Friday, November 16, 2018
Babel: A Brave New World (Genesis 11:1-9) by Rev. Dr. Steve Locke
The world received a new chance in Noah. Not only has God decided not to destroy the world again, but God also made a covenant with Noah to protect and enhance justice in the course of human relationships. There is a new hope that humanity will improve its place in the world creating relationships of goodness, grace and forgiveness. But in just a few pages of this new history things fall apart.
Most of the stories in Genesis are character sketches of individual of faith. In them God places trust, confidence and covenant. It is through these important people that God’s plan and judgment is revealed to the people of God. But in the story of the Tower of Babel the narrator steps back to look at the cultural landscape after Noah to see a dangerous pattern developing.
The migration of the mass of people continued east until they came to a large plain with everything they needed. Instead of setting up an altar to God they decided to build a tower to rival the heavens. They wanted to make a name for themselves. They wanted admiration, power and security which they would get themselves without the help of any divine power. By their striving and willful self-reflection they desired fame, unity and political strength against God. They wanted what Adam and Eve wanted---freedom. But what they received was punishment.
God’s response to this new endeavor of humanity was not affirming. God saw it not as a rivalry, but as a dangerous experiment that will end in evil. God says, “Soon they will be able to do anything they desire.” God’s meaning is clear. The same behavior and violence that was in the world during Noah’s era will soon return with a vengeance here in the land of Shinar. However, unlike the world during Noah’s time this world is organized. They have teams of laborers and elites who tell them what to do. The leaders are providing the message which is one of power, freedom and security against anything outside themselves. They will soon exclude, demonize and abuse people who do not come under their shared vision.
What made their attempt at becoming this powerful nation so dangerous was that they all had the same language. They shared the same internal ways of interpreting the world through this common language, and were able to communicate with the same understanding of their experience. This common use of language was a powerful tool to build unity, which could be a good thing. But in the hands of those that use it to build a fortress of exclusion and justified abuse against others, it turns devilish. For this nation of people “sameness means rightness and power.”
This, of course, is an old sin of the communities of the world. Diversity, while it may be publically tolerated, is internally unacceptable and fearful and must be eliminated. We even have a word for this---stranger. The word comes from the naming of others who are different as strange. Once we are able to use this label with complete acceptance in the community then we are able to discriminate, exclude and even worse. God saw this inevitability as harmful and shameful. Instead of destroying the world God took the opportunity to scramble their languages. In fact the word used in Genesis is “confuse.” God’s intent was to bring confusion into the experience of the world through language for the purpose of avoiding more abuse, and the possibility that humanity will find tolerance instead of hate. But God created anxiety and fear to establish a dependent experience.
In Jesus the world was opened up to a new vision of tolerance and righteousness. Through his ministry we have all learned that those we have labeled as not worthy are worthy in God’s eyes. Therefore to walk in the vision of God we must learn how to see others as worthy as well. Jesus ate with those others saw as sinners, evil and unworthy. He was called out for it, but it didn’t stop him. He continued to show the heart of God to the victims of communities that say, “sameness is rightness.”
Then on a day when Israel celebrated a festival called Pentecost, the world was given an opportunity to share in God’s vision for the world. After the resurrection the disciples went out to preach, having received the power of the Holy Spirit, when something unique happened. Those from every nation were able to understand what Peter was saying. God had broken down the walls of language which God created to stop the possibility of harm to others. Now he is restoring common understanding through the Spirit. They were one in God, but only through the Spirit. Under the direction of the Spirit and in the guidance of God we are made one. We are an invisible Kingdom without walls with a mission to break down more walls of indifference derived from the faulty ideologies based on that evil assumption that “sameness is rightness.”