Genesis 11:1-9 - The story of the Tower of Babel teaches us not only to check our pride but our intentions. From a deeper understanding of ourselves, our God, and our dependence on Him, we can experience the transforming love that is required to live a life in union with Him.
The passage of the Tower of Babel tells the story of the Sumerian people who have decided to build a tower so tall, they believe they will be able to breach Heaven. Upon discovering this, God decides to confuse their languages and scatter them among the Earth - effectively ending the construction of the tower. What I find initially interesting about this story is that God chose to divide the human family. As Christians, we are more familiar with God wanting to unite us. However, as I came to know the story better, I began to understand the detrimental power that can be found in unity when we as humans fall into sin, and the vice of pride which God was quick to condemn.
The Sin of Pride
Reading the passage, it becomes quickly apparent that the tower itself was not the problem – thinking that humanity could reach Heaven without the help of God was. We cannot achieve the glory of Heaven on our own accord, nor can we stand in the presence of God without his grace. Take for example the story of Genesis: Adam and Eve were banished from paradise because they could no longer endure the presence of God. It is only through God’s will and grace that we will enter into His presence. The Sumerians thinking that they could do so was, in one word, prideful.
To give it a definition, pride is the excessive love of one’s own excellence and falls among the ranks of the seven capital sins. When we suffer from pride we choose to withdraw ourselves from subjection to our God, placing our will above His. The gravity of this sin arises from the fact that a person shows contempt for or is unwilling to acknowledge dependence on God - refusing to submit themselves to God’s lawful authority in their lives. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God chooses to remedy the sin Himself by removing the workers’ ability to effectively communicate with one another. While the people of Sumeria needed God’s intervention to humble themselves, there are ways that we can humble ourselves during our daily struggles and actively smother our own pride.
To begin, we need a sincere understanding of ourselves. Understanding our gifts, capabilities, and spiritual life on a deeper level helps us to better understand God’s plan and role in our lives – making it easier to submit to His will above our own. Humility can also do the trick. Every time we choose to accept our daily humiliations we take a swing at our pride. We must be willing to acknowledge that God’s will reigns over ours; that we subject ourselves to His plan every day so that we can fully enter into communion with Him. Not only must we humbly accept the bumps in our path, we must also humbly accept our faults. We are human and therefore imperfect - we depend on God’s gifts and will for us. Lastly, a prayerful relationship with the Lord will help us to build a trusting and loving relationship with Him. It is in prayer that God speaks to our hearts, revealing His plan and fostering our desire to lean on Him in times of difficulty. Without Him we are nothing, and what better way to acknowledge so than by humbling ourselves to tell Him.
Making a Name for Ourselves
Another aspect of the passage that I found interesting was the line which describes a desire of the Sumerian people to “make a name for themselves.” Digging into this idea of naming, we recall that in the story of Genesis Adam named all of the animals that God had created. However, God named man. If you’ve ever named a pet, a child, or even a car, you’ll know that to name something is to know something by its essence. Therefore, when we read that man was trying to make a name for himself in the story of the Tower of Babel, we recognize the pridefulness in that action. Only our creator truly knows our essence well enough to name us. Even today we can fall subject to this idea of trying to make a name for ourselves. We are tempted by worldly standards to build big houses, buy extravagant cars, or cheat or overwork ourselves to stand out among our classmates and coworkers. While these actions may help us to make a name for ourselves here on Earth, they do not bring us any closer to the ultimate goal: Heaven. We should instead be striving to make a name for ourselves as saints. Through sacrifice, prayer, fasting, and acts of love, we can embody the lifestyle which God designed us for, living up to our names as daughters and sons of Christ.
Power of Unity
The last thing I want to make note of in this passage comes at the end when we read that the Lord came down to see the tower, and upon seeing it said,
“If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach.”
God’s words seem to portray a worry that man will become too powerful; that they think they will become God-like in ability and power. Worried where their moral corruption may lead to, God disperses them across the Earth. This action makes the point that while unity is something we should all seek, it is not a detached good. It is great when it is used for good, but when used for wickedness, is best scattered. In the words of Saint Jerome,
“Just as when holy men live together, it is a great grace and blessing; so likewise, that congregation is the worst kind when sinners dwell together. The more sinners there are at one time, the worse they are! Indeed, when the tower was being built up against God, those who were building it were disbanded for their own welfare. The conspiracy was evil. The dispersion was of true benefit even to those who were dispersed.”
The story of the Tower of Babel teaches us not only to check our pride but our intentions. We are called to unity as daughters and sons of Christ, but our actions can be damaging when we choose to use our community for acts that go against the will of God. We are also called to choose humility over pride: to acknowledge our dependence on our God and His plan for us. From a deeper understanding of ourselves, our God, and our dependence on Him, we can experience the transforming love that is required to live a life in union with Him.