The very thing the people didn’t want (to be scattered) was exactly what happened anyway. They thought by building a city with a great tower, it would protect their place, their homes, their city; instead, disunity broke their dreams. Miscommunication is the root of most discord, whether it’s in a marriage, a family, a neighborhood, church, a business, an organization, a government, a city, or a nation. If we do not understand one another, we cannot build or grow because our foundation is sand.
Genesis 11:4-5; 6-8
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.” . . . 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.
People often get an idea of how to build something and more often than not, don’t play well with others in the sandbox.
At my work, we have a training class that I help lead, and at one point in the workshop, a table group is asked to build the tallest structure possible with marshmallows and raw spaghetti. It usually ends in disaster or a a very puny, unstable construction. In some cases, the tower is tall and even solid, but often, this comes at the cost of unity, a dictator emerges from the group who forces cooperation. That kind of accord is fleeting.
It’s always been a curiosity to me as to why God would not allow the group to build that tower in the plains of Shinar when they still had the same language. Most commentators talk about the issue of pride. The idea that they wanted to build the tallest tower, as though that, in itself, would seal their safety and confirm their power and authority. And I see that. But I cannot help but wonder if there was more to the story. That they spoke the same outward language but did not really communicate.
Were they really all in agreement about the nature of the tower? Or did they argue and argue and argue about it? Were there power plays and the formation of spheres of influence? Did leaders emerge who were then challenged by other leaders? It’s usually a matter of perspective, of vision poorly expressed that causes misunderstandings. Often, over time, one group develops their own secret vocabulary. Have you ever tried to sit in on a conversation of techies or researchers? They’re speaking English, but I have no idea what they’re talking about.
Of course, it’s in all arenas. Even librarians have lingo like standing order, YALSA, professional collection, MARC record, catalog, folksonomy, bibliographic instruction, boolean searching, call number, controlled vocabulary, ALA, and format, just to name a few.
But Christians are no better: saved, born again, walked the aisle, rapture, name it and claim it, holy laughter, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, tongues, testimony, and so on.
Groups develop their own language within a language. And we often take those secret languages to build, not a tower, but a wall around ourselves.
So, what happens? Either you have to learn the language of the group or you might as well go elsewhere. Just something to think about today.