From Babel to Pentecost

Babel (Genesis 11)
The Tower of Babel story is a familiar one.  It is familiar because it narrates the history of how we came to be.  And familiar because the story revolves around two things very important to the whole of humanity: building projects and language.  

This story was set not far after the Fall of men in the Garden of Eden and the Bible tells us that sin had already penetrated the whole-world.  At the heart of sin is the desire to dethrone God-and this was at the heart of their grand project Babel.  These ancient people moved on and settled in the plains of Shinar.  This settlement was a direct violation of God’s command to scatter and “fill the earth”.  Then they learned how to make bricks and started a “building project”.  They had power, prosperity and creativity to back it up.  But the most dangerous thing they had was unity and a peaceful atmosphere to pursue their plans.

Power, peace, prosperity and unity are not ultimate goods. For if in unity we agree to bypass Scripture and put tradition in its place; if in peace we forget to pray; if in prosperity we become numb, arrogant, greedy and blind, then division could be better than collective apostasy, suffering and conflict could serve God’s purpose better than peace and prosperity.   Unity can be dangerous if we unite under a false ideal.  

God’s judgement at Babel was necessary to preserve and protect our humanity because we are not gods.  Any project that dethrones God is bound to end in destruction.  In the judgment given at Babel there was grace, and in the punishment there was mercy.  God judges us not only because we are sinful, but because he wants to put us back into his grand building project-the building of the Kingdom of God on earth.  Immediately after Babel, God puts together his plan to set apart a people for himself, bless them and through this nation, bless the whole world again.  He calls Abraham, and the nation of Israel is born.  From here begins God’s redemption plan of sending his Son Jesus to the world and the Holy Spirit to empower those who chose to join this new grand building project.

Pentecost (Acts 2)
In Acts 2, where the Pentecost happened, we could say that all the sons of Abraham were gathered in one place when the Holy Spirit came upon them with power, and there the foundations of a new humanity was laid.  Like the Babel story, here too, we could say there is a building project, and different languages were used as a tool for building.  But if at Babel different languages was a sign of division, at Pentecost, different languages was a sign of unity.  The only place where God has broken down the barriers of language and culture is within his family-the church [And how dare we re-introduce these barriers within the church].  We could be working against God’s new grand project if we continue to let language and culture barriers divide us.

God’s grand new project brings all people together under one grand scheme to work together with all our differences.   The concern is not individual and personal anymore, but social.  The Gospel is concerned with our personal salvation, only so that we can take on a social consciousness.  We have the tendency to divide individual well being and social concerns, but salvation should not be confined only to giving meaningful existence to the individual. The Spirit that blew involves the affairs of all peoples with different languages, cultures and background.  The whole world witnessed and received the blessings, and they declared God’s wonders in all the languages of the world.  Someone said that the church is the original multinational corporation.  All others are copied.  

The primary message of Jesus in the Gospels was that the Kingdom of God had come, and he went about preaching it, and inviting people to come and join in this grand new “building project” of building the Kingdom of God in the world.  

The Church: Called out to build the Kingdom of God.
Two stories: Babel and Pentecost.  One question: which story do we continue?  Babel-a people united under a false ideal and full of themselves, or Pentecost-a people full of God and his Spirit?  The Babel story is all too familiar because we have re-enacted it too often.  But if we are to re-enact the Pentecost story, it may force us out of the four-walls of the church to different languages, and beyond the concern of our local church.  After all, the church is ecclesia of God - meaning “called out” into the world.  

The people at Babel were also called out to fill the earth, but they decided to stay in and settle down.  We are the church not because we come to the church; we are the church precisely because we walk out again after service.  If we stayed in we would be a cult. We are called out to tell the story of Jesus, about the Kingdom of God, that God is alive and active, and that there is Hope. Here too, as in the other two stories, two words are important: “the world” and “language”.  The world is our field, and language is primary in communicating the story.  Stanley Haerwas puts it very powerfully, “In telling the story of Jesus to the world, we are not just telling a nice story, but w¬e become the story and it becomes our story.  We are not just telling the world that there is an alternative to violence, corruption and greed, we become the alternative-we are the alternative” (paraphrased).

This wonderful invitation stands open to everyone to come and build together.  No fundraising is required.  No degrees or credentials are necessary.  We just come with empty hands, willing feet, and mouths ready to proclaim the news of the Kingdom come.  This is a wonderful privilege and responsibility.  Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.