Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…”
The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
Genesis 11:4, 6 (NIV)
Over the past month, Wendy and I have been listening to a podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The podcast documents the story of a small group of people in Seattle who started a church, which became a movement, and then it was gone almost overnight. It’s also the story of the pastor, a young man who became one of the most famous and influential individuals in Christian circles. Yesterday, while I spent the day driving on a business trip, I listened to a bonus episode about another young man who also became famous and influential at about the same time, and then deconstructed his faith (something of a fad at the moment, FYI) and eventually announced on social media that he no longer identifies as a Christian.
After I returned home last night, Wendy and I discussed the episode. On one hand, there’s a morality tale in the stories of these individuals about the effects of celebrity, fame, and influence. There’s also a larger societal story about our culture of celebrity itself in which an individual can be a famous celebrity without having any particular talent or having accomplished anything other than to have become a celebrity.
Today’s chapter tells the story of the Tower of Babel and is the final story in Genesis which scholars would classify as primeval. It joins the story of creation, the Garden, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Great Flood as foundational stories of the Great Story. On the surface, the Tower of Babel is intended to describe how humanity went from one people and then was scattered into different nationalities, cultures, and languages. Under the surface, it’s about humanity’s pride nature, and its ends.
Humanity is one homogeneous people group, and they conspire to build a tower to the heavens “to make a name for ourselves.” I thought this a bit of synchronicity in the quiet this morning as my heart and mind continue to mull over the stories I heard in the podcast about two young men who “made a name for themselves” only to find their own lives and the worlds of those who followed them crumble. In the case of the intervie w I listened to yesterday, at least one of the two is still reeling, confused, and lost like humanity itself at end of the Babel story.
But there’s another aspect to the Babel story that I recognized thirty years ago. As my life journey and spiritual journey have progressed, the more important I think this lesson is. In the story, God recognizes that humanity’s capabilities coupled with sinful pride will result in “nothing being impossible for them.” It seems that the narrative of the storyline is moving too quickly for God’s design, and the scattering of the peoples and confusing of the languages appears to be God’s way of slowing the pace of the narrative back down.
My earthly journey has been a fascinating time to live. I’ve watched the dawn of the computer age, experienced the beginning of the internet, I watched it grow, and witnessed how technology has effectively united the globe. Think about the coronavirus, which originates in China where scientists and countries from around the world had invested in woring together on biomedical research in a country who is considered less than friendly. I can’t imagine this happening even a generation ago.
Never, since the Tower of Babel, has humanity been more of a global village increasingly uniting under the umbrella of technology and connected to all countries and cultures through social media. Just last week the Wall Street Journal said that Facebook will soon be the sole news source for 80-90 percent of the entire world population.
I’ve also come to recognize that perhaps, for the first time since the Tower of Babel, we’re living in a generation that can say “nothing is impossible for us.” We can genetically design babies. Scientists hope to birth a Wooly Mammoth in the lab within a few years. W illiam Shatner, at 92, will take a commercial ride in space next month. In the last month I’ve read articles about scientists who are focused on making it possible for humans live forever. Mining asteroids, life on Mars, and now Amazon announced a robot for your home that rolls around to assist you and monitor your home for threats. I can have my own personal Wall-E.
The question, of course, is where does it all lead? What fascinates me the most as I contemplate the answer to this question is that, factually, life on Earth has never been better on the whole. There’s less extreme poverty, less sickness, longer lives, better education, higher status for women, more access to information, better access to clean water supplies, and less starvation and malnutrition. This is true. It is a fact. Read Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness.
At the same time, I observe more and more confusion about who we are. Adults are asking children what gender they believe they are, then arranging to physically alter their biology. Scientifically, there are still just two genders, but philosophically we’re how told that there are endless genders to choose from based solely on my choice to identify in the moment. After centuries of progress towards ending slavery, reducing prejudice, and accepting bi-racial and cross-cultural marriages in an increasingly large global village, we’re suddenly regressing back into racial separation and segregation. What was once good is now bad. What was once bad is now good. What was once regressive is now progressive. Children now make life-altering adult decisions. Adults now chase an endless childhood. I am who I identify myself as in the moment, but that might change. What is important is what’s trending in the moment. What’s not important is anything in the past or that which is not trending.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself fascinated by the world in which I live, where increasingly “nothing is impossible.” I find myself mulling over the possibility that we are in process of building a new Tower of Babel with DNA, 5G networks, stem cells, lasers, robotics and fiber optics. I find myself marveling at a culture that appears to me to be increasingly confused despite all of our knowledge and advancement.
I find myself grateful for my simple identity…
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NIV)
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.