From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor Study
Nothing Will Be Impossible for Them
Dec 7, 2022
In Genesis 11:6 we read a rather puzzling statement of God: “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.” This statement is God’s response to the building of the Tower of Babel. Recall that after the flood, the people gathered on the plains of Shinar, and after they had settled there, they stated their intention: they wanted to make a name for themselves so they began to build a tower whose top would reach into the heavens. This is another way of saying, “We want to become as powerful as God.” Having a great name was equivalent to becoming powerfully independent and fully capable to overcome all problems.
It was in response to this that God said, “Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” As a result, he confused their language, and, as a result, the people stopped building the tower and were scattered over the face of the whole earth.
I find this statement to be puzzling because it almost seems as if God wants us to fail. It seems as if he scrambled the one language of the people into many so that they could not live up to their full potential. It does seem as if God is being unfair at the best and cruel at the worst. Why would he not want us to live up to our full potential?
The answer to this question can be easily overlooked if we do not read the next chapter carefully. In Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abraham from his homeland, and he tells him, among other things, that he (God) would make his (Abraham’s) name great. And, as the result of God’s work in Abraham’s life, Abraham would be blessed so that he could become a blessing for the nations. We can read between the lines and discover that God would provide for the human race what the people of the Tower of Babel wanted to do themselves.
The mindset of the people of the Tower of Babel seems to be becoming more prevalent in the western world especially and perhaps also, to a lesser degree, in the rest of the world. The failing of humanity, we are led to believe, is that we do not use our full potential. Humanists would tell us that if we would all work and think and act to our fullest potential, we could do so much more. We could solve the current ecological and environmental problems. We could get rid of starvation and poverty. We could limit the impact of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. We are led to believe that if we would only work together, then nothing would be impossible for us.
There is some truth to that. None of us will ever say that we are living up to our full potential. We could do more, and if we did, we could accomplish more. If all 8 billion people put a little more effort into things, perhaps the problems which are mentioned over and over again on the news would go away or, at least, be significantly diminished. We could do better. We do have the potential to make the world a better place.
There are many barriers to this happening, and one of them, not surprisingly, is our language differences. In the late 1870s, a Polish man by the name of L.L. Zamenhof, went to work to overcome the barriers created by the existence of all the different languages, and he created a new language which he said could become an international language. The language he created became known as Esperanto. His intention was that this universal second language, spoken by all, would “foster peace and international understanding.” Growing up in Poland, Zamenhof had neighbours who spoke different languages and there was hostility between the multiple ethnic neighbourhoods. Zamenhof believed that a common language would go a long way to enable people to work together so that we could have world peace with the result that we could work together and tap into the full potential of the human race.
This all sounds nice, but it does seem to be a return to the Tower of Babel. If we work together, we will be known as the people who made this world great again. We can make a name for ourselves. Nothing we plan to do would be impossible for us. Why would God disagree with that?
There is a problem with the mindset of the Tower of Babel: what we can do as human beings working together, even at full potential, is quite limited. Yes, we may be able to solve many of the problems currently plaguing our world. Disease, poverty, pollution, climate change, war, and all the rest could be virtually eliminated, and that would make the world a lot better place. But we cannot change the world from the way it is. A new house needs a new roof in 15 years or, if we put a steel roof on, in 50 years. A new disease replaces the old one. A different greedy person arises to start another war. The simple problem is that while we might be able to do a lot more if we use the full potential of 8 billion people, we can’t change the essential nature of the world and of ourselves. To put it in biblical terms, we cannot reverse the power of sin which pervades everything.
When God called Abraham, he promised that he would bless the world through him. The author of Hebrews gives us a glimpse in what Abraham understood that to mean: even though he as given a place to live in Canaan, he was “looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). A little later in the chapter the author of Hebrews says that the people of faith were “longing for a better country – a heavenly one: Heb. 11:16). Perhaps the author of Hebrews is thinking of the city that the people built on the plains of Shinar and he knew that even if we all worked to our fullest potential, we would be building a city that was prone to deterioration and rot. What we can do won’t last forever. What God can do, however, does last forever.
Esperanto, though it has a following today, would not have accomplished what Zamenhof hoped it would do. It would not have given this world final solution to our problems. Rather, we would have found other ways to make life difficult for ourselves and others. It’s our nature to do so. If you have done any travel outside of the English-speaking world, you will know how frustrating language differences can be. It would be nice to be able to talk to everyone. Maybe in eternal life we will be able to do that, but, for now, let us be reminded that the variety of languages is a sign that God doesn’t want to leave us to accomplish what seems impossible because our accomplishments are not enough. Let us be reminded by the presence of different languages that God has made it possible for us to become one family, and he has done that through his Son who took care of our sins and through whom we can receive eternal life in that city that is being built by God. That city won’t rot and deteriorate. That’s why God doesn’t want us to do something without him because what he is doing is better.