Ministry and the Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel

It may not have been finished, but the Tower of Babel serves as a fine sign!

On my drive to and from the church’s building, I pass a plot of land that has a sign on it, and the sign tells all who pass by that a historic church was once located there.  Even though I have seen the sign a number of times, I often find myself reading it as I pass.  It’s almost eerie in a way.

I was visiting Yale the other day, and as I was walking down the street with three pastors, we passed the Yale Theatre Repertoire, which is located in what was once an old Baptist church.

Church buildings are often lovely, and we know that they are functional; they are conducive to reverent worship.

But as of late I have found that they’re serving as a fine metaphor for me.

There’s a lie somewhere, and I’m not sure where it came from or how it started.  There was a lie told at some point in time in some place that says that it is all up to us.  Perhaps the lie started on the lips of some well-intentioned zealot, or perhaps it’s just born into our heart – I don’t know – but it’s an insidious lie.  I know that lie, and I know many people who know that lie.  The lie is a burden, and what’s worse, it’s a distraction that can take us away from the people with whom we’re living out lives of discipleship, the people on the ground so to speak.

It’s a lot like the Tower of Babel.  Whether right or wrong, the way I read the Old Testament, at least the first part of the Book of Genesis, is that humans want so badly to control everything.  They want to surpass God or their ideas of God, and it’s just not natural, not realistic.  The Tower of Babel is a fine example of that.  They want to build something permanent, something resistant to change.  I’m sure that they had the best of intentions.  In fact, when I try to read the Tower of Babel and imagine that I know nothing of their building the tower being a mistake, it’s almost admirable.  They want to do something amazing.  And all of this weight is on their shoulders.  They can do it, and they don’t need any more help, whether from God or the people who have their feet firmly planted on the ground.  And the lie is in that.

Perhaps it is that we are at our worst when we want to be the sole soul in charge.  Perhaps it’s a little foolish sounding too.  To think that we can do it on our own.  At the very least, I know that in such instances I’m not at my personal best.  And how could I be at my personal best if the Spirit of Christ isn’t included in whatever is happening?

I don’t mean to suggest that these old buildings and spots where buildings once stood were pure mistakes.  I would imagine that they were crafted and well-used by people leading and seeking to lead faithful lives.  But their current state, much like the Tower of Babel, does suggest that attempts at permanence and control are, at the best, foolhardy – and understandable, relatable.

Things are going to change; we don’t get to dictate what happens or the pace at which it happens.  We are granted some part in it all, but ultimately, we don’t have to go and make a Tower of Babel.  God could make that happen, with us, if it were on the agenda.  Our lives already matter enough without the Tower of Babel, without the lie.  Our vocations and calls matter enough already.  And in recognizing that, in seeing the God who is actively working and seeing the people who are there in whom God is working, better will be built than the Tower of Babel.  Because Christ is there, down on the ground with us and everyone else, and down there, down here, we are with Him.  We don’t need the Tower of Babel, we don’t need that lie.  We need this dynamic, active God and these people whom God has put around us.

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