Monday, January 16, 2006

God, Babel and the Bomb

I've been thinking rather a lot today about the vast advances in technology mankind has made during the relatively brief amount of time civilisation has existed on Earth.

One reason for this is my continuing concern and apprehension, concerning Iran's nuclear program, and the increasingly disturbing statements that come from the country's leader - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In the West, we find it highly disturbing (and rightly so) that anybody with an extremist agenda should ever obtain the ability to carry out a nuclear tactical strike against a populated city (although, even the idea that a "civilised" society should have such a capability is frightening and abhorrent enough).

In the Biblical book of Genesis there is a curious passage, that deals with the subject of technological progression - and it has always fascinated me:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men 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 and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men 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 11:1-9)

You might have read that and thought "Well gosh, thanks a lot God, no wonder the World is in such a state!" It is true, that God appears on the surface of things to be confounding man's unity just to stop him developing incredible technologies. Superficially it appears like an incredibly selfish thing to do. You might well ask, how many wars may have happened over simple misunderstandings just because people weren't able to communicate?

However, we live in an age where through the spread of a few large empires and the rise of technology the human race has arrived at a point where mankind is largely able to develop a dialogue with his global neighbours. Having reached such a unique and advanced point in our development, do we find that this has stopped us finding reasons to harm, deprive or kill one another?

No, it has not. We have seen first hand how things such as enlightened self interest, personal agendas, economic stability and ideological purity drive our political and social conflicts. The hampering of communication was never a driving force behind our historic conflicts, but in most cases merely a contributing factor to their inevitability.

As much as poor communication and "chinese whispers" may cause conflict, how much more so is the saying "familiarity breeds contempt" true? It is in our nature to seek out the familiar in one another. We build cliques and join clubs - fly flags and draw up borders and call ourselves friends or nations or allies. Then, when somebody different comes along who we don't like, or who challenges our supremacy,authority or even just our security - we gang up on them (although sometimes like in World War II and the cause is noble and just, this can be justified). This is the way of the World and God in his wisdom knows it. The fact is that we (the human race as individuals), are very adept at both seeking out allies and more frighteningly - seeking out what is different in others and oppressing it. You can see this in all the most unsavoury areas of our characeter... and the darkest chapters of our history. Fortunately in the modern world, most of us have adopted a live and let live policy towards our fellow man... and usually the most divisive of arguments tend to be restricted to personal altercations and heated group debates. Kingdoms aren't ruled by the will of one, but the will of many... so theoretically it should be less likely that personal agendas shape international policy (although recent administrations on both side of the Atlantic have severely bucked that trend lately). We have things like Magna Carta to thank for that.

It wasn't always like this.

Going back to the story in Genesis, I would argue that contrary to the first impression, if you bother to dig a little deeper... you can see that God actually did the human race a favour.

Lets speak hypothetically about a possible scenario that could have happened, if God had not confused the tongues of men. Can you imagine what the Earth would be like today if the feudal rulers of Bronze/Iron or even Middle Age civilisations had acquired nuclear technology? A dust ball no doubt.

I believe God slowed our ability to make technological progress to a point that was more equated with our capacity to learn tolerance (generally speaking), and bear with one another. He knew our ability to intellectually progress was much more efficient than our ability to emotionally develop... and very wisely did something about it. I would argue that he saved our hides with that judgement call (not for the first and certanly not for the last time).

In days gone by, there were many men who were as foolish and insecure as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and George W. Bush are today. We should give thanks that God did something about it in our past, because I pretty much reckon we wouldn't be around today to talk about it if he hadn't.

What seemed like utter foolishness, turned out to be true wisdom and I just want to conclude with one last exhortation from the Bible about the wisdom of God:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Some of you who have read all this may think the idea of a God willingly going to his death to save humanity from sin is foolishness. However, I hope I have adequately demonstrated just one way in which something that seemed very foolish turned out to be very wise. If that's you, I urge you to take a good look at the cross again... and uncover it's deeper wisdom.



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