Aug 3, 2014: Who Doesn’t Understand Whom?

Posted on : Jul 31st, 2014 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Spoiler alert: The total inability of people to listen to each other, understand each other, and the desire to build their own fiefdoms, did not begin with the current Congress of the United States. It dates back to the Tower of Babel story in the 11th chapter of Genesis.

This week we are in the eighth week of our journey through Genesis. When we began this journey I told you this story is a story about a relationship – a relationship between God and a people. Like all relationships, it has its ups and downs.

After we’ve been dating someone for a while, one of the things we usually want to know is something (or a lot) about the person’s background, history and family. That helps with the question of “How did you get to be the way you are?” and can be a good warning that it’s time to run – fast.

In this early stage of the relationship between God and “us” one of the big questions that has to be answered is “How did you get to be the way you are?” How we got to be the way we are comes about through a bunch of complex circumstances!

So far we’ve had God creating everything and calling it “good.” Then we are told that God had a major melt-down and destroyed just about everything on earth with a massive flood. [Personally, I think someone with a two year old came up with this idea!] And then, just as this story began with “one family,” so the story continues with all humanity coming forth from another “single family” – Noah’s. Noah’s three sons waste no time. The entire 10th chapter of Genesis is a list of the offspring of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. They were prolific.

But here’s the “challenge” with this story. How can one family produce so many people who are so different, come from so many nationalities, speak so many different languages and fight like crazy? Here’s how the Genesis story answers that question:

Throughout the earth, people spoke the same language and used the same words…They moved eastward, and settled there. They said to one another, “Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top can reach to heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves to keep us from being scattered over the face of the whole earth.

Our God came down to see the city and the tower these mortals had built. “They are a single people with a single language,” God said. Come, let us go down and baffle their language so that they can no longer understand one another.” So Our God scattered them over the face of the earth, and they had to stop building the city. It was named Babel, because God made humans babble different languages throughout the world. It was from there that Our God scattered them over the whole earth.

To me, this story seeks to answer a question that has obviously existed for a long time. Why is it so difficult for humanity to understand one another? Why is it that “red states” and “blue states,” each belonging to the United States, have such fundamentally different “views” on life? Why is it that progressives and Democrats tend to be located in urban cities and conservatives and Republicans tend to live in suburban, exurban and rural areas? Why is it that Caucasians and African Americans have such a different perspective on race and racism in America, even today? Why are Christians so intractably polarized over the issue of homosexuality and the place of LGBT Christians in the community of faith?

This ancient biblical story known as “the Tower of Babel” seeks to answer those questions. However, the fundamental premise of this story may just be wrong. The story credits God with being the one that messes everything up.

If you were in church last Sunday, you would have heard a chorus of babies “babbling.” For many years it was thought that kids’ babbling was nonsensical noise or “pre-vocalization.” That is, it was thought that babbling was the way that babies “learn to speak.” However, in recent years, may linguists have discovered that what we label as “babble” is most likely a universal or primitive (as in first) form of language. In other words babies talk to each other or communicate with each other, using a common language. But once we “grow up” we lose that universal language.

That gives the old story of the “Tower of Babel” a bit of a twist, doesn’t it? Maybe God didn’t mess up our ability to understand each other. Maybe we do it to ourselves. Let’s see if we might learn to better understand each other and God on Sunday.

Blessings,

Dan

 

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Genesis 11: 1-9

The Tower of Babel

Throughout the earth, people spoke the same language and used the same words. Now, as they moved eastward, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They all said to one another, “Let us make bricks and bake them in the fires.” They used bricks as building stones, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top can reach to heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves to keep us from being scattered over the face of the whole earth.

 Our God came down to see the city and the tower these mortals had built. “They are a single people with a single language,” Our God said. And this is but the beginning of their undertakings! Now there will be nothing too hard for them to do. Come, let us go down and baffle their language so that they can no longer understand one another.” So Our God scattered them over the face of the earth, and they had to stop building the city. It was named Babel, because God made humans babble different languages throughout the world. It was from there that Our God scattered them over the whole earth.

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