God’s Love at the Tower of Babel
The other day during a social evening, someone talked to me about a difficulty they were having teaching some youth the basics of Christianity. The problem was the stories of the Old Testament – particularly, in this case, the Tower of Babel. Why was God so mean? Why did God come and mess everything up? Weren’t things going just fine before God came? Wasn’t God a bully? What gave God the right to do that?
These are the sorts of questions that I think about all day long, so when the conversation went there, I gleefully unloaded what I could:
“You know,” I began, “most of our difficulties surrounding God come from seeing Him as just another human. We all know that you or I wouldn’t have the right to do what God did there, or what He does elsewhere. And so it is easy to say, ‘if I were in God’s place, it wouldn’t be right for me to do this. Herefore, it isn’t right for God to do it either.’ What this misses is that God is fundamentally in anther category from us. He’s not a super-human, He is GOD and from His perspective, these things are right. Those of us who grow up reading the Bible can get a good appreciation for what God is like, but those who don’t have that ability can struggle.
“I guess we don’t have much of a problem with God so long as He is serving us – you know, creating us, feeding us, helping the poor, righting injustice. But when you actually read the Bible, it becomes clear that God is far more concerned with His worship than with our comfort.”
The window of opportunity was over, and I had already said too much, and so the conversation moved swiftly along. The problem was – from my perspective, that is – that I had not said too much, but not nearly enough. Especially that last line stuck in my head. What kind of a god is God, to demand worship? And how dare He demand it even at the expense of our comfort? Even when it causes us great pain to give it?
I do not know what the other people in the conversation were thinking, but two logical responses to my mini-speech were: 1) What right does God have to demand worship? 2) What right does God have to frustrate human plans, remove pleasures and destroy infrastructure, progress and human unity to achieve His worship (or at least prevent false worship)?
As I lay awake this morning, I thought of a helpful metaphor. Think of children walking in a woods with their parents. Upon coming to a particularly lovely meadow, with a creek running through it, they are determined to stay rather than go home. Their parents entreat them, then finally resort to discipline, then finally pick them up and carry them – kicking and screaming! – all the way home. What right do the parents have? They have every right. In fact, to leave their children exposed to the elements would be criminal negligence.
“But dad,” they may respond, “It is warm and fun and peaceful here. We don’t want to go home. We want to stay here.” They don’t understand that the night is coming, that there are wild animals, that they will soon be hungry and there is no food.
“But the animals will help us! We can eat fish, milk the wild goats, and live on moose-meat!” The ambitious young children do not understand that the animals are not on their side or under their control. The only animals they are likely to see will either flee, or turn and steal what little food they have, destroy what shelter they have, or try to kill and eat them.
“But Dad!” (and here is the real objection) “we are having fun! And we don’t want to go home!” Fun, fun – yes, they are having fun. And certainly they want to stay, rather than returning to the hum-drum of life. But they don’t know what is good for them!
So it is with God, and with us. In our case, the “woods” of the world is crawling with not dozens but billions of lost children. We have all wandered, we have all run away from our creator, God and Father. You do not have to look far to see the devestation, the loss, the pain, the longing of our lonely childish hearts.
But wait – some are not lost! Some are not hurting! Some are not lonely!
Yes, true enough. There are some, for this time, for whom the world is all sun and smiles. It is summer, and it is daytime. They are young, and they are free and healthy – all the world is abuzz with beauty and delight. What need do they have of God? And what will they think of God – except that He is a bully! – when He comes to command them to come, to leave their forest home, to come home to His house, to live by His rules, to submit to Him and to come under His protection?
But they do not understand. It will not always be summer for them. It will not always be daytime. Soon the night comes – when voices in the shadows taunt, test, attack. Soon the fall is coming, and then the winter. Soon, they will be sinned against, and they will sin. Without God, their lives may likely become colder, more distant, more bitter as the years go on.
Perhaps it will not. They may find love, avoid sin, live well, love kindness and mercy and live a very rich and fully life.
But what of after-life? When the ultimate dark falls in the woods? When the dark things come to life, and all safety is gone, and the forest is burned?
Worship is ultimately about a decleration of allegiance. It is saying, “you are my answer to my problems, you are my safe-place, you are my refuge, you are my guide, you are my hope, you are my strength, you are MY GOD.”
In some ways, it is very much like the dependence of a small child on their parents. God knows very well that this world is not a safe place. He knows this far better, and sees it far more clearly than we do. We are so prone to trust others, or to trust ourselves – but God knows best. He knows that all others come only to steal, kill and destroy. He knows that whether we feel it or not, we are lost and alone and without protection in this world. For that reason He has made a way of escape for us.
And for our good He has commanded that we worship only Him. This is why the first three commandments read: 1) Worship no other gods besides me, 2) Make no false-gods in any graven image, 3) Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.
God is passionate about His worship in the same way that a parent is passionate about their child’s allegiance. What do we say to our children?
“Listen to mommy. Don’t run off like that!! Don’t talk to strangers. NEVER get in a car with a stranger. When I call, come here right away. You need to trust me! Yes, I know you don’t understand, but we are still going to do this because I know it is right.”
Is this any different than God?
He is passionate about us not running off to do our own thing – whether that is building a tower to forget about God, or running off to lead a life of fornication and greed. His word is the same: “Stop. Come back to me!”
And what does He do when we do not listen? “Those He loves, He disciplines.”
A child who is not yours you may allow to run away from you – even if they are running towards something that will hurt them. You may allow a strange child to consume volumes of sugar and junk-food in your presence, despite your warnings, but not do anything to stop them. Why? They are not yours, and ultimately (although it is cold, it is true) you do not love them enough to stop them. Nor should you – they are not your responsibility, and their parents would feel justifiably angry if you did try to assume their role.
But for your own children? If you love them, you will do all that you can to stop them. Through words, through depriving them of joys, privileges, pleasures. Perhaps even by physical restraint or punishment.
And this is what God did with the Tower of Babel. He knew His children were running far from Him. Perhaps He had some insight into the society which would be built through Babel. Maybe He knew a one-world society would be too cruel, too repressive of the weak within it. But more importantly, He knew what the tower represented: it was a monument of the people to themselves. They were replacing God with a tall tower made in their own image, to be their name-sake, their rallying point, their security, their identity, their god.
God knew and knows that only in Him will people find rest. Only in Him is life. Only in Him is hope. And so what was God to do? He could have let them go their own way. This is what He does sometimes, as a last-resort and as a judgment on people (Rom. 1). But not here. Here, He is gentle, merciful and generous to humanity. He corrects and disciplines them.
For their own good. To destroy their false-gods. To humble them. To bring them back to Himself.
That is what the story of Babel is ultimately about. Not an angry fire-god of the heavens, demanding that all bow in worship of Him. But a gentle and loving Father who is deeply concerned for His children, wanting them to come back to Him.
Do not despise God’s discipline when it comes. As with a good parent, God’s discipline is always for our good. And it is always love.