Standing in the Shadow of Babel Today
The post-flood nations of the world were living in the aftermath of a cataclysmic world event. They saw social distance and disunity as problems threatening their survival. So they began constructing a solution to bring them all together as one. God's response to this grand unification project? He decided instead to confuse them until they couldn't understand each other anymore.
Maybe you are like I was and are quite disturbed by this story. Something doesn't seem quite right or fair. Is God threatened by our unity? Is He scared we might actually outgrow Him? Overcome Him? And didn't Jesus pray for unity? Do Jesus and God disagree like rival candidates vying for our devotion? Is there an eternal Facebook war between the members of the Trinity?
Simply, no. The problem arises (pun!) from a faulty understanding of unity. One that begins with us.
The Unity God Does Not Want
Unity is not Holy just because we decide to weave society into a web of class-less mutuality and then pat ourselves on the back about it. It becomes Holy when God stands in the middle of it -- when we come together in reverent reference to Him. His unity does not entail the subjugation or dehumanization of people over each other, either. That is only possible with a distorted understanding of how much we are loved by God.
So no, God was not scared we might actually poke a hole up through His living room floor and say "Boo!". I suspect He was more concerned over our future if we could convince ourselves we might pull it off. I think this is why He 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". As if building just one more floor would fix the leaky ceilings we put up yesterday. Meanwhile, we would tear each other apart trying to separate those who design the tower, from those who lay its bricks, not to mention those who would ultimately occupy the penthouse suite. And then there are those who would fly planes into it.
God's Response and Ours
God's response at Babel was not jealousy acting out of fear the students might somehow become His teachers. Nor was it a capricious punishment by a malevolent Creator. It seems now to have been a necessary prevention against a greater problem: a world without faith in Him. He could see our day from all the way back then. He could see our rage, feel our fomenting, read our posts, hear our unholy inner monologues. He could anticipate what we could not predict through the euphoric fog of our own ingenuity -- straight to the moments we destroy ourselves. A people who choose to completely cut themselves off from Him. A world that Jesus would later suggest when He asked, "When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?". Jesus and God are actually unified on this. Because Jesus is God after all. There is no division. He hasn't changed. And neither have we.
So what does all this mean for us today?
For starters, let’s at least agree we can still call out the threats to our survival. No sense in shutting up about it. Separation from each other is a real problem because God created us to be in community.
Yet our first impulse is to be in community with Him. By placing our way of thinking in the middle, by making us first, we make communion with God redundant and unnecessary. The ironic result: greater social distance and disunity.
Next, and this is truly my opinion here, it doesn't help if we perpetuate the idea that all the problems of today are "unprecedented". On the one hand they are. Who could argue with the sheer scale and variety of perplexities we are besieged with? But on the other hand, our real problems are not new. Sin is as far away from "unprecedented" as you can get. Hatred and pride are almost as old as we are. So long as we classify our sin as somehow a new problem, our problem-solver engines will burn all available fuel in search of new solutions; mythical "vaccines" which have never worked (but just might this time).
Perhaps it is also time to consider putting the bricks down, or at least the phones. Repenting to God for our hatred toward each other as an offense to Him. And returning to His love on His terms. Jesus is the tower we have always wanted to build but can’t. We badly need unity with Him today. Because we have never been good enough by ourselves. God saw that problem long before the Fall, when everything else in the world was absolutely perfect.
Look how far we’ve come.