Making a Name

Genesis 11:1-5 (Common English Bible)
All people on the earth had one language and the same words. When they traveled east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them hard.” They used bricks for stones and asphalt for mortar. They said, “Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t be dispersed over all the earth.” Then the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the humans built.

For the second time in my life, I’m living on the 16th floor of a building. When we first lived in Pompano Beach, we were in apartment 1611, and now that we’ve moved to the DC area, we’re in 1612. In Pompano we looked over the Atlantic Ocean,  while here we have a view of similarly tall brick buildings heading off into the hills of Virginia. It’s a funny thing, being this high up. People look so tiny on the streets below, and even SUVs and buses look like children’s toys. It’s amazing to me that human beings have created buildings that can house so many people in a single square mile. I was curious earlier, and looked up the building with the most floors. There is a skyscraper in Dubai with 163 floors! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like to live at that altitude, looking down from such a height to the earth below. But, truly, human ingenuity is an awesome thing.

In our reading today, it’s no wonder that the builders were excited about what they were doing. They were able to take clay and stone and tar– simple materials– to shape and construct a city. A fabulous accomplishment! But these ancient engineers quickly succumbed to a very present-day temptation: pride. They were caught up in the glories of their own achievements, forgetting that their abilities and skills were gift from God. And that’s where the trouble begins. They could have been thankful for the dexterity of their minds in imagining these structures, and for the availability of supplies needed to fulfill their creative ideas. But, instead, their words and actions show that they had an amazingly inflated opinion of their own superiority and capacity.

Centuries and centuries later, the wise King Solomon would proclaim: “Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor” (Proverbs 29:23). And that is certainly true here, as God thwarts their plans, throwing them into confusion, and scattering the people.

What if the people had rejoiced in their skills and given thanks to God instead of trying to “make a name” for themselves? What if they had used their creative energy and abilities to make their world a better place? I can’t help but think how different this story could have been.

What are some of the abilities and skills that you possess? How can you use those gifts from God in ways that honor the Giver?

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