Today is Pentecost Sunday, a fact which has influenced my choice of the first passage of Scripture to examine in today’s post. Here we have the story of Babel from the Book of Genesis:
Now the whole earth had one language and few words. 2 And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 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. 4 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 scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. 6 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. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
What interests me about this passage is not the confusion God creates, or even why, but the effect of its absence. In particular I am interested in this: “this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” Looking at this, I wonder if God’s motivation here is to humble humanity. By limiting what we can achieve, and what we think we can do, He becomes that much more obviously necessary for us. However, when we can achieve nearly anything ourselves as human beings… what need have we of God?
Our abundance of power is, in my opinion, a major reason for the troubles of the present age. We have overcome the limitations of language and distance through the power of technology. At the same time we have achieved unequaled power over the natural world. And even as this has happened, we have pushed God further and further out of our lives. This is no accident. We lack humility in the modern age; instead we believe that nothing is impossible for us to achieve on our own.
It seems to me that the solution to this particular trouble isn’t to abandon technology, but to embrace humility. Simply discarding technology is no sure path to living a more humble life. It may help, but it is not and can never be a guarantee.
And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for
“God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”
(1 Peter 5:5)
Since we are on the subject of humility, this passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians seems appropriate:
3 Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This passage serves not only to highlight both the extent and necessity of humility, but also shows as false modernist notions of equality. As Christians we know that we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord- we all are equal inheritors of the Kingdom. But equality as the world understands it is an entirely different thing altogether. And it is incompatible with our Faith. If Christ Jesus, who is God, did not seek equality then why do we? If He saw it as nothing something to be grasped, why do we do otherwise? Surely we don’t think we are wiser than He. The real reason is obvious enough: we are not chasing after Him, but after the world.
How easy we forget the words of our Lord and Savior:
And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Because He served more than anyone else, because He lowered Himself more than anyone else, because He placed everyone else ahead of Him, He was exalted above all others. In a world which values Equality and “empowerment,” and denigrates service and authority, let us endeavor to keep our priorities straight and keep God, not the world, foremost in our thoughts and heart.