Tower | Genesis 11.1-9
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Genesis 11:1-9 | ESV
“Do you think what happened at Babel was a curse?” The question caught me by surprise. There I sat with 24 eager young minds, listening to a discussion about text and context, subtext and pretext, along with high- and low-context cultures, totally loving every minute of it. Then comes the question to me as visiting “pastor type.” “Do you think what happened at Babel was a curse?” I honestly hadn’t thought of the judgment at Babel that way. Think about it. If we were cursed with different languages leading to different cultures and tribes, customs and traditions, waiting for Pentecost to undo it all, where would that leave us? What would that say about God? No, I said. That’s not the point of the story. Diversity of culture and color and custom and language were not a curse or an afterthought on God’s part. It was one of the ultimate fruits of his direction for humanity to fill the earth. As one Hebraist has pointed out, the Hebrew word we translate “create” in Genesis literally means to “make fat.” The God of Genesis 1 “fattened” creation with a huge, swirling, swarming diversity of creatures and critters. One basic model simply wouldn’t do. The Creator entity at the center of all things thrives on diversity of shape, size and form. He was no Henry Ford. If anyone is prone to boring sameness it is a humanity that has lost touch with the Creator heart and thrives instead on homogeneity and sameness. One tongue. One speech. One culture. One party. One religion. One tower. Yay. Can you pass the Grey Poupon? Seen in this light, Babel becomes a judgment on our universal tendencies towards tameness, sameness, the bland blending of all colors into an ugly, lifeless gray. At Babel, God merely jumpstarts the process humanity had/has failed to embrace: to spread out, to develop their own cultures, identity and potential. To develop and relish our own unique voice in the wide world. Of course, even this we have failed to do right. The rest of the biblical tale is one of increasing alienation and otherness – a hostile moving away from each other in our diversities. Enter Jesus. Enter Pentecost. Pentecost isn’t about eliminating diverse tongues. The apostolic speech was not monochrome utterance. “We hear them speak in own our tongues the wonderful works of God.” All languages are uttered here, all cultures acknowledged. Diversity is not leveled; rather the hostile momentum of otherness is reversed. The crowd gathers rather than scatters. Humanity comes home to a diverse and colorful home that we call in its ultimate form the new heavens and the new earth.
How very tragic to still be playing Babel on our religious, political, and cultural tableaus, feeding our deep, adamic dysfunction and momentum towards a dehumanizing sameness. A tableau of external conformity masquerading as unity or harmony or love, while souls scatter to their isolated closets to once again catch a glimpse of the unique glory placed within them. How long before we wake up and embrace the blessing of Babel at the dawning of Pentecost? What a question…
Does diversity on a human level distract, annoy, and alienate, or does it delight and invite you? Why?
Lord, give me a fresh appreciation for the wide and diverse splashes of color you with you have and continue to paint and adorn humanity – and all of creation. Give me eyes to see you in all of it – and in all of us. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.