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Laughing At God

by Tim O'Hearn

It has been said that the thing that distinguishes man from the animals is an ability to laugh, and especially to laugh at himself. Some animals like the hyena and some birds make sounds that sound like laughter, but they arenít emotional responses; they are just sounds. Laughter may be a response to something unexpected. Most humor involves an unanticipated punch line. Many people laugh as a nervous response to someone elseís misfortuneóa fall, dropping something, even an injury. Uncontrollable laughter may be a response to personal trauma. Or it may be a response to something that tickles (which for someone who is extremely ticklish may be considered a personal trauma). The Bible talks a lot about laughter. There are some people in the Bible whose laughter was inappropriate. They laughed at God.

Abraham and Sarah

When one thinks of someone who laughed at God in the scriptures, most likely they would be thinking ofIt is not nice to laugh at God. Who can say what he will do to you if you laugh? Sarah, the wife of Abraham. It is true that she laughed at God, and denied it, but her husband laughed first.

And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? (Gen 17:16-17)

It is not nice to laugh at God. Who can say what he will do to you if you laugh. In Abrahamís case, he gave him a reminder for the rest of his life that he dared laugh at God. ďAnd thou shalt call his name Isaac.Ē (Gen 17:19) For the next seventy-five years (Gen 25:7), Abraham had to call his son by a name that means ďhe laughed.Ē A reminder for two or three years would be bad enough, but seventy-five! And the son had to live with that name for a hundred eighty years. (Gen 35:28) One hundred five of those were after his laughing father died. When God punishes, it is not always for a short time. Some people think Isaac was so named because his mother laughed, but that was not the case.

His mother did laugh at God, however, and for the same reason. God surprised her.

And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? (Gen 18:10-12)

It is bad enough to laugh at God. While he is capable of humor, this certainly was not such a time. Sarah compounded her error by lying to God.

And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. (Gen 18:13-15)

The scriptures do not record whether Sarah received any punishment for denying her laughter. Maybe it was enough to have the Creator of the Universe to call her out for laughing. Maybe God figured that the same punishment he gave to Abraham was appropriate for his wife, even if she was not to live as long. Nevertheless, she did laugh. And we remember her for it.

Others in the Old Testament

Abraham and Sarah could almost be forgiven for laughing at God. Most people in their time of life would probably react the same way. Some others laughed at God or his messengers with much less reason.

Hezekiah had restored the Temple worship when he became king. Accordingly, he decided to celebrate Passover. It had been a long time since anybody had done so, even though it was mandated by the Law. So, he sent messengers to call people to return to the Law and celebrate the holiday.

So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them. Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem. (2 Chron 30:10-11)

It is bad enough to laugh at messengers of a king. It is pretty bad to scorn messengers of God. But to do so in relation to keeping the law of God is nearly unforgivable. The writer of 2 Chronicles (possibly Ezra) doesnít say what happened to those who laughed at God. He chooses, rather, to emphasize the people who chose to obey, especially those of Judah. They were so happy in keeping Passover, they chose to extend it another seven days.

Nehemiah had heard in Persia that the walls of Jerusalem were in disrepair. This was long after the Babylonians had burned the city. He got permission from the king to rebuild the walls. He convinced the people who had returned to Jerusalem to do the work. Then he met some opposition.

But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king? (Neh 2:19)

God had blessed the building of the wall. Instead of rejoicing, Tobiah the Ammonite said, ďEven that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.Ē (Neh 4:3) They laughed at God. They mocked what was being done in his name. They even went so far as to plot to kill Nehemiah. Where are Horon and Ammon today? Jerusalem is still standing, although those particular walls were later destroyed.

Friends of Jairus

Jairus was a ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum. He probably knew what the other leading people of the Jews in Jerusalem were saying about Jesus. That didnít matter. His twelve-year-old daughter was dying. Jesus had just returned from healing a man possessed of demons on the other side of the sea of Galilee. Surely he could help Jairusí daughter. So he sent for Jesus.

Jesus chose to come, but while he was still on his way he was told that the girl had died. That didnít stop Jesus. He continued on to the house where the girl was still lying.

And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead. (Lk 8:52-53)

They knew who Jesus was. They had probably seen some of his healings. They likely had heard about turning water to wine in a town about eighteen miles away. They almost certainly had heard about what had happened shortly before in the town of Nain, twenty-five miles away; Jesus had raised a boy from the dead. In spite of all this, they laughed at him. Whether they knew he was the son of God is irrelevant. They were laughing at God. But God has a way of getting the last laugh.

And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat. (Lk 8:54-55)

Even though Jesus told the parents to tell nobody what had been done, the word got around. After all, the girl that everyone knew was dead just walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. How could they not know? They had laughed at God. Now God could laugh at them.

Those in the scriptures who laughed at God had reactions ranging from disbelief to outright hatred. You have to believe that we havenít changed much in the past few thousand years.

Some today laugh at God and his scriptures, and say it is all myth. After all, nobody can raise the dead or immediately cause a blind man to see just by touchingThey laughed at God. They mocked what was being done in his name. Where are their countries now? him. And that story about creating the world in seven days; didnít Darwin disprove that? Anyone who hears the word of God and refuses to believe it is true is laughing derisively at God. Yes, it requires a certain amount of faith to accept the Bible at face value. It takes a certain amount of faith to accept many things the scientists or skeptics would like us to believe, too. One difference, however, is that one can believe the truth of Godís word and still believe in science. It is not an either-or proposition. Those who reject the Bible outright make it either-or. They want the two to be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately for them, God will have the last laugh.

Others, many more, laugh at God in disbelief. They donít reject God as a concept. They may even accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God. They just donít hear what Jesus told Jairus. ďFear not: believe only.Ē (Lk 8:50) Doubt is a still voice that robs you of confidence. It makes you wonder if God can really do what you ask of him. Even if you believe that every miracle recorded in scripture is absolutely true, do you wonder if God can do the small things? Is God only in it for the flashy stuff? When we let doubt in, we laugh at God in the same way that Abraham and Sarah did; in the same way the mourners at the house of Jairus did.

Itís not nice to laugh at God. It can have serious consequences. Fortunately, God understands. Sometimes we laugh out of our nervousness. God can forgive, and make us laugh with Him instead.