I have resisted writing much along theological/Bible-study lines, especially in recent months, when I decided to revamp this blog this year in an effort to focus more seriously on attracting local readership and involvement with the Fat Beggars School of Prophets. In part, I am leery of writing complicated sentences (like the one just before this one (and this one too for that matter)) and paragraphs and/or diving deeply into biblical analysis that requires erudite words or concepts. Basically, what I want to talk about is not actually all that simple, to my way of thinking, but it is important. And I want to share some important thoughts, some of which are complex, but I want to simplify it all, yet I don’t know how.
What follows is my best attempt at simplicity:
Think back to when you were a kid – a little kid. If you were like me, you grew up in church and were taught Bible stories by parents, grandparents, and Sunday school teachers. The lessons we learned at those early ages were quite simple.
We didn’t cover a lot of deep Christian theology from Romans or First Corinthians on those flannel boards. We covered simple narratives mostly. Adam & Eve, Noah’s Ark, Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, David & Goliath, and of course narratives of Jesus’s healings and adventures with Peter and Paul (mostly from the Gospels or Acts). A lot of those early Bible lessons were not revisited in later years, when the deeper theological stuff was added. For instance, we heard about Rehab the Harlot who let the spies down the wall of Jericho with a rope after hiding them in her home when we were seven or ten years old, but it wasn’t until I got into a college Bible class that someone dealt with the question of what/Who led those spies to her brothel to begin with.
My point is that a lot of Bible education is acquired at a very young age, and then it just stalls out right there. A lot of adults in churches today learned the bulk of their Bible studies before the age of fourteen without expanding on that knowledge. Thus, if I ask if you studied the story of Moses at the burning bush, there is a strong chance that the bulk of your knowledge was gained as a child, and your child-like understanding of it may be all you have to work with even at this point in your life.
(All of this assumes you grew up obtaining this kind of Bible study in the first place. Just think of all the people who did not grow up in Christian homes or attending Sunday school!)
The story of the Tower of Babel is what I currently have on my mind. If you are like me, you were taught about the Tower of Babel at a very young age, and the most significant part of the lesson was that this story explains why the Italians speak Italian, the French speak French, The Mexicans speak Spanish, and why the Americans speak English!
Well, okay… perhaps I am being a bit facetious, but I think the point comes through.
The people who build the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 expect to build a tower that reaches into heaven so they can make a name for themselves. Basically, they think they can run the world without God’s input and without revering him in the process. But as a child, I didn’t pick up on some of those deep aspects, not much anyway. I imagined a really tall tower reaching into the clouds almost like Jack’s Beanstalk and thinking that would be an amazing building project. I never quite understood what God found so offensive in it, but I was clear he did find offense alright. And I never understood why he thought “confusing the languages” was an appropriate response/punishment/disciplinary measure, but it surely did explain why I spoke English to the satisfaction of my six-year-old mind.
And then I grew up with that pretty much characterizing my understanding of the story.
Like so much of Genesis, and especially the first eleven chapters, there was no sense of redemption in the narrative. Rather, it explained how we got here. It demonstrated why we needed redemption. But it did not offer the redemption and had very little, if any, connection to it.
And I grew up in a faction of the very Western ideal that cut redemption off from the world in which we live. For me, the point of studying the Bible and believing in Jesus was so that I could leave this world for a better place. Specifically, the point of my faith, as I was led to believe, was to “go to heaven when I die” and thus escape the great judgement fires that would consume the world of Genesis and reduce it all to ashes – if even they were spared. Thus Genesis could explain how we got here, but it could not get us where we wanted to go, and the explanation of where all the languages came from made for a nice bit of Bible trivia.
However, once I was grown, I studied Bible in the academy under rigorous academic discipline and learned that biblical faith is not about “going to heaven when I die”, but about God redeeming the very creation he loves and made with his special care. And within that context, the Tower of Babel was no longer a trivial matter at all.
So what do we do with this story given the right context and theological mindset?
I am sure that is highly debatable, actually. But I am also certain that most of us are not qualified to enter that debate in our current state. Many readers here on this blog hold to the Western ideals and traditions about heaven and hell and believe staunchly that the goal of life is to “go to heaven when we die”. I am betting that by now you have heard that this traditional view is heavily challenged in the academy, but still you resist it. I am betting that many other readers here have come to terms with that tradition and moved on from it, as have I. But even those who have moved on will likely spend the rest of their lives un-learning the old traditional view and disentangling it from our Biblical faith.
Point being, stories like the Tower of Babel surely have more meaning than mere trivia. But what is it? How does it work? What does it mean after all?
Well… without diving into each argument deeply (this post is already neck deep in theology), I will mostly make assertions that readers are welcome to challenge. But since I figure my findings will be far more meaningful than mere trivia (on the one hand) and new to most people (on the other), I want to share some fresh thoughts on the Tower of Babel that I feel sure will undergird a lot of subsequent theology and ministry.
But since this effort at simplicity is already getting lengthy, as well as challenging, I must break it off here and pick up this line of thinking in (a) subsequent post(s).
So, if you wanna know more about what this babbling bum has to say on the Tower of Babel… stay tuned…