Okay, continuing our mini-series on the Tower of Babel, we delve today into the inconsistencies within the narrative as they relate to God’s omnipotence and His love for His Creation. (If you missed last week’s post, you can catch up by clicking here).
In the Bible, the account reads:
‘Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11v1-8, NIV)
Alright, let me condense down the key ‘God’ moments in this passage:
- God comes down to the city, discovers the people’s endeavours to build a tall tower and is threatened by it.
- Observing their ability to co-operate, God reasons that nothing is beyond their aptitude and capability.
- Fearful of their achievements, God confuses them so they can no longer understand one another’s language which results in…
- The people being unable to complete the tower and as a result they move away to fulfil God’s intention that they be scattered across the world.
Fairly straightforward so far..BUT…
Several questions arise about the character of God in this passage. Firstly, The Divine is portrayed as insecure and easily threatened. Secondly, God is not omniscient (all seeing) at all as not only does He have to physically come down to the city to view the tower but He also brings others with Him – presumably for protection (though some might suggest the Trinity?) Lastly, the fact that God* did not know in advance that humans as ‘secondary creators’ – designed in God’s image and working with the available resources of the world – would attempt such a thing, defies understanding. In being creative, humans were imitating their Creator whose image and raison d’être they bear.
All of which brings us to the nub of why this account of God is problematic – in short, God is portrayed in a way that makes him more like a human than a Deity! He is driven by fear of others and what they might achieve. The Divine is taken to mood swings in which He punishes all by confusing the languages (if indeed, he actually was responsible for doing this?). And why? Because people came together, cooperated and built something extraordinary for that time. (A parent would congratulate their child for such an endeavour not scold them out of hand for doing that which came naturally to them!)
And lastly – where is the Loving God in all of this? Moreover, where is the consistency? God stops people from building a tower made of brick and tar then does not intervene when others develop poison gas and use it to kill hundreds of thousands of people during World War 1. Or develop an atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2? For many of us, these would be things we might hope God would intervene in…..but he doesn’t: WHY? Because God in giving humanity freewill – that is the ability to make their own decisions – does so at the risk that some may abuse it in ways that affect, hurt and even kill others. Of course, God could withdraw all freewill from humanity but that would result in us being little more than automatons who have no ability to make choices that affect ours and the future of others .
In summary, the Tower of Babel owes much to a text retold and understood from a human perspective. Next week we will consider how this biblical account might be better understood in regard to God, humans and a historical record of events that seeks to keep God good. Untill then…
The Force be with you!
*as Primary Creator