Summary: Don’t let the drive for security and significance cause you to create a more manageable God.
Aren’t you glad we live in an age of user-friendly technology? You could go to Wal-Mart right after this service, purchase a relatively inexpensive laptop computer, plug it in, fire it up and with no previous experience understand how to use it in no time. Computer companies intentionally make their product so user-friendly that a chimp pushing buttons could almost operate one. They’re getting easier and easier to use because the companies want to sell to more and more people.
How different this is from the early days of computer technology. When I was in high school back in the 1980s we had computer programming classes. You’d accomplished something fantastic if you could program one of those machines to play Pong. I never took a computer class back then because I thought they were too complicated and I’d never need to use one. A friend of my, who attended computer classes in college back in the 80s, told me of the stacks and stacks of programming cards he carried to class each day.
The user-friendly computers of today are fast, easy, and cheap. This works for the consumer because the product gets better and better for a lower price. The companies make them this way, not because they love us, but because they need us to by their merchandise. It is our mutual need that spurs companies to create user-friendly technology and us to consistently buy the newer models they offer.
What works great for the economy, though, is devastating when we try to use the same approach toward God. If we begin thinking that God needs us in any way we human beings have a tendency to reshape Him into a user-friendly God who we can manipulate. I’ve heard people say that God created human beings because He was lonely and needed companionship. That’s nonsense. God has always existed in community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you start with the idea that God needs our companionship, you’ve got a God who’s a suck up to get a relationship. He pleads with us to come to Him and will overlook all offenses just to be with us. The idea of God’s gracious, undeserved invitation to relationship goes out the window. Some people think that God needs us do evangelism. Nonsense! He generously allows us to be a part of His saving work, but He doesn’t need us. Paul’s conversion through a vision of Christ is proof that He doesn’t need us. If we erroneously think He needs us to reach people for Christ, we’ll conclude that He’s obligated to empower and bless our efforts no matter how half-hearted or ridiculous.
If God needs us for anything, it opens the door that He can be manipulated by us. He’s not user-friendly, though we have a tendency to make Him so.
That’s really what happened at the Tower of Babel. The flood wiped away the Garden of Eden and God no longer walked among men. The natural conclusion was: “If He’s not down here, He must be up there somewhere.” The tower, according to the description in Genesis, was a ziggurat. It was a stairway between heaven and earth. It served no other purpose than to allow God to descend from heaven so that He could receive the offerings of the people in the temple below and bless them for it.
Why did the people build this structure and the accompanying city in the first place? In their own words it was …
“…so that we may make a name for ourselves for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:5 (NIV)
There was nothing inherently sinful about their desire. They wanted the same things that we do: a life of significance and security. To make a name for yourself means that you contributed something lasting to the world, something that made an impact. We all have this drive. They also did not want to scatter because their was safety in numbers. Their togetherness made life easier and much less risky. There’s nothing wrong with these two desires. The problem was that they let the drive for security and significance cause them to create a more manageable God.
They wanted God’s blessing because life was and is tough. They also wanted His presence because life is meaningless without His stamp of approval. But by building the tower they were attempting to manipulate God to come down to them. God came down, not to do their bidding, but to rock their world. If you honestly believe you can manipulate God, you’ve convinced yourself that He needs something from you. If you believe that God has needs, you’ve reduced Him. You’ve made Him smaller. If God has become user-friendly He’s no longer really God.
What you may have been taught in Sunday school is wrong. The builders of the Tower of Babel were not trying to ascend into heaven themselves. They were attempting to manipulate God into coming down and blessing them. In so doing they lost a proper understanding of who God really is. Think of it this way: before the flood humanity corrupted itself; after the flood humanity corrupted God or at least their understanding of God. The Tower of Babel is the first recorded instance of paganism. Paganism occurs when God has been reduced to a more manageable, user-friendly form.