“God is kind of being a jerk, isn’t He?”
It wasn’t the response I was going for. There we were, sitting around our eggs and toast, just like most mornings. We had the Bible open for the morning devotion, reading from Genesis 11 – the story of the tower of Babel:
At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. As people migrated from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let us make oven-fired bricks.” They used brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:1-4).
You remember the rest of the story. To stop their tower building, the Lord confused the languages of these people and scattered them throughout the earth. We had read this story to our kids, and that’s one of the responses that came back:
“It sounds like God is being a jerk.”
Interesting. And an unexpected challenge over breakfast. So we tried to dig in a little bit more to understand the thinking behind the statement. In the minds of our kids, there was a disproportionate response to the actions of the people. After all, it was only a tower. And people in cities build towers all the time, don’t they? And God just drops in and confuses their languages? Sounds like some kind of cosmic bully.
Kids have a way of cutting to the heart of the issue, don’t they? They aren’t yet so polite as to hide the truth behind platitudes.
Whether we did a good job of explaining the story to them, time will tell. But in thinking more about this specific issue, I think our kids have pointed out a tendency that we, as adults, also share. Namely, we have the tendency to focus on a single action (or inaction of God) and draw conclusions about who He is rather than the other way around.
For the sake of illustration, let’s imagine another incident with another tower. Let’s say that my three kids were building a tower out of Lego in our front yard. It was getting to be quite a tower, and they were very proud of their craftsmanship. They had worked long and hard on their structure, and it was reaching a substantial height and stability. Now let’s say that the kid in the neighborhood who is known to be a bully comes riding up on his bicycle. (Nope – check that – he comes riding up on his four-wheeler cause that’s what bullies ride up on).
So he comes riding up on his four-wheeler, hopes off, and then immediately knocks down their tower. Then, without any kind of explanation, hops back on and peels out down the driveway.
But let’s say that the same tower is built, the same height, but it’s not the neighborhood bully that pulls up, it’s me. Their daddy. And I come running toward them and swiftly knock down their tower and then just keep right on running.
Same action. Same results. But different person doing the demolition. Now hopefully, there is a different interpretation for one incident than the other. Hopefully my children know me well enough by this point to give me the benefit of the doubt. They might not understand why I knocked down the tower, but they know me. And they interpret my actions in light of who they know me to be.
So many times, I (and maybe we) zoom in on a particular instance. Some circumstance that God has seen fit to bring into our lives, or some other circumstance that He has seen fit to leave there. And we draw conclusions in our deepest darkest moments about who God is based on that particular incident. Oh, how we must reverse this – how we must choose to understand God in light of God.
We must return again and again to what we know to be true of God in order to try and understand the work of God. So what do we know to be true about God? Well, when we look to the cross, we see the validation of God’s holiness, His wisdom, His justice, and His great love. This is where we see the character of God on full display, and this is what we must use to understand the actions of God. It’s because we can look again and again to the cross that we can understand God, in light of God.