Monday, June 23, 2008

Modern Babel

The Old Testament scares me. Weird names, fantastic stories, and a God who frequently frightens me. For these reasons and so many more, my wife and I have been casually walking through the OT at the beginning and end of each day. Personally, I think it's silly to run away from something you either don't understand or are afraid of; so we press on. Reading through the OT chapter-by-chapter has its adventures and doldrums. Some days we read genealogies and others we ponder in silence the magnificence of the Hebrew text. Most days we end our reading with more questions than answers.

This morning we were in Genesis 11, which oddly enough contains a story and a genealogy...we were in the double-bonus round. The chapter begins with a story about all of humanity speaking a unified language and working together for a common goal. Nothing strange there, just themes that could be found in an Obama address. The story goes south when God sees the "children of man" building a tower into the heavens. What follows is a confusing statement from Yahweh that left me rereading the passage several times over:

"And the LORD said, 'If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.'" (Gen. 11:6-7)

Why would God do such a thing? His behavior seems comparable to the bully at school who sees you dominating a healthy game of Jenga, and then knocks over the carefully stacked blocks for a few laughs! Was God afraid of modern progress and an impending industrial revolution? Is Yahweh a spiteful God who likes to watch his creation scramble like ants under a magnifying glass? I am no Hebrew scholar and my OT is weak at best, but I think I understand God's motives and it fits well with the entire scope of the OT.

Early on in the OT, Adam was charged with a guilty verdict and it wasn't because he enjoyed fruit from a naked chick. It's pretty-well understood that Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, so they took the apple and ate. The apple itself wasn't evil, it was the motive for eating the apple that plunged humanity into ruin. All of humanity, from generation to generation, cannot help but replace God with themselves or deficient deities. It's no wonder Yahweh establishes the first commandment to be "You shall have no other gods before me." We cannot resist the temptation to be all-powerful and all-knowing.

When Friedrich Nietzsche penned the prophetic words, "God is dead...," he was responding to modernity's influence on the world and the church's inability to create or offer values in such a movement. In summary, Nietzsche developed the concept of the √úbermensch (Superman) and made it the goal to which humanity should ultimately strive. Humanity was to progress past silly ideas like God and create its own values, replacing God in a creation role and thus rendering Yahweh (and other deities) useless. Man replaces God and becomes the Superman.

In Gen. 11, God is trying to prevent history from repeating itself when he destroys the Tower of Babel. Adam and Eve couldn't resist the opportunity to become all-knowing and consequently all-powerful. The same temptation is present in the unified building of the tower. Remember God's words, "If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them." God wasn't afraid of building projects or construction sites, He knew if they could create a tower into the heavens they would believe themselves to be the supermen of their day. There would be no need to search for a creator God because they had become that God. It would be anachronistic for me to blame Babel's fall on modernity, but modernity is certainly the culprit in God's modern-day demise.

I'm not afraid of modernity, or any cultural phenomenon, and neither is God. I live with a scientist, so I love science. I have lived with a philosopher and I love philosophy. I'm not so naive, however, as to think I can use modernity's disciplines to build my way into the heavens. I will always discuss the mystery of God and search out answers while on this planet, but eternity is beyond me and modernity. The so-called definitive evidence of modernity is less-than conclusive and satisfies a man-made burden of proof. Babel fell because humanity is prideful. Humanity continues to fall because we refuse to admit our limitations and conceive of a being more knowledgeable, powerful, and loving than our minds can imagine. Think freely and do not be afraid...

1 comment:

hudsonmtansey said...

Great post. just a couple of things to say or mention.

Adam and Eve did not eat a apple. They ate the forbidden fruit. I know you know this and I don't know why I am pointing that out. but anyway.

Genesis 11:4a(NASB) = "Come, let us build for OURSELVES a city, and a tower who's top will reach into heaven, let us make OURSELVES a NAME,"

Everything was about them and not about the God who had supplied them with all they need. They were trying to lift their name up rather than God's. Because of this God showed them that his name is always higher.

When we try to bring ourselves glory rather than God then we are headed for trouble. This biblical account shows us so.