Laughter by Abidan Shah, PhD

MAN OF PROMISE – LAUGHTER by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Everybody has a sense of humor. According to Prof. Rod Martin, author of The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach, there are 4 different senses of humor: Affiliative, Self-Enhancing, Aggressive, and Self-defeating. The first one (Affiliative) has to do with telling jokes or witty statements to put others at ease and even like us. The second one (Self-Enhancing) has to do with a humorous outlook on life and situations, sort of a coping mechanism. The third one (Aggressive) has to do with sarcasm, teasing, ridicule, and put-downs that doesn’t care how someone feels. The fourth one (Self-defeating) does or says funny things at the expense of self, kind of a class clown. In today’s message in our series called MAN OF PROMISE, we will see what kind of humor Abram and Sarai had in dealing with some difficult situations in their life. Today’s message is subtitled “LAUGHTER.” Main point: Life has a way of stealing our joy and laughter. In many lives and homes, things have happened that have turned off the switch of genuine laughter. With God’s grace, true joy and laughter can return in those lives. Jesus reminds us to “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

Genesis 17:17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

Context: It had been thirteen years since the Hagar incident. If you remember from last weekend, Sarai had taken matters into her own hands and given Hagar, her maidservant, to Abram. Now Ishmael, the son born through the misguided attempt of Sarai, the helpless involvement of Hagar, and the complacent heeding of Abram, was 13 years old. Abram was 99 years of age, and Sarai was 89. Imagine how this household must have looked like. Gone were the days of joy and oneness between Abram and Sarai. Now there was only resentment and quiet blame shifting. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but if they were ordinary human beings like us, then there was only silence and occasional sarcasm left. Gone were the days of joy and laughter in this home. By the way, genuine laughter is a good measure of a happy home. In many homes and families, things have happened that have turned off the switch of genuine laughter. Now, there may be an occasional chuckle, but it goes away as soon as it starts. Now, the laugher takes the form of a snicker. It is painful at best and scornful at worst. What many don’t realize is that it is very difficult to laugh when the heart is heavy. It is very difficult to laugh where there are broken relationships, unresolved hurts, and unforgiveness. Some may even pretend to laugh with a fake, goofy, and exaggerated laughter, but it’s not real; they know and so does everybody else. It is a vain attempt to convince one’s self and others that you’re doing great when you’re really not. By the way, much research has been done in the area of humor over the past 50-60 years. I talked about the four kinds of sense of humor, but there’s more. According to psychologist Patricia Keith-Spiegel, there are eight major theories on “Why we laugh”: Biological, Superiority, Incongruity, Surprise, Ambivalence, Release, Configurational, and Psychoanalytical. I don’t have time to go into all of them, but the ones that stand out for our message are:

  • Incongruity (Uncommon mixtures of relations)
  • Surprise (Shock and unexpectedness)
  • Ambivalence (Laughter that covers up our guilt or foolish errors)
  • Release (A voluntary reduction of stress and tension)
  • Configurational (So that’s how it works)

With this knowledge in mind, let’s look at the 3 accounts in Genesis where Abram and Sarai laughed:

1st Laughter:

Genesis 17      1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. 2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. 

Name change: Abram meant either “He is exalted as to his father” or “the father is exalted.” Both refer to his noble birth. Now, it will be Abraham, which literally means “Father of a multitude.” It is connected to “Avhamon” to mean “the father of a multitude of nations.”

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” 9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; Clarification: Circumcision was practiced earlier, but it would have a new meaning for God’s people.

Now there’s a shift towards Sarai. Genesis 17      15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. Name change: Sarai = my princess; Sarah = the princess. 16 And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, (Yitzchak) and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” This was a Laughter of Incongruity (Uncommon mixtures of relations). I would call it a Laughter of Unbelief. Abram even tries to help God out. 18And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” 19 Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.

Application: Do you have the laughter of unbelief?

2nd Laughter:

Genesis 18       1 Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, These are 2 angels and the pre-incarnate Christ. 3 and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. 4 Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.” Notice the haste and vigor that came into this man’s heart. Hope brings life, and it is not depended on age. In many lives and homes, the absence of hope has killed life.

 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. 8 So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate. They are on an important mission: Sodom and Gomorrah, but there is a message for this aged couple. Genesis 18       9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” So he said, “Here, in the tent.” 10 And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. 12 Therefore Sarah laughed (Yitzchak) within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh!” This was a laughter of Ambivalence (Laughter that covers up our guilt or foolish errors). I would also call it a Laughter of Cynicism and Pessimism.

Application: Do you have the laughter of cynicism and pessimism?

I don’t have the time to get into Genesis 20 where Abraham once again lies to Abimelech, King of Gerar, about Sarah being his sister. 

Principle: You are never too old to do dumb things! 

3rd Laughter:

Genesis 21       1 And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.

Romans 4      17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

Genesis 21        2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, (Yitzchak) and all who hear will laugh with me.” 7 She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” This was a laughter of Incongruity (Uncommon mixtures of relations), Surprise (Shock and unexpectedness), Release (A voluntary reduction of stress and tension), and Configurational (So that’s how it works).

Invitation: Did you ever have the laughter of incongruity, surprise, release, and configuration? With God you will one day! Trust his promises. Hebrews 11       11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 

Are you saved? Heaven is laughter forever. Are you going there?

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