Creation, Sin, and More Sin
Building Towers of Futility
February 14, 2016
The Tower of Babel incident occurs about one hundred thirty years after the flood. The whole world is described as unified, having the same language. Rebelling against God, humanity continues moving east, further and further away from Eden. They settle in the plain of Shinar where they decide to build a city with a tower that goes to heaven. They are trying to make their own Eden where they had everything they needed. The human heart is homesick and longs for Eden. Have you ever been homesick? Because we are created in the image of God, created to know God and live in his presence, deep in the recesses of the human heart is this longing to be in Eden. But the human heart is so twisted and warped by sin we replace that longing with our own substitutes. For instance, many call themselves spiritual but not religious. Their spirituality is self defined and subjective. But this is creating a god in your own image! And being subjective leaves it to change according to how one sees the world. There is no objective or absolute truth. That is why our culture can redefine marriage, human sexuality, and racial identity. Here, humanity has rejected God's covenant and so are creating their own kingdom, a secular kingdom.
Within this city, they want to build a tower that reaches to the heavens to make a name for themselves. They want this tower to reach to the heavens, so others who see it from great distances will be amazed with the builders. This is a pretty remarkable undertaking. Think of all that would be required - leaders casting vision for the project, organizing labor and resources, and acquiring the means to pay for the labor. All of this to make a name for themselves! All of us want to be recognized by others, affirmed by others, make our mark in the world. We want to be someone significant to others so we make decisions to get attention. When I was a young pastor I wanted a megachurch so that others would recognize me as significant. That wained as I rested in what Christ thought of me rather than what others thought of me. Living for the approval of others is just another attempt to defy God, to live independent of God. Some of you may be living that way. You are looking for your significance and identity in this life. You are restless or you long for something more and are always chasing something new. Maybe it is the newest app, some new toy, another relationship, or just food. St Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." CS Lewis said something similar, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” But the text tells us something more. They are also building this tower so that they will not be dispersed as God commanded in creation and then to Noah. How is this going to stop them from being dispersed? The writings of the early Jewish writings say that they did this to defy God and wage war against him.
So this is what we see. Humanity had everything they needed in the garden, a relationship with God, provision, and protection yet they rejected it and are living life attempting to replace what was lost. Because they have rejected covenant with God they are building their own kingdom in defiance of God. Remember, Adam and Eve were told to rule the earth. But all kingdoms outside of God's kingdom will ultimately come to ruins. Rejecting God's covenant, we are displaced from God's kingdom. That is why Jesus said, “repent for the kingdom is near.” Covenant and Kingdom are bound up together. If you are a follower of Christ and do not see the two as bound up together then you will live your life building your own kingdom. Your life will be about yourself, your time, your talents, and your treasures. You will not see your life revolving around God's kingdom purposes except when they intersect with your own purposes. You will be living for yourself but that is not Christianity. Faith in Christ results in a life centered around God's kingdom purposes. The easiest way to determine whose kingdom you are building is to look at how you use your time, your talents, and your treasures. Do you look for ways to use your free time to extend God's kingdom? Do you look for ways to use your talents to extend the kingdom? And lastly, do you look for ways to use your treasures to extend God kingdom?
What is God's response to this construction project? God comes down to see the city and the tower which the children of man built. God does not have to come down to see, he already knows what they are building! Moses is using irony. They think they are creating something so significant, towering up to the heavens for all to see yet God has to come down to get a glimpse of what the 'children of Adam' have built. It is like a two year old who has stacked two blocks on top of each other and want to show you what they have done. They are so proud of themselves, they are bugeyed. It's cute but it's nothing. I think there is more to it than this though. After Adam and Eve sinned, God came to them to give them an opportunity to repent. When Cain killed his brother, God came to him to give him an opportunity to repent. Humanity has so rebelled against God that now God has to come down from heaven to see if they will repent. God is not a tyrant; he is a long suffering and patient judge. Unfortunately his conclusion is not optimistic. Their unity, combined with their sinfulness, displays the potential of greater harm and destruction that will take place unless he intervenes again. Humanity cannot solve their sin problem on their own. Leadership will not fix it, technology will not fix it, culture will not fix it, only God can fix it. Some of you think you can manage your sin. But sin is not limited to our actions, it arises from the sinful desires of the heart. Sinful actions come from our sinful nature. Our hearts are not essentially good; they are essentially evil. God is the only one who can change the heart. It is like water that is dyed; all the water is colored by the dye. So God does the most gracious thing he can do. He confounds their language so that so they will disperse and cause them to fulfill His original purpose, to scatter and fill the earth. It is judgement and grace; judgment for their rebellion but grace because it restrains sin. As they disperse, instead of one super power, power is distributed among clans and kingdoms so that sin is diluted. Think of the evil regimes throughout the history where one man ruled to the detriment of the masses. So sin is diluted and God's purposes are fulfilled as humanity is dispersed. God's purposes cannot be thwarted. In the coming of Jesus Christ, he dealt a death blow to Satan and is crushing the kingdoms of this earth, including our own, with the coming of his kingdom. He does this as he builds his church, as men and women come to faith in Christ and lives are transformed, and a multitude of other ways. We participate in his kingdom by discipling those God brings across our paths and as we are sensitive to the needs of those around us.