Babel in the Third Millennium
May 18, 2016
The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. (Gen. 11:5-6, NRSV)
I was born in 1940. Within my lifetime, humanity has produced an amazing array of technical creations. More knowledge has been generated in this period than in all of previous human history. We have discovered the secrets of the atomic nucleus with the accompanying advantage of almost limitless nuclear power and the benefits of nuclear medicine. All at a cost—we have seen nuclear weapons used in war and the world under threat of human annihilation. We have had nuclear fallout contaminating our fields and are plagued with nuclear waste that we cannot get rid of. We have developed rockets that put satellites into orbit and took men to the moon, yet they also provide ICBM’s that can deliver nuclear weapons anywhere in the world in half an hour.
We invented transistors that allowed unimaginable computing power in a laptop device. Computers are networked into the internet, permitting almost instant communication around the world. Yet, all too often, these advances are used for identity theft, cybercrime, and pornography.
Medicine has advanced, allowing much longer lives. The polio vaccine eliminated one of the huge fears of every summer. Smallpox has been eradicated worldwide. New diagnostic methods such as CAT scans and MRI have made diagnoses much more precise and less invasive. Yet, worldwide travel lets diseases like Ebola spread widely in a short time. New diseases such as HIV/AIDS are a scourge. The buildup of carcinogenic chemicals in the environment has led to cancer in epidemic proportions.
The use of abundant energy has made our lives easier in so many ways and enhanced our ability for things like travel that were unthinkable to earlier generations. But this same use of energy is changing our climate in ways that makes the environment unsustainable.
Our ability to innovate is unlimited, yet it seems that all of our technology has a downside. We are spiritually related to the builders of the Tower of Babel, whose desire was to build an edifice that would reach to heaven to “make a name for ourselves,” that is, to make themselves like gods eliminating the need for God. How many people in modern society see no need for God and even deny divine existence? We believe that our cleverness allows us to find technological solutions to all our problems, while in reality we create new problems because our moral development fails to keep up with our technological development. We build our own Tower of Babel.
In the Babel story, God put a stop to this foolishness by confusing the languages and scattering the people abroad so they could no longer communicate. The resulting alienation and hostility led to confrontation and strife among peoples. We have not yet gotten past this stage in human moral development to the point of cooperation for the good of all.
On the day of Pentecost, God provided an alternative. When the Holy Spirit entered their minds and hearts and souls, the people could understand each other. And because their common interest in God’s Kingdom overrode their parochial self-interest, they were able to care for the welfare of each other rather than competing to have more, more, more. These were the people who turned the world upside down.
Today, to a large extent, we fail to have the same sense of leading by the Holy Spirit that the early Christians had. Many times, we trust our own judgment rather than the inspiration of the Spirit. The writer of Proverbs said, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight (Prov. 3:5, RSV).” If we follow this advice, and let the Holy Spirit breath into our souls to control our thoughts and actions, then we will pay more attention to the leadings of the Lord. We will not let materialism so blind us to the needs of our fellow humans that we are “rich in things and poor in soul.” Then the world would be much more just and peaceful.
Prayer: Gracious God, “Cure Thy children’s warring madness; bend our pride to Thy control. Shame our wanton selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.” In our Savior’s name. Amen.