed by fits of coughing and spluttering, and when speech returned a strangled cry of, “You have got to be kidding” – that wonderfully protective measure against exploding into small pieces, or rolling about on the floor in such helpless mirth it needs paramedic intervention to restore normal breathing.
Historically, though, I had scriptural support for responding like I did, thanks to Sarah’s snorts of derision on hearing she’d be giving birth to a son in her old age in Genesis 18:12. Whatever the Hebrew equivalent was for “You’ve got to be kidding,” she was thinking it.
Three chapters later, however, the laugh was on her, because in Genesis 21:2 she “bore a son at the very time God had promised.” And Sarah, to her credit, saw the funny side of it too: “God has brought me laughter,” she cried in verse 6, ”and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” – Abraham being the first to laugh with her, because he named the boy, “Chuckles,” or Isaac as we know him, Isaac meaning “laughter.”
So why did God do this to Sarah? And what about all the other things God does that might seem utterly ludicrous to us? What was he thinking, for instance, when he made the fruit of the tree that would kill so delicious looking? And why did he create a crafty creature to entice Adam and Eve into eating it too?
The rest of the Old Testament provides atheists with all sorts of excuses to scoff as well, like the gathering of two (or more) of every creature and fitting them all on one boat. Or God having his Son killed by those he came to save, and then putting together a church from “lowly and despised things” that make us Christians seem like a joke at times too.
Apparently, God likes the ludicrous and laughable, including why a shy kid from a tiny village in England would end up pastoring seven churches in an area larger than the entire country he grew up in.
It still makes me shake my head as to why God works this way, but, silly me, he gave the reason why in Romans 9. It’s in Paul’s answer to why God made Sarah wait until her old age to have a son too.
It’s because he loves making promises that only he can fulfill. The only reason Sarah ended up with a child, for instance, was because God promised it. Or as Paul phrased it in Romans 9:8, “it isn’t children born by natural human reproduction who are God’s children, it is the children of the promise” – the promise being verse 9, that “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
In other words, when God promises something utterly ludicrous to our minds that make us scoff and snort, he gets the last laugh as he watches our amazement and embarrassment when he pulls it off.
This was a wonderfully freeing revelation for me, because I admit to often snorting with derision at what we present to the public as the Christian church. What a joke we are to people with our odd traditions and rituals. I can’t help thinking at times I’m in the middle of a Monty Python skit. But no matter how ludicrous or laughable that I, or anybody else, thinks the Christian church is, God gets the last laugh, because “At the appointed time he will return, and the church will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:4).”
How embarrassing, then, for all those who scoffed and snorted in derision at the antics, foibles and glaring faults of the Christian church. But hopefully, like Sarah, we can all share in one great universal belly laugh one day at what God has managed to pull off despite us.
“You have got to be kidding,” we all yell. “How did he do it?”