Editor's note:

Do any of us real­ly won­der why Abra­ham and Sarah laughed at the heav­en­ly announce­ment of a child-to-be? We would laugh too; laugh in dis­be­lief laugh at the absur­di­ty of it all. The Scrip­ture tells us, It had ceased to be with Sarah after the man­ner of women.” That was a polite way of say­ing she was no longer ovu­lat­ing. Now, they may not have had all the vast med­ical infor­ma­tion we have at our fin­ger­tips on con­cep­tion and birth, but they knew enough to say with con­fi­dence that Sarah could not have a child. No way.

But then we hear the query that is as much for us as it is for Abra­ham and Sarah: Is any­thing too won­der­ful for the Lord?” Well, there we have it. I mean, when it is put that way we have no option but to agree; yes, indeed, noth­ing is too won­der­ful for the Lord! But even so …

You see, we also laugh in dis­be­lief because, like Abra­ham and Sarah, we are so often liv­ing in and count­ing on the flesh.” The flesh says very sim­ply, I will rely upon what I can do in my own nat­ur­al abil­i­ties and strengths with­out any ref­er­ence to God. And, may I just say, many things can be done in the pow­er of the flesh. I have seen whole church­es built in the pow­er of the flesh. But we can­not do the work of the Spir­it in the pow­er of the flesh, and Isaac was a work of the Spirit.

But, now comes the great rever­sal for Abra­ham and Sarah. They had laughed in dis­be­lief, but now, with baby Isaac in their pres­ence, they are ush­ered into the laugh­ter of cel­e­bra­tion. Sarah, we are told, exclaims, God has brought laugh­ter for me; every­one who hears will laugh with me” (Gen. 21:6). The laugh­ter of doubt was trans­formed into the laugh­ter of praise. The lat­ter laugh­ter is the bet­ter laughter.

—Richard J. Foster
Renovaré Founder

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Sarah’s Laugh­ter

Quan­ti­ta­tive­ly speak­ing, you don’t find all that much laugh­ter in the Bible, but, qual­i­ta­tive­ly, there’s noth­ing quite like it to be found any­where else. There are a cou­ple of chap­ters in the Book of Gen­e­sis that pos­i­tive­ly shake with it. Sarah was nev­er going to see nine­ty again, and Abra­ham had already hit one hun­dred, and when the angel told them that the stork was on his way at last, they both of them almost col­lapsed. Abra­ham laughed till he fell on his face” (Gen­e­sis 17:17), and Sarah stood cack­ling behind the tent door so the angel wouldn’t think she was being rude as the tears streamed down her cheeks. When the baby final­ly came, they even called him Laugh­ter — which is what Isaac means in Hebrew — because obvi­ous­ly no oth­er name would do.

Laugh­ter mixed up in the Bible 

Laugh­ter gets mixed up with all sorts of things in the Bible and in the world too, things like sneer­ing, irony, mak­ing fun of, and beat­ing the com­pe­ti­tion hol­low. It also gets mixed up with things like come­di­ans and slip­ping on banana peels and hav­ing the soles of your feet tick­led. There are times when you laugh to keep from cry­ing like when the old wino stag­gers home in a par­ty hat, or even in the midst of cry­ing like when Char­lie Chap­lin boils his shoe for sup­per because he’s starv­ing to death. But one hun­dred per­cent, bond­ed, aged-in-the-wood laugh­ter is some­thing else again. 

Mak­ing mer­ry till the cows come home 

It’s the crazy par­rot-squawks that issue out of David as he spins like a top in front of the Ark (2 Sam. 6:16 – 21). 

It’s what the psalms are talk­ing about where they say, When the Lord had res­cued Zion, then our mouth was filled with laugh­ter” (Ps. 126:1 – 2), or where they get so excit­ed they yell out, Let the floods clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy togeth­er!” because the Lord has come through at last (Ps. 98:8).

It’s what the Lord him­self is talk­ing about when he says that on the day he laid the cor­ner­stone of the earth the morn­ing stars sang togeth­er, and all the sons of God shout­ed for joy” (Job 38:7), and it’s what the rafters ring with when the Prodi­gal comes home and his old crock of a father is so glad to see him he almost has a stroke and they began to make mer­ry” and kept on mak­ing mer­ry till the cows came home (Luke 15:24).

Blessed laugh­ter

It’s what Jesus means when he stands in that crowd of crip­ples and lon­ers and odd-balls and fac­to­ry rejects and says, Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21).

Nobody claims there’s a chuck­le on every page, but laugh­ter’s what the whole Bible is real­ly about. Nobody who knows his hat from home-plate claims that get­ting mixed up with God is all sweet­ness and light, but ulti­mate­ly it’s what that’s all about too.

Ecsta­t­ic laughter 

Sarah and her hus­band had plen­ty of hard knocks in their time, and there were plen­ty more of them still to come, but at that moment when the angel told them they’d bet­ter start dip­ping into their old age pen­sions for cash to build a nurs­ery, the rea­son they laughed was that it sud­den­ly dawned on them that the wildest dreams they’d ever had hadn’t been half wild enough (Gen. 17,18,21).

Orig­i­nal­ly in Pecu­liar Trea­sures: A Bib­li­cal Who’s Who. Harper­San­Fran­cis­co, 1993

Pub­lished in Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. New York: Harper­Collins, 2000.

Originally published January 2000

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