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Fall 1989    Vol. 18 No. 2    pp. 95–102 

Faith in the Face of Doubt, Genesis 18 (Sermon)

John Unger

Here is a question for all those who are 12 years old and younger. How many of you have seen the movie, “The Princess Bride”? And now, just so that the rest of you don’t feel cheated, what about those who are over 12?

. . . something like having a big party.

“The Princess Bride” is a child’s fairytale about a beautiful princess

who falls in love with a handsome young man

but before they can get married
the beautiful princess is kidnapped
by a scheming, bald little man and his two friends,

the slow but good-hearted giant
and the Italian sword fighter.

And while these kidnappers are trying to get away,
the bald little man keeps saying his favorite word,
“Inconceivable!”

And every time he says it we laugh, why?

Because every time he thinks something is

“absolutely, totally, and in every other way completely inconceivable” it actually happens. {96}

But when God makes a promise to Sarah and Sarah says (if you’ll pardon a terrible pun),

“Inconceivable”

we didn’t laugh.

Why not?

Because she was right.

I. In fact, Sarah did laugh, and Abraham laughed,

They laughed because the thing God promised was hopelessly impossible.

Sarah laughed,

because at the age of 90 she had

long ago finished crying.

How many years was it?

Probably not long after they were married

she began to be afraid that something was wrong.

Month after month, year after year

she and Abraham loved and were loved

and in the morning she would wonder,

“Could it be that God is answering our prayers?

Maybe this year (just maybe) God’s promise will come true.

Perhaps now is the time when I will bear the promised child.”

But it never was.

And then came midlife and Sarah didn’t wonder any more.
She knew then that she would never have a son.

And we can imagine Sarah as she would go about her work as usual

as if nothing were the matter, but inside she was crying,

and sometimes, if you looked closely,

you might notice her eyes filling with tears.

But those days were long past.

Sarah didn’t cry anymore.

So when the Lord came again to renew the promise

that she would have a son,

Sarah only laughed.

Actually, the previous chapter tells us that Abraham laughed too,

only he covered up a little better

so that he said one thing to God {97}

while he was saying something else to himself.

Sarah and Abraham laughed because God’s timing was all off.

It is something like having a big party

and you want to put on some special music,

so you look for your favorite record or tape,
but even though you search for it all evening you can’t remember where you put it.

And then finally you find it. . .
but it is too late
because the party is over
and everyone has gone home.

“There’s no point in playing that music now, Lord.
Don’t bother.
We don’t need any more promises now.
Can’t you see? It’s too late.
(After all, Abraham is 99. Sarah is 90.)

“Enough already with your promises, Lord.
The party is over.”

“Besides;” says Abraham,
“we made do with what we had.
We found other music.
Look! Take Ishmael here! Isn’t he a fine young man?

“Mind you, he wasn’t quite what we had hoped for,
but we learned to live with less.
After a while we got used to it
and it wasn’t so bad.

“At our age, Lord, we’re too old to start something new.

Life hasn’t been everything we hoped for,
but let’s just say

‘That’s how life is, sometimes,’

and let it go at that.”

All this does not mean that Abraham and Sarah had lost their faith in God.

In fact, we are clearly told

that Abraham had a very close relationship with God.

So close, in fact, that God appeared to him
and asked him and all other males
to be circumcised as a SIGN of that close relationship,

—that bond

—that covenant

between them.

And at age 99, Abraham obeyed. {98}

This was no shallow faith.
Abraham was a firm believer in God.
Long ago he had committed himself to walking with God

in obedience

for the rest of his life.

That commitment still stood.

Sarah also had faith.
After she laughed, the Lord challenged her,

“Why did Sarah laugh?
IS ANYTHING TOO HARD FOR THE LORD?”

The way the question is asked makes the answer obvious, (and Sarah would agree)

NO, OF COURSE NOT.

Nothing is too hard.

God can do anything.

Abraham and Sarah believed that.
But after a lifetime of disappointment,

a lifetime of barrenness

they laughed

and denied laughing.

II. Let’s leave Abraham and Sarah for a moment.

Our scene changes.

We move now to another time altogether, and another house.

As we get closer, we hear all kinds of excitement.

Everyone is laughing

and talking

and trying to listen all at once.

Were you there when. . .? Don’t you remember. . .
When did you see him. . .? That’s amazing!
Who told you first. . .? I still can’t believe it!

Everyone is sharing the excitement
except one person.

Thomas is sitting off to the side,
looking awfully depressed.

He has good reason to feel that way:
—his best friend died just a few days ago.

Now there are few things worse than feeling really “down”
while everyone else is enjoying the party.

So while others celebrate,
he gets even more depressed, {99}
until finally he can’t stand it any longer,
and he bursts out,

“How can you all be so happy?
Have you no idea what’s going on?
Get in touch with reality, folks!
He’s dead!
. . .Can’t you understand that?”

And the others said,
“No, he’s not dead.
We saw him. He’s alive! He was here!”

And Thomas said,
“I doubt it.”

In our society we learn early in life to be skeptical.
We tell our children,

Don’t believe everything you hear or see.
Just because you read it in a book doesn’t make it true.
And especially don’t buy from someone who says
“This special price is effective only tonight.”

But this is not the kind of doubt Thomas experienced.
Yes, Thomas doubted,
but he was not a skeptic.

Thomas believed in Jesus.
He had left everything to follow him.
When many others decided to leave, Thomas stayed,
and when Jesus asked the twelve,

“Do you want to go too?”
Thomas agreed with Peter,
“Lord to whom shall we go?
You have the words of life.
We believe and know that you are the holy One of God.”

Thomas believed,
and that was why his despair was so deep
when it all ended on the cross.

Thomas’s doubt came from a strong faith
that had been shaken at its very core

smashed into pieces
by an insane trial
and a death that mocked everything that was fair and just.

And when Jesus cried,
“My God, why have you forsaken me?” {100}
Thomas felt forsaken too.

Thomas believed, and doubted.

III. There is still another time, and another house.

A house where a crowd of people are coming together,

laughing and waving
shaking hands and hugging.

And singing. Yes, singing!

And the song goes,
“Standing, standing!
I’m standing on the promises of God!”

But there’s an Abraham in church who
even as he sings the words
imagines what Tevye, the old man in Fiddler on the Roof might think?

“OF COURSE God can!
But He doesn’t, does he?
So how is that supposed to help me?”

And then the pastor prays,
“Our loving heavenly Father. . .”
and a teenage daughter or son tries hard
but cannot imagine what a loving father would be like because last night. . .

dad was abusive again.

And then there’s another song,
“Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see!”

And the Abrahams and the Sarahs and the Thomases sing along with the rest,
but they know they can’t make that big payment on Thursday.
They know they failed their midterm exam.

And their thoughts turn once again to their aging parents, their youngest child,

or a distant friend.

And by now we know who the Abrahams and the Sarahs and the Thomases are.

They are all of us!

Our name is Sarah,
for we too live with barrenness,
and wonder why God has not heard our prayers!

Our name is Abraham, {101}
for we too have made our deals with life,

our little compromises.

We too have learned to live with less

and to be satisfied with Ishmaels.

Our name is Thomas,
for who is there among us

who has not felt a crushing loss or disappointment?

And yet. . .and yet,
we believe.
Yes! We believe!

But when we think again about our barrenness
we doubt
and laugh
and deny laughing.

We hear God’s promise, and we see our lives

and they don’t fit.
How can we possibly hold them together?
when they stand so far apart?

And so we ask ourselves,
After a lifetime of barrenness, is there still hope?
After three days of death, can there be new life?

And we answer, with that poor father of the gospels,
“Lord, I believe!
Help my unbelief!”

The miracle, of course, is that
even though Abraham and Sarah were old,
even though she was barren,
and even though they laughed, and denied laughing,

a year later God visited them,
and they had a son!

The miracle is that
even though Thomas doubted,
and even though he declared his doubt

with all the anger and pain of a shattered faith,

a week later Jesus came to him,

and showed him his hands and side.

Brothers and sisters, the miracle is that
in spite of all the evidence that points otherwise,
in spite of all our laughs and denials, bargains or doubts,
in a little while Christ will come to us
and in him all God’s promises will be “Yes!” {102}
fulfilled beyond our highest dreams and deepest prayers.

And then we will bow,
and worship,
and with all the other Abrahams and Sarahs and Thomases
cry out,

“My Lord and my God.”

Pastor John Unger, a 1989 graduate of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, is pastor at Richmond Park Mennonite Brethren Church in Brandon, Manitoba.

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