God said, “Look, the people are united, they all have a single language, and see what they’re starting to do! At this rate, nothing they set out to accomplish will be impossible for them!Genesis 11:6
Sense-making is one of the big problems we face today in our world.
It used to be so easy: the bible told us how things are, literally, and all we had to do is believe. And since around us, most believed, there was no problem in finding common ground and understanding.
Actually, it was not the bible that told us, but the god-given authorities that knew and interpreted the bible. And those were few, as not many were even able to read, and there was a hierarchy in place of authority to interpret the scripture.
It also helped that travel was not a major undertaking at the time, and most people stayed within their family homes and the area of their upbringing, which resulted in one language for most.
But then, Luther and Zwingli came around and translated the bible into German. This sparked an educational revolution as people wanted to learn to read and see for themselves what is written.
And suddenly, there were multiple interpretations of the bible: Catholic, Lutheran, Zwinglian, Calvinist, Anabaptist.
Conflicting interpretations existed before, right from the beginning of Christianity, not to talk about Jewish interpretations of their bible even before that. The Roman state unified much of them under the house of what was to become the Catholic church.
And still, there were several eastern churches with vastly differing interpretations, but they were divided from the influence sphere of the Catholic church both by geography and language.
Now, with things happening (apart from Calvinism) within the German language and its geographic region, the effect was devastating to the single understanding of the bible, and one could see this event as a repetition of the story of the tower of Babel.
But there are certain circumstances that do not surface in the biblical account in Genesis 11. It might well be, and non-biblical accounts actually point into this direction, that they were present as well back then, but not in God’s primary focus nor his reason to act.
It was this hierarchy of power and authority in interpreting the bible and its abuse to cement this very hierarchy. Obviously, back then, the hierarchy of power would have nothing to do with the bible, as it did not exist, but maybe more with emergent tyranny and slavery.
During the time the original account took place, there was no moral code in place and we were in the midst of predominantly tribal thinking. Sticking together with the ones one knew was paramount to survival, and God needed either brute force or some other device to instill adventurous behaviour and obedience to the original command to subdue the earth.
We had at that time first power structures in place, but they were not in the focus of God. Humans were not mature enough for such complex things as laws apart from the law of the jungle.
This had changed by the end of the medieval age. Power hierarchies had usurped laws to subdue not the earth, but their people. It was time for the next phase.
God from the beginning of time introduced a few concepts into creation to allow mankind to grow into its destiny. Most of them are quite disputed, even by theologians.
God introduced free will to allow for individual choice including responsibility for our choices. And he introduced non-determinism. Otherwise our choices are not based on free will.
My worldview is fundamentally non-materialistic, which follows from above statements, because in a merely materialistic world, determinism would be most probable. It is true that quantum mechanics has introduced non-deterministic behaviour and therefore shattered our belief that, given enough measurement precision and data, we could foresee all events from the beginning.
Free choice, at least perceived free choice if you do not buy into the idea, is paramount for love, as only a free choice for somebody is true love.
This capacity for individual choice has been ours from the beginning, but just like children, we had to grow into it. We first learned to submit to our tribe. And since it is life circumstances that project us forward as we have to find new solutions for new problems, God changed the circumstances.
Do I believe that God literally and historically confused the language of people? I have to admit, I do not. I believe that this is a wonderfully deep and archetypal story that explains how people found the common within the differences when tribes collided. They at some point saw their similarities and probably shared origin and explained language differences using this story, attributing it to God.
But that is not the point today. And there is so much more in this story. One example: they want to build a city that replaces heaven and the idea of God.
Of course, language is disturbed to prevent humankind from the hubris of being God in place of God.
And still, we are made as the mirror image of God with the calling to reflect him and become one with him in all our individuality.
We are to become gods, not in God’s place, but in union with God.
We learn from the story that unity is paramount, but that humanity had by no means been ready.
We had since progressed in our ability to face more complex problems and come up with more complex solutions, one of which was the moral and ethical code of the bible.
It had produced those power structures, and once more, humanity had a rather unified understanding of the world, at least in the West. But since mankind had learned about their powers in the meantime, this single worldview was used to subdue most of humanity.
Instead of language, God this time confused their worldview. Of course that is only one effect of the reformation, but a powerful one. It brought about the notion of the individual.
Since humanity had lived through and experienced the positive effects of a common moral and ethics framework, they have been imprinted and the individual was more civilized than the tyrant of previous stages.
On the other hand, the newly found rational and logical thinking capacities led to doubt about the story people had been fed for so many centuries, as it did not hold under the scrutiny of scientific rigor.
Thus, the move to allow that people read the bible on their own led to the Nietzschean outcry that “God is dead”. Whereas the confusion of language was done to prevent the hubris of man, the confusion of their worldview directly led them into exactly this.
Was it wrong then for Luther and Zwingli to translate the bible and make it accessible to everybody? By no means. It is in line with free will and responsibility. Mankind in the eyes of God had matured to a point where they could handle it. Handling was messy, and most reverted to traditional views or abandoned God altogether.
This to me looks much like the teenage years of humanity.
Add in the further moves of God since then to show us that truth is not absolute, but always tainted by our own understanding and worldview, and you get an idea of why sense-making is so difficult nowadays.
From my reading of God’s story with us, there is only one way to deal with this: forward. I am looking forward to the next moves of God.