Living in Babel
I’m just old enough to remember the Indian Chief on the television screen in the mornings. My grandparents had a black and white television that was turned on about the time morning programming was to begin. If the show hadn’t started yet, a drawing of an Indian chief’s head in profile popped up on the screen while the audio speaker spit white noise. The screen was the television company’s test pattern. Along with the Indian chief, other geometrical patterns were used by a technician far away who tuned the signal and sent it on to antennas rising above roofs in rural America.
The test pattern has long been retired. The entertainment and news cycle goes on twenty-four hours daily here in the 21st century. The Internet has roared into life and set down his stakes. The voices of the world vie for attention. They both draw us in and make us feel isolated. We are connected and disconnected. It is confusing at times. We are living in Babel.
In Genesis 11, the Bible records the story of mankind being spread throughout the earth. The people populating the world huddled together on the plain at Shinar and started to build brick by brick a name for themselves. They determined to set the course of their destiny when God in the Trinity set them on a new course, confusing their language and taking authority over the “impossible.”
And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Genesis 11:6-8 ESV)According to the New York Times, “over half of humanity now live in cities, and even more, will soon.” Interestingly, the shift of population from being more rural rather than urban began in 1950, about the time the Indian signal came flying through the air into the homes of people in the developed world. One hundred years later, it is projected that two-thirds of humankind will live in cities.
I’m not exactly sure of the connection between being connected to a television beaming the outside world into everyone’s lives and the growth of urbanization, but I do know that the world is smaller because we are connected in ways unimagined just a few years ago.
No matter where I’ve been over the past few years, I’ve seen the world sitting on each other’s stoop. Whether in Moldova or Haiti where life is hard or in the beautiful cities of Paris and London, the world is looking into a screen. Google projected by the year 2023 the whole world would be on the Internet. Some scoff at the prediction, but the Google executive said that 5 billion people will join the 3 billion already connected by the year 2020.
What is the Internet saying? There are so many voices speaking to one another and over one another. Most of the voices of people on this vast network of people, I don’t know personally. The longer I’m connected to all the chatter, I wonder if I really know the people that I do know.
It shouldn’t be a surprise we often can feel confused and disoriented in the “brave new world” we are living in. As much as we tie our world together with technology or travel or huddling together in masses, the truth is that we will continue to speak different languages. A spirit of confusion lies over the world. As much as we have the tendency to want to control our destiny, God will make it impossible for us. If we refuse to “spread out” and continue to huddle in our cities, then he’ll have us walk down the sidewalk passing hundreds and thousands of other "connected" people without speaking a word. We will be together, but we won’t know each other. Is there a greater feeling of being alone than when loneliness comes in the presence of others?
This may sound depressing. I feel the weight of it, but I also have hope because we are still humans who bear the image of God. We are not solitary people. We still need each other, and more importantly, we need to understand our worth as we feel our smallness in this hyper-connected world.
When we are confused, we long for peace. Peace has its source in the person of Jesus. When we realize our longing is to be connected to our Creator, to God, then we don’t have to speak all the languages of the world. We only have to know the language of love. We bow to him and know that He alone is in charge of our destiny.
The world is changing. It has since time began and there seems no end to the trend. The Bible and all of history reveal that God doesn't change. With Him, there is no variation or shifting shadow.
This is the great comfort as we chatter way while living in Babel.