So men decide to build a ziggurat, “with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.” (Gen. 11:4)
And God thwarts their ambition. Their confident, well-coordinated, carefully-worked-out, imaginative, forward-looking plans.
If they continued to function in this way, these steady, methodical visionaries, making bricks, baking them, using tar for mortar, building a city and a tower, then, “Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them,” (Gen 11:6) God says.
But would this Godless city bring joy or peace or rest to its inhabitants or to the world?
So God confounds them. Confuses their language, and scatters them all over the earth.
* * *
It was sad. They had everything going for them, had a good plan and the intelligence and ability to execute it—and yet were thwarted
It’s a consistent Old Testament curse, “You have planted much, but harvested little. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
“You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away.” (Haggai 1).
* * *
It resonates with me, painfully. I see myself in my twenties, and thirties and early forties, a young woman, then a woman no longer that young–determined to succeed as a writer. I see all that education; all that training; all that practice; all that reading and deep love for books; the drive; the hungry assimilation of the whole world and everything it, and, yeah, natural talent even, a gift of writing that had been early and consistently recognised.
But distraction, lack of discipline, prolonged marital conflict, prolonged depressions after each rejection of a book manuscript, and it all came to nothing. I had the uneasy sense that perhaps I was not operating under the blessing of God. That He was thwarting my tower of Babel.
* * *
Why was it not blessed? Well, I was doing it entirely with my own strength. I chose my path and asked God to bless it. I sacrificed for it: time with my spouse, children, friends, service at church, domestic duties… but these were not necessarily sacrifices God asked me to make. Well, I wouldn’t know; I never asked.
I was on a treadmill, desperate to validate myself, to have something glittery to say when people asked what I did. My husband was a Maths professor; I believed I was just as clever as he was. I resented being stuck with the dishes, laundry, cooking and childcare, while he lived in the ivory towers of stimulation.
And so I wore myself out. I gave up more and more to finish the manuscript, eventually even giving up the saturation reading which helps you work with words swiftly and magically.
I deeply exhausted myself, and ultimately lacked energy and spirit to revise my gargantuan manuscript in line with the agents and editor’s suggestions. My tower of Babel remained incomplete.
* * *
Fortunately, another theme runs through the Bible: God reverses curses. His judgements are temporary. His rods and staffs force us back to him.
God sees that if the men of Babel continue as they had begun then “Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” But those dreams would, in Matthew Arnold’s words, bring them “neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.”
God, the original dreamer, the original visionary, who, in Genesis 1, dreams the world into being, loves to see our dreams come true, but he wants us to pursue them in step with him, wearing his easy yoke, asking him for the power to make our dreams come through.
Jesus reverses the curse of Babel when he says, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible for you.” Through him, and in him, and with him.
* * *
The men of Babel say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”
I suspect it is not the making a name for themselves that God disapproves of.
We are the beloved. God did not make any of us insignificant. Listen to the ambition of kindergarteners—they want to be movie stars, Presidents, astronauts, ballerinas, writers, soccer players. None of them wants to be insignificant—and God does not want them to be so either.
In certain fields, writing or blogging or publishing, let’s say, it is necessary to “make a name for yourself,” to get your work out there, to get your work read.
The 80/20 rule applies in the blogosphere. My husband, the mathematician did a quick analysis of my list of leading bloggers and, sure enough, the top 20 in the list had 69% of the readers. Visibility brings a readership.
* * *
So go off and build a tower?
No, but if it takes visibility to get your work read, ask God for a readership. Or ask God for ideas on how to get a readership.
There was nothing wrong with the desire of the men of Babel not to be scattered over the face of the whole earth.
Unfortunately, they did it without God, assuming that God was their enemy out to thwart them, so it led to much wasted, inefficient, scattershot effort.
Look at the unnecessary complexity with which they hoped to achieve their hope of staying together. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”
Why not just ask God not to let them be scattered, rather than make bricks, and bake them, and build a city and tower and make a name for themselves?
* * *
Trying to do things yourself just adds extra, unnecessary steps. Asking God, however, often provides a solution with streamlined elegance.
When I was a very new Christian, I said to the woman who was mentoring me, “I want to marry X (who wasn’t a Christian) because he will earn enough for both of us, and I will be able to stay home and become a writer
She said, “Why not just pray that you can stay home and become a writer?”
I stared. Hadn’t occurred to me!
Asking God for his guidance will always give us the simplest, most elegant, efficient and imaginative way of doing things.
* * *
Gradually, I learned to lean. Without any business experience, without, even, as I supposed, the temperament of a businesswoman, I founded a business which supports our family. I had to lean and pray, lean and pray, for it to work.
And then I began to blog. There are tens of thousands of Christian blogs worldwide. How can one’s voice be heard?
Leaning. Leaning. Asking God’s creative spirit to flow through you and give you ideas and tell you what to say and how to say it. Asking him for favour and breakthroughs—so much more efficient that any scattershot networking one might do.
* * *
In God, curses are reversed.
Pride brings division in Babel. People speak in many tongues, and they cannot understand each other.
But when the Spirit comes, in the great era inaugurated at Pentecost, he helps us sing a new song, speak in elegant, exuberant new languages that cannot help but charm, and be understood by those who also have the same spirit and so hear us tell, in our new spirit-inspired language, the wonderful works of God.