“Variety, Not Uniformity”
Genesis 11: 1-9; Acts 2: 1-21
Pearl: God adjusted creation in favor of variety
Function: To motivate worshippers to not only appreciate but to seek a multiplicity of voices/perspectives in order to know God and the gospel more fully.
What happened in the Tower of Babel incident? What were human beings doing which so displeased the Lord and contributed toward God adjusting humanity?
one thing it is revealing how the Revised Standard Version of the bible reads
in verse 1: “Now the whole earth had one
language and few words.” Of all of the bible translations the RSV, not the
NRSV, gets a star for how they depict creation. With “one language” and “few
words” what does that make?
- A fairly bland, spice-less picture, maybe?
these ancient people got the notion to build a big, impressive city with a big
impressive tower which would reach literally to the heavens. They launched upon
an expansion project which had no limits and would even help them to
practically reach God. They began to ambitiously over-reach to the point of
practically being gods to themselves.
- In a revealing verse 4 it reads that they were inspired to “make a name for themselves.”
her book Holy Envy Barbara Brown Taylor shares Emmanuel Lartey’s
reimagined story of Babel. Lartey is a distinguished teacher of pastoral
theology and was raised in Ghana.
- He explained that the problem in the Babel incident “…was not about God’s judgement on diversity but God’s judgement on the dominance of one people, with one language, whose wish to make a name for themselves took over their lives. God saved them by confusing their language, so they could not complete their domination project” (Taylor, p. 179).
problem with this ancient “domination project” of humanity was that it
de-humanized people in the rush to build the big city and the big tower.
are a couple of Midrash stories which show this. Midrash is a Jewish method of
retelling a well-known story in a new way to address a new day or age or
situation. It is a way of seeing the story behind the story.
- One Midrash was about the bricks used in making the tower. In this old story the tower grew and grew until it took a full year for people to pass the bricks from hand to hand all the way to the top. Bricks became so precious to the project that when a brick slipped and fell, the people wept, but when a human being fell and died, no one paid any attention.
- In another story the tower became more important than anything else including giving birth. When a pregnant woman felt her labor pains begin, she was not allowed to stop making bricks. Instead she gave birth while she was making bricks, carried her child in her apron, and continued to make bricks.
- There are a couple of Midrash stories which show this. Midrash is a Jewish method of retelling a well-known story in a new way to address a new day or age or situation. It is a way of seeing the story behind the story.
- God was alarmed at what humanity was doing so in wisdom God reformed human creation providing all of the diverse languages and peoples who would scatter all over the earth to live and thrive and multiply in their unique way.
Every tribe and every people understand God and provide a needed view of God and of the gospel.
God adjusted, you might say God improved human creation by giving all of the diverse languages of the peoples thereby diversifying humanity in order that humanity would be a better image of God, a more clear and more full image of God.
people scattered across the whole wide earth their experiences varied due to
all kinds of factors including geography, climate, whether they lived in the
city or the country, in the desert or on the ocean, on the plains or on the
mountains, and so on. All of these people related to God and knew God in their
context and through their context.
- Everyone experienced God in various ways and through various means. They were by no means the same. But, I would argue, it was the same God that all of the various peoples got to know. Of course, they did not have the same name for God, even though it was God.
favors variety over uniformity.
prefers relationship over isolation.
- Consider that the essence of God is known through a relationship. There is diversity within the unity of God. We refer to this diversity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We say “one God in three persons.” And we ascribe to monotheism.
- In essence God is a relationship of diverse persons.
- So it follows that you should seek relationship with diverse others. Those who are different need each other. For vital and thriving human relationships variety should be sought as opposed to uniformity.
- God prefers relationship over isolation.
brings us to Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit dramatically fell upon the
gathered community of Jesus’ disciples, they began to speak the variety of
languages of the peoples of the earth. It was said that all of the many
pilgrims in Jerusalem could hear the gospel being spoken in their own
ecstatic thing that happened that day was that everyone understood the powerful
story of God and God’s good gift in Jesus Christ.
- Today you experienced this when the choir sang “Amazing Grace.” You heard languages that you did not understand but you knew what was being said because you knew the song and the music.
- It is the same with God. You may not
understand someone’s language when they speak it but by the Spirit you know who
and what they are talking about.
- If you learned their language you would learn even more about this great God and this great gospel. Because this unique person has an experience of God that you need to know.
- Back to the Babel reimagining, Taylor writes: “Eventually those who spoke Finnish had a word for a large herd of reindeer that did not exist in Japanese. Those who spoke Japanese had a word for sunlight that filters through trees that did not exist in Rukwangali. Those who spoke Rukwangali had a word for tiptoeing across warm sand that did not exist in Finnish. Eventually people began to understand that not everything could be said in words. Some things were better expressed with a lifted eyebrow, a tilted head, a hand reaching out to put something in another hand…By revising the divine will and creating a world full of people who spoke different languages, God chose variety over uniformity…There was no longer one right way to say a true thing. There were many ways to say it” (Taylor, pp. 181-82).
- In the same way there are many ways to talk about God and about the gospel. All of these ways and languages and experiences need to be heard. They all need to be understood. Everyone is better for it.
- The ecstatic thing that happened that day was that everyone understood the powerful story of God and God’s good gift in Jesus Christ.
- When the whole earth had one language there were few words. Now with many languages there is no end to the words that exist to describe the Lord and to describe the good news.
need for translators is actually a good thing. Sometimes we see it as a
hindrance. In order to understand someone who speaks with different words it
- You have to work a little harder. But it is worth it! You may be able to know more of God and more of the gospel from this person who speaks a different language.
- You certainly can learn from those who look so different. You can learn from those whose experience is so widely different from your experience.
- One thing that irks me is when someone in our country hears another person speaking a different language in their presence and they say something like, “This is America; speak English.” How small an attitude. How lazy an attitude.
- So much can be known about your God from someone widely different from you. If you will only try to understand. If you will only expend the effort to go beyond what you already know and believe. Listen to someone different and learn new things about your Lord and about your gospel.
Value variety over uniformity and life is fuller. Understanding is more robust.
good example of this is in the wide array of bible translations that we have.
When you want to study the bible it is best to read the same passage in several
translations. This is because you receive different nuances which give greater
depth to meaning.
very passage from Genesis 11:1 is a good example.
- The NRSV reads: “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.”
- The earlier version, the RSV reads: “Now the whole earth had one language and few
- Kathy Zamostny and I were preparing for this service today and looked at those two translations. She was very excited about the older RSV translation. It meant more to her than the NRSV translation. We discussed it and we both gained more understanding.
- The very passage from Genesis 11:1 is a good example.
- Don’t settle for the same, few words to understand the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Don’t limit yourself to the same people who look like you and speak like you to know and understand the Lord.
- Expose yourself to some new songs and sounds…To some new colors…To some new textures…To some new dances…To some new cultures.
The gospel will become richer and deeper. This is the Spirit’s doing.
Value variety over uniformity and life will have much more spice!