Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Squeezed

Sometimes I wonder about Sarah.

How many years did she wander with that man, traipsing through deserts, being disowned as Abraham's sister so that he could feel secure ("Who, her? My sister, my sister! Not my wife! Certainly, she can join your harem...just don't kill me"). How many girls did she grow into womanhood with, watching them get pregnant and give birth, one after another, until eventually she just counted herself out of the game? I wonder if her lack of children ever caused her to doubt her own authority as "head wife" among all the other women they traveled with. I wonder if her childless state inspired her friends' pity, and if that pissed her off.

Sometimes, my heart aches for her. I mean, how forgotten she must have felt. Maybe not in every way, but over and over again, watching and waiting in so many ways.

And then the three strangers showed up. And they said that God would bless her with children.

And she laughed.

And I wonder about the conversation between Sarah and Abraham after that. Just today, I was discussing "characterization" with my freshmen, and we were talking about the different ways by which an author reveals character and how we figure out who a character in a book really was through direct and indirect characterization.

First, we find in Genesis 18:6, Abraham rushing back inside the tent to tell Sarah to "Quick, get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread." QUICK! I would be thinking, "I like how you're telling me exactly what to do. Haven't I made six thousand loaves of bread?" Anyway, at this point, we can't really infer anything about her character (when I say "character" here, I'm talking about the person who is in this role-- I recognize that she was real) -- it's mostly about Abraham's response to the visitors. Still, I see her scurrying around, muttering, maybe, about how he was always rushing her and freaking out about stuff and worrying and she's pounding out the bread and putting it in the oven (Bible scholars, you'll forgive my looooose interpretation of her historic activities here).

But verse 10 is where we get some indirect characterization regarding Sarah. The Lord (one of the visitors?) says, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"

Oh, dear Sarah girl. Did she chuckle ironically, shaking her head back and forth with a sad smile on her face? Or did she giggle like a little girl, covering her mouth with her hand and wondering, "Oh God, could it be?" Or was she bitter, laughing a little sardonically, remembering all of the prayers she had wept before the Lord in her youth, thinking of how much she would have loved to have been a young mother?

But the Lord knew her heart, and perhaps some of what we understand about that heart we can infer through the Lord's words:

(v. 13) The the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”


(v. 15) Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

I know that the passage says that she was afraid, but I think that fear can be manifest in different ways and for different reasons. For instance, I'm a little unclear about who is doing the talking here-- did Sarah lie to the Lord (one of the three strangers) when she said she didn't laugh? Was she afraid that she had offended Him and realized that she didn't need to question what He said so she laughed nervously? Maybe. But what if her fears were just so much more complicated?

If we were assigned the task to figure this character out in the context of this passage, I might say that she was a good woman-- the men of God wanted to bless her with something she's longing for. We can assume that she had their favor. But I might add that it takes serious guts to straight up lie to God about what you know He saw or heard. Guts or just years worth of hiding what you really feel every day.
I don't know.

I love that whether she laughed sardonically or innocently or happily or nervously, the Lord did just what He said. I like, too, that He still did it even though she tried to force her own will when her unbelief kicked in so hard. It says so much more about who He is: calm, steady, determined, forgiving, and dedicated to what He has intended all along, no matter what we do or think or say to screw things up.

He is able to do what He wills and He is able to redeem what we mess up.

I like ol' Sarah. I can't wait to meet her one day. And I'm really interested to see what that whole situation looked like. I wonder what the Lord wanted to teach us through her story. That He will interupt our busy schedules to drop in and make miraculous promises? And that He hears our whispered unbelief and but remains committed to us and His plan?

Hm. Must think more on this...

1 comment:

Heidi said...

Love this. Just started a study with some friends, one of whom is a brand new baby christian girl. :)

When asked about a hero from the bible I immediately thought of Sara. Because she did laugh. And because God didn't condemn her for it. Because His faithfulness is not hindered by our broken and battered ideal of what we believe faith should look like but is made manifest even when we only have the tiniest shred of Truth to hold on to.

Bless you! :)