What if we were told by God that something impossible was going to happen in our lives? That something against the laws of nature or probability would occur? Would we believe such a thing or would we laugh? To be honest, I’d probably stick myself in the laugh category. It is so easy to be skeptical of things that seem beyond my comprehension that I would probably laugh either thinking that it was a joke or in derision.
I would not be the first to do so. As we saw last week in Genesis 17, Abraham laughed when God said that Sarah would give birth to a son. We see this play out again this week, only with Sarah now laughing in Genesis 18:1-15.
The story sets us up with the Lord appearing to Abraham. This appearance of the Lord is connected to the arrival of three men. How these two realities connect is uncertain. People have very different takes on it. Walter Brueggemann in his commentary basically says that it is enough to say that it is the Lord and move on. John H. Sailhamer in his commentary on Genesis goes into great detail and focuses on it a lot more. However, I am more in line with Brueggemann on this. How exactly these three men are the Lord isn’t really very important to the story, the main importance is that they are.
Abraham appears to know this or is just very hospitable and prepares a meal and rest for his guests. While the three men eat, they inquire about Sarah and say that this time next year she will have a son. Sarah hears this and laughs. She can’t believe what she hears. That’s impossible.
At this promise and declaration of the Lord both Abraham and Sarah have now laughed. Dwelling on this reality has two effects on me. First, it makes me suspicious of those who declare Abraham and Sarah as people of great faith, but never go into the struggle that they faced to be faithful to the difficult to believe promise of God. I’ve already talked a bit about this, but I think we do a grave disservice to fellow believers when we gloss over the doubt and struggle of faith in our own lives or the people whose lives are presented in the Bible.
The second effect is that it makes me rather suspicious of those who want to peg people from an earlier age as willing to believe anything. It’s a fairly popular thought that religion was only developed from superstitious people in the past who believed anything that they were told. These last two chapters cast doubt upon such claims. Abraham and Sarah are recorded not as people willing to believe anything no matter how impossible it is, but rather as people who come up to the limitations of the natural world and have a hard time believing in things beyond that limit.
Both of these approaches are ones that I am not very comfortable with and seem to go against what you read here. They seem to me to be overstatements that have their own agendas. One seeking to marginalize doubt and the place of questions in the faith. The other seeking to marginalize belief and faith in God in general.
As Brueggemann says, “Faith is not a reasonable act which fits into the normal scheme of life and perception. The promise of the gospel is not a conventional piece of wisdom that is easily accommodated to everything else. Embrace of this radical gospel requires shattering and discontinuity.” Faith will include a struggle, anyone who tries to say otherwise is selling bad goods.
Ultimately the response God gives to Sarah is something we all have to wrestle with. God replies to Sarah with a question. “Is anything to hard for the Lord?” What is interesting about the text is that we are not given a response to this question. Sarah simply denies laughing, even though God points out again that she did indeed laugh.
Yet this question is still something that we all must wrestle with. Do we believe that anything is too hard for God? It is a question that I want to say yes to. I do believe that nothing is too hard for God. Yet at the same time deep down I struggle with that idea. I struggle because believing in things beyond the natural world is looked down on in our modern, scientific, materialistic world. I struggle because of times where if God could do anything, why didn’t God stop this or change that.
These struggles don’t change my answer, but they are a struggle to fully embrace the idea that nothing is too hard for God. The positive thing though is that God doesn’t seem too hung up about our struggle to believe. Even with Abraham and Sarah, their struggle and their laughter at the “impossible” didn’t change God’s plan. They still received Isaac despite their laughter of disbelief when it was proposed.
So even it we struggle all is not lost. I think that often like Abraham and Sarah our lives are a mixture of faith and lack of faith. We may trust and have faith in the God we have sworn to follow, but still laugh in disbelief when dealing with the details of what God has planned for us all. It may be something large like a son at an advanced age, or it may simply be that God would use us in a meaningful way. Even in these times of struggle and doubt, the question of God is before us all.
Is anything too hard for the Lord?