One of the subjects that I think should be required in school is learning a different language. I know schools like my high school offered Spanish classes as an option however it was not a requirement. I believe that it would help us as a society to be more open to the diversity of the world as well as the many cultures within the U.S. In my family, my parents spoke a type of German that my older siblings could understand and speak. Not me. I had no time for it. Honestly, I think I missed something by not embracing their language because It was a part of their heritage and family dynamics. Now whenever I hear people speaking in a language other than English, I am curious about what they are discussing. Not because I think they are talking about me (that’s pretty arrogant) but how they see the world around them. I relish the diversity of our world and celebrate our differences.
Now we get into the story of the Tower of Babel… Memories of the flood waters were long gone and once again the people became sinful in their own perceived power and ingenuity. The text says; “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 dispersed over the face of the earth.” (Gen.11:4). They believed themselves to be unstoppable. I wonder when God saw what they were doing, if God’s holy head shook in disgust and uttered the words, “not again!” The last time the people were so evil and disobedient God sent a flood to wipe out the earth and its inhabitants. However, following the flood, God promised Noah that never again would the earth be destroyed and even sealed it with a rainbow that arcs across the sky after a rain. So, what did God do instead? God mixed up their language. Suddenly, people could not understand each other which meant a breakdown in communication. They could not work together because their common language had changed. They were no longer united in one voice. Can you imagine the scene? How confusing to be speaking to someone and suddenly not understand anything they said. By confusing their language, God changed their focus from delusions of power to beginning anew, to fulfill his command to fill the earth. The Tower of Babel became their undoing as their vision of greatness was not grounded in God’s purpose but in their own willful dreams of power.
So this week I have contemplated what might be my Tower of Babel. Honestly, until recently, I have not put much thought into this text. For me, it was a story about disobedient and arrogant people who thought they were equal to God… Oh wait… That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Can’t we all relate to these people? I certainly can. There are times when I am disobedient to the Divine Creator when I follow my own path because I think I know best. Arrogance can come in many shapes and sizes like when I judge people according to my expectations or because they are different than me. I know there are moments when I think I know better than God as to what is best for me. In some ways doesn’t that give me the notion that I might be equal to God. Suddenly this story speaks into my life.
Just like the people of Babel, I imagine that God looks at me and shakes the Almighty head and says, “not again” and then mixes things up to change my focus. The arrogance and disobedience which clouds my judgement is reordered to help me seek restoration in the abundance God’s grace and love. That is one of the blessings of this story. God stayed with these unfaithful people despite their disobedience and aspirations of greatness. God did not destroy them because surprisingly God wanted a relationship with them. The same holds true for us. God mixes things up for us to change our focus from our own power to a shared power with God. Like the Apostle Paul reminds us, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13).
What happens to you when your best-laid plans go awry? Do you feel like you let have God down and are unworthy of the Almighty’s attention? Me too. But here’s the thing, just like the people in Bible, God wants to be in a relationship with us. God’s Spirit is constantly pursuing, guiding, convicting, blessing, and most of all loving us. The God in the story of Babel is the same God in our story. The same God who scatters us also gathers us together. Our hope lies in this promise; “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. 24:31). The next time God’s head shakes at my behavior I can rest in the promise of God’s love and grace but be ready to for the change that is on its way. Maybe it will require me to learn a new language.