Tell Me a Story

Miscommunication isn’t new; it’s woven into the very fabric of our language. One little tug of a thread, and a conversation splits and unravels. Nowhere has this been demonstrated more clearly than at the Tower of Babel. You can read the account in Genesis 11:1-9, reprinted below:

“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.’

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

Image

A name for ourselves. Recognition. We won’t be scattered across the earth. Everything is within our grasp.

These people understand each other and approach this project united with what they have in common. But they are proud. They think that they do not need God, and they want glory and fame for themselves.

God, in heaven, has to come down in order to see the miniscule tower that is supposed to stretch up to his throne. These people may speak a common language, but they do not understand a most basic truth: God is powerful and will not give His glory to another. Their rebellion hurts God in a way they cannot understand. Their pride makes them feel as though they do not need God since they depend on themselves. So God confuses their languages. Without a uniting factor, the cause that was once so important is abandoned.

I’ve taken up and abandoned causes before. I suppose I’ve been searching for something deep enough to spend my life pursuing. I’ve been searching for a cause vital enough to make dividing factors such as language, race, and gender become as transient as lines in the sand. At Babel, people were united over what they had in common. It really isn’t that difficult to be united when everyone looks, acts, and speaks the same way you do. The builders shared a linguistic and cultural background, but when that commonality disappeared, the project failed and their sand castle kingdom crumbled. I don’t want to be building another tower; I want something that will last.

Today there is a different kingdom in the making. Instead of pride and recognition, the great ones of this kingdom have chosen to serve others. Money does not buy power here; it’s actually a hindrance. The purpose in this kingdom is not to acquire wealth, but to share it with love and generosity. What about the weak, the disabled, the poor, the underprivileged? The people formerly living on society’s margins are important and welcomed. Everyone has a place here.

Unlike Babel, the citizens of this kingdom do not always share the same language, race, or culture, yet everyone is gathered around a common cause of loving God and loving people. God is reversing the events at Babel by bringing unlike people together for His glory. Language may seem to divide us, but Revelation shows us a vision where people from every nation and language are standing before the throne of God in worship. Every language is a unique way of giving praise to God. He created language and knows its intricacies.

There is both a pattern and chaos to language. Linguists seek out a defined order, but there is always an exception or spontaneity that makes language simultaneously enthralling and maddening. Language is the only way we have to communicate our deepest thoughts, experiences, fears and goals. With a propensity for miscommunication, there is no guarantee that an audience will interpret our message accurately.

Yet somehow, language still works. It is the best means of communication we have. Language is a filter for all our experiences and knowledge; it is through language that we experience the world, communicate our desires and understand other people. And somehow, every language has the capacity to help people understand–in part–who God is.

The God of the universe chooses to reveal Himself to us through human language.

Picture Credits:

Tower of Babel
By Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century.
Taken from wiki commons : http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Tower_of_Babel

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