In one of Gary Larson’s classic cartoons, there is a picture of two spiders perched on top of a guard rail at the bottom of a slide in a children’s playground. They have just finished their greatest project ever by weaving a giant web across the bottom of the slide. One spider says to the other, “If we pull this off, we’ll eat like kings.”
But we all know that’s an impossibility, don’t we? As any rational, thinking person knows, the force of even the smallest object coming down that slide is no match for a flimsy little web and the best that the spiders are likely to get is a child’s shriek seconds before they are catapulted to the other side of the playground.
But what happens when that thinking finds its way into the realm of faith? Karl Barth, an influential theologian in the 20th century once made an interesting observation. He said we often reduce “reality” to that which fits our idea of the “possible” which, according to the requirements of modern reason, is defined by our best scientific learning, our most trusted experience, our best logic, and our most advanced technological capacity. By that reckoning most of what takes place in the bible and throughout church history is impossible. It simply could not happen.
An impossible birth
That brings us to our story of Abraham and Sarah. As we open Genesis chapter 18, we find Abraham setting in the shade of his tent. He looks up and sees three visitors standing in front of him. As the passage unfolds, we learn these are not ordinary men but heavenly visitors – one of which is the Lord himself.
Abrahams moves immediately into action. The sleepy community is suddenly awakened as Abraham move everyone into high gear, going from tent to tent giving orders, preparing a good spread for his guests. During the course of this meal, the conversation turns and they ask him, “Where is your wife Sarah?”
He replies, “There, in the tent”.
And then like a bolt from the blue that immediately identifies this visitor to Abraham, the Lord says, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” (Gen 18:10)
That voice that Abraham heard in the past that the Lord would bless him and make his name great; that voice that told him to look up into the sky and count the stars – so shall your descendants be, that voice that declared “your name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham for I will make you a father of many nations,” he was now hearing again. And Abraham realized it was from the same source. This was– the great El Shaddai – the Almighty God speaking to him again. And he was assuring Abraham that he would keep his covenant promise and that it would be by his supernatural power he would give Sarah the child that for so many years she had longed for.
Meanwhile, Sarah is in her tent listening. She hears this statement from the Lord, and she laughs. Now there is nothing wrong with laughter. Laughter is a gift from God. And there would be nothing wrong with Sarah laughing – if that laughter was prompted by the thought of, “Oh my, the God of heaven is able to do with a simple word what has been impossible for us to do over all these years. Isn’t that marvellous; isn’t he great?”
But it becomes very evident as we read on, that it is a very different kind of laughter coming from Sarah. It was not joy and wonder at what God can do, but as the Lord reveals, it is the laughter of unbelief. “A 90-year-old post-menopausal woman is going to give birth, is she? Now I’ve heard it all.”
And perhaps it is all the more significant that no one heard her laugh except the Lord. She laughed – note what verse 12 tells us, to herself. This was a silent laugh, in her heart. She does not know that on the other side of the tent is one who knows her very thoughts.
You cannot hide anything from the Lord my friends. He reveals the secrets of our hearts. His Word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword – able to penetrate into the deepest part of our being and judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). And this same living Word speaks to Abraham in Sarah’s hearing and says, “Why did Sarah laugh?” Can you imagine her shame and guilt as the thoughts of her heart is exposed and her unbelief is uncovered? And then following this comes those wonderful words, “Is anything impossible for the Lord?”
It is the question before each and every one of us, isn’t it? God is urging Sarah to believe that nothing is impossible for him, and he is urging us to believe the same. Perhaps you are in a difficult situation right now. You can’t see a resolution. From a human perspective, there is no hope. Do you think that is too difficult for God to solve? Perhaps you are in a marriage, where there is tension and conflict. You have experienced over the years an accumulation of hurt and unforgiveness to the point there appears to be no hope of a resolution. My friend, the Lord says to you today, “You don’t think I am big enough for this? Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”
The bible tells us that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He created the atom in its microscopic form, with electrons flying around a nucleus in perfect harmony. He created the human body with all of its various systems: the circulatory system, the nervous system, the skeletal system, the digestive system, the muscular system, the respiratory system, and somehow all of these systems work in harmony to make up a physical living human being. And He did it using nothing but dirt. He created the UY Scuti, the largest star in the known universe. It has a circumference of 7.5 billion km. To put that in perspective, it would take you 950 years to fly around it in a commercial airliner.
And you imagine that you have some little problem in your life that God can’t deal with, some impossible situation that is too big for him to handle? How easily we can allow our understanding to place restrictions on what we think God can do! How often we limit Him by assuming that some things are too hard or simply “impossible.” We easily can forget that God has no limitations.
Ben Patterson speaks powerfully to our current day when he says,
“Is anything too hard for God?” That is an overwhelming and shattering question. It demands an answer. Answer yes and the world is shut down, the universe is closed, and God is no longer God: benevolent, maybe; kindly and concerned, perhaps; but as powerless as we are in the face of our cosmic incongruity. Answer “No, there is nothing that is too hard for God,” and you and the world are in his hands and the possibilities are endless. He is radically free to keep his promises, despite the odds against it.”
There is a happy ending to this story. The Lord’s rebuke worked. It brought Sarah to faith. We read in chapter 11 of Hebrews:
“By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the one who had promised was faithful.” (Hebrews 11:11)
Sarah came face to face with her sin of unbelief. She heard God’s Word and took it to heart. A short time later, the impossible happened: a child was conceived in her womb. Her laughter of cynicism and doubt was replaced with the laugher of joy when Isaac was born. In fact, Isaac’s very name means “he laughs.” God has a way of turning our sin and unbelief into something good – that which brings praise to him and joy to us. He is the one who has the last laugh, so to speak, and we get to laugh with joy with him.
When you are struggling in life, when your faith is failing and, in your heart, you think all is lost and there is no hope, remember God’s question, “Is anything too difficult for Me?” and trust Him to do what is humanly impossible. He is able to far beyond what we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20).
This post is based on a message from a series on the life of Abraham. You can listen to that message here