Newsletter June 2017
A building for a name
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. 3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. 4 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:1-4)
This story of the Tower of Babel reveals to us humankind’s desire to be one. The people in the story are able to communicate with each other and therefore to agree with each other and make plans as a group. Their concern is that they might be scattered abroad and lose their sense of community.
We were created for community. When God made Adam, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone” and gave him woman, made of his own flesh and bone. (Gen. 2:23) Adam and Eve were one, as they enjoyed God’s presence and the blessings that issued from it. There was no lack in the garden and life could have continued eternally in that way. However, Adam and Eve were also united in their disobedience, as they succumbed to the temptation (Gen. 3:5) to be like God, knowing good and evil – i.e. making their own decisions independent of God. Consequently, they lost their fellowship with God and the resulting blessings, and before long envy and selfish desire led to the fist murder in history (Genesis 4:8). The first family community was destroyed.
In the story of the Tower of Babel, we see humankind’s innate desire for unity and community, but we also see the original sin of Adam repeated. Instead of turning to God, they wanted to reach heaven themselves and make a name for themselves. They had the resources required for this task and they were of one mind and one language, so they could work together to accomplish it. However, they left God out of the picture, and He came down to confound their plans by confusing their language.
As a result of original sin, our society is dominated by human ambitions. Like in this story, the quest for our own greatness manifests itself through celebrity culture and a one-sided focus on personal achievement and material success at the expense of a living relationship with God. Even religious endeavours are far too often motivated by a desire to make a name for ourselves by being the most popular church, having the greatest ministry, rather than by a desire to glorify God. In the value system of this world, prominence and recognition seem more important than faithful service to God and others. Yet when things fall apart, as they did in Babel, because we have left God out of the picture, we find ourselves in the very place that we had tried to avoid – scattered and left with nothing but a pile of rubble.
As we consider history, we find that human efforts to create unity have usually been based on oppression. Strong leaders unite a group of people at the expense of others. Nations conquer and rule over other nations. Political ideologies dominate and oppress those who oppose their ideas. After the horrors of two World Wars and the Holocaust, efforts were made to bring peace and unity instead through new institutions such as the UN and the EU. Nonetheless, we seem more divided today than ever before – nation against nation, ideology against ideology, social group against social group and ethnic background against ethnic background. Many are again crying out for strong leadership, and it will come as the Bible foretells – in the form of the Antichrist. Yet, one final time, God will confound human attempts to create a unity without His presence. While humankind endeavours to make a name for itself, JESUS will return to confound its efforts and establish His everlasting kingdom of peace. Are you on His side? Is He at the centre of your life? Are you looking eagerly for His return? He alone has the name which is above every other name. Therefore let us not strive for our own greatness but rather, as living stones, be built up a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5), a dwelling place of God’s presence. (Eph. 2:22) Pastor Konrad