Laughing at God
Readings of the Good Book
I have this insidious temptation sometimes to seek out a Bible Thumpers Camp and start reading passages from the Good Book. My rationale? I just don’t think they’ve read the darn thing. This might just be a stereotype of mine informed by the ever knowledgeable, completely accurate media that always hits non majority and majority groups right on the nail. Although Christianity has a bad rap so far for beating people over the head with this book (another downfall of Guttenburg’s printing press) and some Christians perpetuate this negative stereotype by continuing this practice (just imagine what will become of them when the Bible becomes solely an electronic entity. Will they then resort to laptops?), I can’t help but mourn the sad reality that many people are walking away from a fascinating work of literature with the wrong idea.
They think it condemns homosexuality…but they haven’t read the part about God speaking against his people who fail to plead for the cause of the oppressed. They think it becomes a moral code by which to live by…but they miss the part where Jesus exonerates the prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners as having found the gate to heaven (and the religious ones of his day were sadly left clueless). But those are the virtuous reasons to read the work. We haven’t gotten into the naughty reasons one should read “The Good Book.” Besides sex, murder and cannibalism found within such a work (oh, yes, there is cannibalism), it is quite fascinating to see that God/people relationship…and all the problems that ensue.
A religion teacher once suggested that the Old Testament read more like a soap opera. And it does! Sometimes, I think the Old Testament would be more accessible if it were written as a dialog between a couple in marriage counseling. I would have to further that notion of soap opera and say that at times, it’s more scandalous than Jerry Springer. But you can never tell a Bible Thumper that. Or, to be fair, you could never tell the kind of Bible Thumper that is more interested in using the book for power than for personal growth. I’m certain there are some Bible Thumpers that would be quite willing to act out some bits of Ezekiel with me if I begged (more moments of scandalous nudity would then ensue on top of the conviction people would have that the religious nuts were taking more than just wine at the service).
To be quite blunt, I’m fairly fond of this book known as the Bible that has the great misfortune of being so misused throughout history to push down other groups of people (and I really don’t think the Good Book endorses such actions). Why do I like this work? Perhaps it’s just that notion of God speaking out of an ass that has me compelled. Or the spectacular feats of destruction attributed to God (who makes a woman on PMS look like a tame kitten). Or the way things go horribly, abysmally wrong. Just look up Lot and you’ll see how. Among other things. But for now, I would like to share just one story that to the grave detriment of our society, ought to be thought about and discussed more just because of the amazing implications it has. Simply put, it’s the kind of story that makes it almost religious to laugh at God.
Past Times with a Patriarch
Herein lies the brief, summed up story of Aberham as told from my perspective. Aberham has that experience in which God makes a promise to him about making a great nation come forth from him. Aberham leaves where he’s from, gets older, makes another pact with God (back then, it was a covenant and those things are more binding than those so called sports contracts athletes find ways to wriggle out of) and still sees no results. No kids. No kids means no nation. No nation means no valid promise. No promise means he’s just a fool who drank the kool aide. Oh, and by the way, he had already changed his name from Abram (meaning “high father”) to Abraham (meaning “father of a multitude of nations”). The text never says that he’s the laughing stock of his community, but one has to wonder about the reactions he received at that statement. Especially when he and his wife get to that stage where they both are really, really old. Only by this time, they both have complicated matters by trying to have a kid from Sarah’s woman servant Hagar. Having been married to one man for a little less than a year, I don’t even want to imagine what that triangular relationship was like. Not pretty.
Well past the age of child rearing, God finally declares to Abram that he will have a child. Finally! Abram’s response? Keep in mind that this is the Patriarch, the big Cahuna, the man himself. And the patriarch responds by…yep, you guessed it, laughter. Now, the text of Genesis doesn’t describe the angel’s reaction to Abram’s laughter, but I’ve always wondered what that moment would have been like. How did the angel or God think about such laughter? Because I always imagine that the God in this moment in the text is so lofty that he doesn’t understand humor or laughter. At this point in time, I imagine God’s reaction to be like some humans who also take things too seriously and forget to laugh.
And while I might be wrong on this point, I can’t help but point out to another part in the text to defend my theory on God. Because when Sarah hears the same announcement about God, she also responds by laughing. Only this time, God doesn’t just stand there and take it. He calls her out on that laughter. What follows is a dialog that is eerily reminiscent of two five year olds on a playground: You did too laugh! I did not! Did too! You’re a big fat liar! Oh yeah, well you’re just a big meanie! Okay, I guess the text is a little more sophisticated than that, but I can’t help but wonder why God called out Sarah for laughing and not Abraham. Did he just not like Sarah? Was he slightly confused by the humor that Abraham found? I don’t know. But I can only imagine.
What Abraham's Laughter Reveals
Now, I think there is something of a disconnect between this story and me. First of all, I don’t know what it’s like to want a child and never have one. I’m still at that point where I think baby and an image of Diaper Genie replete with 10 capsules of exhaustion pops into my head. Recently, a friend of mine who thought she couldn’t get pregnant found out she was expecting. And I’m insanely stoked for her because she really wants to have a kid. But I don’t know what it’s like to feel that ache for a kid that might never come. Yet while I might not understand that specific part of the story, I still have my own private longings for those sacred entities (which shall remain nameless) that never seem to come. I still feel that lingering sense of wanting that thing so much that desperation seems like the most logical sanity. I still have this sense of thinking that God just didn’t seem to care much about that unfulfilled yearning.
When discussing Abraham in the context of the religious setting, people will often admire his stalwart faith. Having experienced enough doubt to sink 12 Titanics, I’ve decided that I admire him and Sarah for their laughter. Just imagine the pain they had to go through before they finally had a child. Especially considering the time they were in. Not having a child would be akin to not having a job. But on top of the pain that many people can relate to on not being able to have a child, they have that other layer of difficulty: the belief that God would give them a child. Some people might read that as a reason to have hope and a kind of spiritual boon, but I can’t say that it is. Is there not some pain in believing something that never seems to materialize?
Even on a non spiritual plane, this happens. Going to college with the conviction that you’ll get a good job and then finding out you have a sack load of debt and are working at a job that doesn’t pay much. Working harder at a job because you think you’ll get that raise, only to find the boss has engaged in the fine practice of nepotism and all the money is going to the shmuck. Training hard because you might have a shot at the Olympics only to come in fourth or burn out in the first round. Isn’t Aberham in some sense the story of every person who has followed that crazy hope and succumbed to a conviction that this path would lead to the fulfillment of a desire, however impossible it might seem?
What happens then in the moments when the dream doesn’t materialize? As Langston Hughes once asked, “What happens to a raisin in the sun?” It would be so easy to become embittered and jaded. Maybe even more so if you’re religious. Because it can be so easy to shout at the sky and demand from an invisible being a compensation for having done right. A friend of Forest Gump’s expresses his rage. So does Patch Adams in the movie. To have a dream and watch it fall apart…to hold something so tightly for so long and then watch everything come unraveled…is that not the recipe for falling apart? Proverbs even nods at this trend. “A hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Pr. 13:12).
Returning to Abraham’s laughter: it’s quite amazing that he does laugh. Because while he might have had reason to become embittered and frustrated by this longing, he doesn’t. Not according to the text anyway. He opts instead for that moment in which, when so close to his dream of having a child, he can laugh. Laugh despite the painful road he must have traveled. Laugh despite the best-intentioned errors he made. Laugh despite the pressingly real possibility that he might never be a father. For that matter, for the road he’s been on, he can even find the strength to laugh at God (which consequently is very different from how he acted with God when trying to save Sodom and Gomorrah many years ago. He was a lot more hesitant back then). And for that matter, isn’t the situation somewhat ludicrous? Whoever heard of 90 year olds having kids?
In conclusion, I must admit that as someone who studies and thinks, life doesn’t always conform to how I think it should run. For that matter, neither does God. The scary part is that I’m beginning to think that “God” is like a stray dog I must tame so as to keep in my house. While I remain skeptical of religions, there seems to me something somewhat dangerous in this inclination of mine to think I should train God. But really, the possibility just opens up so many worlds. Yet as that might never be the case, I must conclude by taking a leaf out of Abraham and Sarah’s book. Laughing at God just sounds like more fun.
Funny Reading of the Good Book
The Real Patch Adams
A Conversation with God in Song
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