"We can do anythiiiiiiiiing." But should we? Genesis 11:6-7
“And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.’”
Every time I run into these verses, I flinch a little. At first glance, they feel almost mean. What’s wrong with people understanding one another? What’s wrong with “nothing being impossible” for humans? (Imagine a 1980’s theme song, here. “We can do anythiiiiiiing.”)
Even more baffling? God gave humans a command to create and cultivate. So what’s the deal? Why would he tell humans to do something, then stop them mid stream?
This story jolts me like Genesis 3:22-24. Remember this section we read a few weeks ago?
"Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”' therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life."
What’s wrong with knowing good and evil? What’s wrong with living forever? Wouldn't that be a good thing?
I think these sorts of passages are sort of enthymematic—they leave out an implied major premise that must be understood to get the full meaning. And in both cases, the omitted premise is pretty much the same: “Power in the hands of people who are out of sync with God will lead to disaster.”
Eternal life for Adam and Eve (and their offspring) in a post-sin world would not be pleasant. Imagine endless existence in a fleshly state that had no possibility of indwelt communion with the Creator. Adam and Eve didn’t just need physical immortality, they needed redemption.
In the case of Babel, a similar trajectory is noted. The progress of secular humanism would provide empty success. Sure, stuff would get accomplished. Research and development would happen. But while a proud, godless humanity was trying to “make a name for itself," the results would be fragmented and disjointed because civilization wouldn’t operate in harmony with the Creator of the universe. If left to their own skill sets, humans would learn to rely on themselves more and more, growing increasingly dependent upon their own minds and strength and less open to the sort of Divine trust and reliance that the imago Dei was created to experience.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite Chesterton quotes here—a quote that I have mentioned dozens of times already and plan to mention dozens of times more. It’s that good.
"The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone."
What can we learn here about rooting our gifts in the center of Jesus? The temptation to "make a name for ourselves" is still kicking today. How do we do the work of creation and cultivation without running into dependence upon our own strength? How do move outward in faith from a true, operational core?