To produce a feeling of security in those under your care, you truly must know how to keep them secure. A scornful laugh is based not on self-help platitudes but on genuine strength (at least if you want people to laugh with you and not at you behind your back). And naturally, the secret source of a father’s strength, even in the most capable men, is God himself.
One of the best things that a father can do for his wife and children is laugh at what God laughs at.
Now, some things are not laughing matters; for instance, God’s promises should never be laughed at. He’s someone you should laugh with, but never at. Consider Abraham and Sarah — first they laughed at what God said to them, but in the end, they came to see that the joke was on them. And it was a good joke too, good in every way.
He promised them a son in their old age. It was a long-hoped-for blessing, finally given after the realm of possibility had been left far behind. But upon hearing the news, they laughed, and not for joy. And if it wasn’t scornful laughing, it was close to it. Here’s what I mean:
God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her.” . . . Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?” (Genesis 17:15–17)
We’re not told if Abraham laughed out loud, or just to himself. But his laughter isn’t gladness for news that he’s long wanted to hear. He’s laughing because common sense tells him it’s ridiculous for a man of his age to sire a son.
When Sarah hears the news, she laughs too, and in her case there’s no question that she laughs out loud.
The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening from the tent door behind him. . . . So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?” (Genesis 18:10, 12–13)
The Lord asks rhetorically, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). Embarrassed by her gaffe, Sarah denies laughing, but the Lord won’t let it pass. In fact, he mocks her laughter — and Abraham’s too — by telling them to name their child Isaac, which means “laughter” (Genesis 17:19). As the saying goes, “He who laughs last, laughs best.”
But the Lord isn’t the only one laughing in the end. We see Sarah join in — now laughing for joy at the absurdity of her blessedness. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me’” (Genesis 21:6). She goes on to say, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age” (Genesis 21:7).
When Contempt Chuckles
We’ve toned down the scornful character of laughter in our time. I suppose it has something to do with egalitarianism — no one should feel bad, or be laughed at, ever. But I think that God knows more about laughter than we do. Can you hear the self-deprecation in Sarah’s final laughter? She’s been humbled and she’s glad. Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for us: those who laugh along with God at themselves laugh best.
I’ve had a hard time finding a reference to God’s laughter in the Bible without detecting a little scorn in it. Take this, for instance: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4). The Lord laughs at kings who are foolish enough to plot against him. The verticality of the picture can’t be separated from its meaning. Without the downward glance, there’d be nothing to laugh at.