The story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible is crazy. I can’t think of another way to describe it. Parts of it puzzle me, and I think it’s impossible to say with certainty why God did what He did the way He did it. But it’s interesting and relevant nonetheless.
Here we have, apparently, all the people alive at that time, in one general area. They were all speaking with one another and using their collective knowledge to build an “out of this world” tower. The Bible says that the Lord came down to check it out. He seemed impressed with their progress but concerned about the results and their motivations. He said that with such good communication nothing could stop these people from doing whatever they put their minds to. “…this is only the beginning of what they will do.”
It wasn’t that He was surprised by that, but I think, being the creator and all, He knew how much potential He had given the human mind. He knew that in a sense, knowledge is power. But He also knew, that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
So He did a curious thing. He created languages, seemingly with the intent to cause confusion. For a world where only one language existed, this was a very original albeit chaotic solution. It’s like, people were adding to each others’ creativity already at the time the tower was being built, but by creating languages, God multiplied human creativity… and diversity was born.
As I read this story for the umpteenth time this morning, I tried to stop asking so many why questions for once, and just observe the things that are, for me, already clear.
God knows people. He knows our potential better than us. And even though He gives us freedom to create and live our own lives, only He can see enough to be able to do efficient “damage control” so we don’t self-destruct.
God knows the danger of our intelligence when it is set on achieving greatness alone and not on glorifying its creator.
Communication is key. A bit ironically here, God is trying to stop the people from communicating well. This doesn’t speak just to the potential of man’s intelligence, but also to the power of communication. When the people’s hearts were far from God, the power that communication has, seemed to be the greatest threat. Maybe flipped around, if we committed ourselves to the Creator and His eternal purpose, we’d find that communicating fully with Him and other humans can be a really healing and powerful thing. Said pretty much every counselor ever, about solving practically any and every conflict ever.
Creating more languages was a merciful curse. How a curse can be a blessing can’t really be explained logically, but then, neither can mercy or grace. God’s ways are so complex and beautiful for that very reason, like the strong contrast in a serene black and white photograph.
Personally I’ve grown to love the variety of languages we have now and I wonder often at not only their beauty, but also their ability to express different, unique parts of the human heart and mind.
On the other hand, I can try to imagine a world where everyone speaks the same language, and I can imagine vividly how it would make my life easier at the moment, and I’m sure many others could say the same.
Besides all that, what I’d really want to take home with me from the story of the Tower of Babel is that,“Great” or “easy” aren’t always “right” and “best”. Doing whatever we set our minds to may be an awesome feat. But that doesn’t make the outcome definitely the best thing for us or others, and the efforts and smarts it takes, is not what’s praiseworthy.
And secondly, though working together and relating to each other could be easier if we all spoke the same language and all came from the same culture, there is a lot of beauty we would miss out on.
What goes through your mind when you read this unusual story? You can find it in Genesis 11:1-9. Was the creation of languages meant only as a punishment for the people’s selfish ambitions? Would you prefer a world where everyone spoke the same language?