Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.Genesis 11 v1-7
A story written thousands of years ago, for a radically different people, with no relevance today. Or so it would seem to many. But it’s worth digging a little deeper, first to understand the story, and then see the parallels with modern life.
What was really going on here? Why were they building a tower, and why did God come down and mess it up? Remember that God sees the heart. And what, under other circumstances, might be understood to be a good endeavour – an expression of our creativity – was not, because of what lay at its heart. They were building themselves a city, reaching towards the heavens, and seeking to make a name for themselves. Ultimately this came down to another manifestation of the very first transgression -‘wanting to become like God’ – in our own strength. And so whilst there may be an element of judgment from God in this, there is actually a bigger element of mercy. By imposing limitation on human endeavour, the worst excesses implicit in the tower were also limited. One of the acts of the Holy Spirit – to restrain – was seen in play here.
So, how then does this relate to us? Well, over the past centuries we have slowly recreated the Tower of Babel; a new tower, not built of bricks and mortar, but of scientific discoveries, of technology, of engineering, of multinational organisations, companies, economies, military, social and other forms of cooperation. Of an internet that spans the globe, connecting us all, and allowing us to communicate and trade instantaneously. Of instant translations that allow us to understand each other.
Now, this new tower is not all evil – far from it! So much of the new building has improved our lives, such that many of the problems our ancestors faced are but a dim and distant memory. If I had been born 100 years ago, I would have been a squint-eyed cripple. The benefit of modern medicine is real. Similarly in so many other areas of our life.
However, there is another side. Taking medicine as an example, the advances that allow us to cure diseases have also facilitated the murder of millions of our own children. The same technology that blesses we have also used to curse in ways that were never before possible.
Each advancement brings the shadow and well as the light. And as we build higher the contrast grows greater – we create new highs, but also manage to introduce darker depths. Take a more modern example. AI doesn’t frighten me. AI in the hands of humans does.
The building of this tower seems to be increasing exponentially, and as it reaches its zenith we must see where it will end. Where it was always going to end. At the pinnacle, the tip of the tower, exerting ourselves with the might of our technology to make ourselves ‘gods’. In a way, I do believe we will succeed in this endeavour – but our shining triumph, which will seem marvelous to so many, will contain in itself a shadow darker than we have ever beheld, or ever will behold again. We will then see in fullness where our godless desire for godhood has led us.
The truth is, the wish to be like God was never wrong, just perverted. Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection has provided the Way and through repentance and surrender we can receive what we have always desired. But there is always a choice. Always. And for those that reject His offer, He has allowed us to build this Modern Babel – named In Ourselves Do we Trust. This Tower, He will not restrain and will permit us to build it to its pinnacle, and see it completed. Only then will it fall under the weight of its own contradictions and darkness – and terrible will be that day.
But there is another structure being built. This structure is disregarded by the world – both the cornerstone and the living stones rejected as worthless. But it is a structure that will outlast the Ages. In which place will you be found on the day all buildings will be tested?
Ps 118 v22-23
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.