Let’s say you’re God, and you’ve got a job you want to hire someone for.
Now, the main role is filled – your goal is to reconcile humanity to you, and you know who you’ll use for that particular task. But there’s some tech support that’s got to be in place before that gets done, and one of the things you want is for that salvation to come in a particular way, through a certain kind of society and culture.
For that, you need a nation and some people to make it up. There’ll be some other jobs down the line, but first you’ve got to get started.
So you’re looking for some people to be the founders of this nation. What kind of qualifications does your ideal candidate have? Probably needs to be a leader, and demonstrate he knows how to run things. Be good to be able to see things long-term and have a vision, too.
Some qualities of the current culture would be good carryovers, don’t you think? Like hospitality, the welcoming of the stranger. That will play an important role in the message your reconciler will bring.
How about kids? Remember, in this day and time, a person’s history carries on through their children and grandchildren. People without kids don’t have anyone to take care of them in their old age and if they die without kids, well it’s like they vanished from history.
So look who shows up to the interview – a couple senior citizens, a guy pushing a hundred and his “younger” wife who’s a spring chicken in her early 90s. Um, I’m sorry, people, but did you read the part on the application about “descendants?” And no, what’s-his-name from your wife’s chambermaid doesn’t count.
And yet, since you and I weren’t there to give him advice, God picked exactly these two people. Go figure.
We don’t have to read very far into the Bible to find out God does this sort of thing all the time. Go for the least obvious, the least likely, the most far-out plan imaginable to get a job done. Use methods and personnel that would make any HR directors worth their salt cringe – a murderer to lead people to freedom, a shepherd boy as a king, a poor teen-age girl from Backwater, Nowhere-istan to bear a savior, a carpenter to save the world.
It’s like he sees what makes sense or seems wise to us and flips it on its head.
So he does it here, with Abram and Sarai. From a couple without children, a couple who would be viewed by nearly their entire culture as a dead end, God brings forth a nation. And not by the man in the couple winning battles and forging his people together through the heat of a crisis. He gives them something they thought they could never have and shows everyone that with God, there are no dead ends.
A philosopher named Søren Kierkegaard said he was a Christian because God worked in ways that weren’t just mysterious, they were often absurd and sometimes downright ridiculous. He said the more absurd the idea or concept, the better he found it because accepting it strengthened his faith. Stuff he could explain didn’t help his faith, because he could point to an explanation. The unexplainable – well, that required belief, and that was what he figured God was all about.
Kierkegaard may or may not be right. But if we accept Isaac as the true son of Abram and Sarai, we’ve crossed into the place where we have to believe it rather than prove it. And if we believe it, then we’ve come where God wants us to be: Following his guidance along a road that may not make sense except in the rearview mirror, and even then only after he’s pointed it out to us.
When Sarah laughed, she didn’t mock God. She mocked herself and the idea that someone like her could have a role in what God planned to do. But God worked in and through her anyway, and her laughter turned from self-mockery to the joy of her baby son, Isaac. In Hebrew, his name is pronounced "Yitschak." It translates into English as “laughter.”
We could say the story of Isaac’s birth tells us that God won’t be mocked, but to me it makes more sense to say that the strength of God’s laughter and joy won’t be stopped.
P.S. Blogger apparently doesn't support the slashed-O character in Kierkegaard's first name. My apologies to my legions of Danish-, Finnish- and Norwegian-speaking readers.