The Sunday School class I teach has been going through the opening chapters of Genesis which means we are encountering the great themes of Creation, the Fall, Judgment and the Promise of Redemption. With each story we have been constantly reminded at how man excels in all the wrong areas. Whether it’s Eve eating the fruit, Adam blaming his wife, Cain murdering his brother, or Noah getting drunk there is one thing that is clear; after the glorious splendor that is the Creation account in Genesis 1-2, man has become an expert in messing up a good thing.
Which brings us to Babel. The eleventh chapter of Genesis contains the tale of humanity just a few generations removed from that epic reminder of God’s wrath towards sin: the flood. Rather, than learn from their mistake, we see humanity doing its best to succeed at falling short.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. -Genesis 11:1-9
Now you may read this passage and say, “Okay, what’s the problem here? God did command Adam in the garden to subdue the earth, which can be taken as develop it and make progress for the human race. Isn’t that what’s going on here?” The simplest answer to that is yes and no. Yes, humanity is developing and progressing (a good thing), but in the process of doing so, they become self-centered and self-glorifying (a bad thing). God’s solution: confuse the language. Divide them, lest they in their unity repeat the depravity of previous generations and incur another global judgment. Notice God’s confidence in man’s abilities, “…nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
The Internet: A Modern-Day Tower of Babel
I am constantly amazed at technology. When my sister lived overseas I was introduced to Skype. It was amazing to be able to sit in front of my computer and have a face-to-face chat with a loved one living six time zones away. Today we carry in our pockets the ability to share our thoughts, locations, dining habits and life events with hundreds, if not thousands, of friends, family and followers. The smart phone, and its oversized cousin, the tablet have transformed our abilities to communicate, connect and create. The online community and social networking have allowed a great many good things to occur. Missionaries are better able to update their supporters. Small, rural churches that have a savvy enough leadership are beginning to have a global impact via podcasts, online lessons and downloadable resources. Prayer requests can reach people everywhere instantly. The internet is definitely a prime example of man “subduing” the earth and developing it in a progressive way.
But wait. We can mess this up too. As we become more and more globalized the barriers that once divided us, whether they be political, national or linguistic, they begin to dissolve. It’s almost as if we are trying to reverse what God did at Babel. This may be a good thing. The Church has long been called to redeem and restore. However, I notice a disturbing trend that is neither redemptive nor restorative in nature. Just like the builders of Babel, we are becoming more self-centered and self-glorifying. While social networking has allowed people to connect to a wider audience and keep in touch with loved ones who live far away, it has also allowed us to create a world in which we are the center. Every tweet, facebook post, instagram selfie and foursquare check-in can easily become an exercise in self-promotion and self-glorification. Our self-worth becomes based in how many followers we have or how many people “like” our latest status update. Eventually this overflows into our belief systems, and we begin to construct God into an image we like and can accept. Ultimately, this self-centeredness results in a worldview that is driven not by truth, but by whatever it is that will get us the most attention. Sensationalism and popularity rule the internet and blogosphere, and while we see there is much good that can be accomplished through the tools of the web, there is much evil that can and does occur too.
Laying a Different Foundation
Let me say that I don’t think the internet is evil. It’s not. It’s not good either. It’s neutral, just like the Tower of Babel was neutral. The actual bricks and mortar were not evil, nor were they good. What was evil was the intent of man as he built the tower. Man wanted to “ascend to heavens” by his own power and “make a name for himself.” Instead of promoting God’s ability and fame, man sought to promote his own ability and fame. The problem was the foundation of belief that built the tower.
The same is true of the internet and social media. How we use it depends largely on our foundation. So my challenge to you, and to myself as well, is let’s check our foundation. I think we can do this by asking a few simple questions:
- Is this tweet/post/status going to encourage others?
- Is this social network activity self-promoting or God-promoting?
- Am I sharing this info to brighten someone’s day, or am I sharing it to make me feel good?
- Is this going to draw people into the Kingdom of God?
- Am I portraying an accurate image of myself (a person in need of God’s grace) or an over-glorified picture of myself?
- Am I posting this just to draw attention to myself, or is this actually helpful?
- Is there anything in this post I will regret sharing later?
Hopefully, we can avoid the mistakes of Babel. What are some questions or checks that you use to govern your social networking?