Thought For The OPEN Mind - Humor From American Culture!
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The Incongruity Theory of FaithMost of us associate laughter with humor. We've all experienced theside-splitting guffaw in response to a good joke, a funny story, or to anembarrassing moment. But gelotologists, scientists who study laughter,suggest another trigger point altogether. This trigger is formally calledthe incongruity theory for laughter. The theory suggests that laughterarises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don'tnormally go together; when we expect one outcome and another happens. Generally speaking, our minds and bodies anticipate what's going to happenand how it's going to end based on logical thought, emotion, and our pastexperience. But when circumstances go in unexpected directions, ourthoughts and emotions suddenly have to switch gears and laughter emergesout of the tension between what we expect and what actuallyhappens.Now as I thought about the incongruity theory of laughter, I wondered ifit might shed light on the nature of faith, particularly as it relates tothe biblical story of Sarah and her laughter at God's promise of childrenin Genesis 18:11-15. I've always been amazed that the letter of Hebrewscounts Sarah among the faithful in the "hall of faith." Sarah, we're toldby the author, is one of the faithful witnesses because she "received theability to conceive by faith, even beyond the proper time of life sinceshe considered God faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11:11). Manycommentators, and perhaps most of us, see Sarah's laughter at God'spromise as evidence of a lack of faith. Perhaps we see a lack of faithbecause we have difficulty believing that faith can be found in the gapbetween what we expect, and what actually happens, or that faith neverdoubts, nor questions, nor struggles with the seeming incongruities oflife. On one level, Sarah's laughter does indicate a level of disbelief. Andfrankly, who can blame her? Who wouldn't laugh at the promise of a childto someone barren and long beyond the childbearing years? But I alsobelieve Sarah's laughter contains a glimmer of faith--faith that is reallyfound in incongruity--in holding together belief and disbelief in theface of incongruent circumstances and situations. God's promise to Abraham and Sarah that they would indeed have a childfrom whom God would "make a great nation" seems too good to be true. Godtells them one thing, but Sarah's experience tells her another--age alonemade it physically impossible to bear children! And so Sarah laughed whenGod came calling that day. She laughs out loud! And I'm certain herlaughter was filled with the tension between disbelief, incredulity,doubt, and that tiny glimmer of hope beyond hope that what God was saying,despite all she knew to the contrary, was the truth. Sarah's story helps us to see that faith is the tension between belief andunbelief. For long before, when the Lord first made this promise toAbraham, the text tells us that Abraham "believed God and it was countedas righteousness." Twenty-five years transpire after this initialdeclaration of faith, twenty-five years of barrenness, and futile attemptsto have children in other ways, and twenty-five years of God seemingsilent, of not making good on what was promised. So, when you look atwhat it meant for Abraham and Sarah to believe God, it meant taking ajourney--of following God in faith, even when God did not clearly showthem the way. Abraham and Sarah believed God, but that belief was notabsolute certainty. It was a journey filled with tension between what wasexpected, and what actually happened. Sarah's story shows us that the laughter of faith is the laughter ofincongruity. But ultimately, like Sarah and Abraham, real faith casts uswholeheartedly upon the God who is free to act and to do as God wants, inGod's time, and in God's way. Faith is the ability to answer "yes" to theGod for whom nothing is impossible, even when our lives tell us the answeris "no." More than this, faith is not dependent on us but is rooted inthe God who time and time again proves faithful. The apostle Paul affirmsthis idea as he re-tells the Abraham and Sarah story in his letter to theRomans: "That promise God gave Abraham and Sarah...was not given because ofsomething they did or didn't do....[I]t was based on God's decision to puteverything together for them. As we throw open our doors to God, wediscover at the same moment that God has already thrown open the door forus."(1)And just like that, the doors open and God gets the last laugh. Isaac isborn. Isaac's name means "one who laughs." And Sarah declares in thelaughter of faith: "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears willlaugh with me!" (Genesis 21:6). Margaret Manning is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias InternationalMinistries in Atlanta, Georgia.(1) Romans 4 as translated in The Message.------------------------------------------------------------------- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)"A Slice of Infinity" is aimed at reaching into the culture with words ofchallenge, words of truth, and words of hope. If you know of others whowould enjoy receiving "A Slice of Infinity" in their email box each day,tell them they can sign up on our website athttp://www.rzim.org/slice/slice.php. 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