Our Tower of Babel

January 31-February 6

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The Tower of Babel. A relatively famous story in Christendom despite the fact that it is nine verses long. Essentially, there was a large group of people who built a city. Within this city, they decided to build a tower in an attempt to reach the heavens and avoid being scattered by the Lord. It’s important to note that these people were apostates (when you look at it within the context of the book of Genesis); they had some idea of temple covenants but attempted to reach heaven in a way other than the Lord had designated. The Lord comes down, observes them attempting to build this tower, and He decides to confound their language.

You cannot find a better allegory for pride. Part of the definition of pride in “Study Helps” on the church website reads, “A proud person sets himself above those around him and follows his own will rather than God’s will.” The people were literally building a tower that would make them higher than everyone around them, and they were attempting to reach heaven with their own ideas instead of following God’s will. Pride. In a nutshell. Right there. They could not have made this easier for me. 

A confounding

So the Lord decides to confound their language. According to the institute manual, the process of confounding may not have happened immediately. It might have been a little more gradual. 

Once again, the fact that the Lord chose to confound their language (rather than simply scattering them) is so poetic. It fits so perfectly into the allegory because that is precisely what happens when we become prideful; it makes it difficult to understand others. It may make it difficult to perceive who our true friends are and what other people are trying to communicate.

Pride is enmity between oneself and God, or it is enmity between oneself and others. It is to place oneself in opposition to another person or to Jesus Christ. Think about how hard it is to understand someone when you’ve placed yourself in opposition to them. It’s nearly impossible. When a situation arises and you assume malintent, you are simultaneously assuming you are better than the other person. You automatically start to think, “I can’t believe they did that. I would never do that.” In other words, “I can’t believe they were terrible enough to do that. I’m so good and would never do that.” There is no consideration of personal misjudgement and flawed thinking. There is no pause to consider context. There is no compassion. There is only pride, and pride cuts off any thoughts or inspiration that may help you understand the other person.

And it happens over time. Think about a relationship in which you felt personally injured. Think about a relationship in which you held enough pride that you placed yourself in opposition to another person (even if it was justified!!). Did the latter conversations get better? Did latter conversations even take place? Was every move made by the opposite person perceived as tactless, purposefully vicious, or rude and apathetic?

My husband and I got in a tiff a few months ago. It was something small, but it escalated very quickly and we found ourselves at odds with each other. I don’t really want to talk about specifics because without context, it might seem rather odd. However, I did something that felt condescending to him, and he did something that made me feel pushed into a corner with limited options. These actions made up the majority of our tiff. After reaching a stale mate, Conner got a phone call and went downstairs. After a little bit of time passed, I found that I needed to also go downstairs to accomplish a task. I reeeeeeeeally really didn’t want to go downstairs and face him because I was still pretty mad at him. Regardless, I needed to accomplish my task so I finally gave in and went downstairs. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found that he was still on the phone. I did my little task while trying not to look at him and just as I was about to escape upstairs, he got off the phone and stopped me. He told me, “It really bothered me that you did that.” Perhaps it was his tone or perhaps it was my perception of his tone, but I felt scolded. And I was not happy about it.

With a little more vitriol than he’s used to, I spat back my perception of what had occurred during our little tiff. I’m not sure how his face looked because I spun around and stomped off upstairs. 

We were walking on eggshells for a while until evening came when we were laying in bed. I can’t remember who it was, but someone asked, “Are we going to talk about this?” We held a conversation. We both shared different perceptions of what had occurred during our tiff, perceptions that had gotten their basis in previous life experiences. But here was the real kicker for me.

Conner brought up our little experience when I had come downstairs. He didn’t use these exact words, but he explained, “When I told you that it bothered me, I was actually trying to start a conversation. I was trying to figure out why it had bothered me so much when it was such a little thing.”

I had completely misjudged him. I can assure you that if I had recognized his desire to have a calm conversation about it, I would have responded so differently. However, I was so caught up in my own opinion that I placed myself in opposition to him. I missed it entirely and I failed to understand him. Luckily, he let go of his own pride first, and he made me cry as he talked about how he took a mini-journey in my shoes and sought to understand how I had been feeling. 

Here is the point of my story. Because I was so caught up in pride, in my own perception of the situation, in my own frustrations, in my own desperation for him to understand, I completely misinterpreted him. My pride caused me to misunderstand him, and we might as well have been speaking different languages.

Scattered themselves

There is another part of this story that is rather ironic.

Genesis 11:4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

One of the specific reasons these people were building this tower of pride was an attempt to make a name for themselves, to prevent themselves from being scattered. They thought they could be powerful enough to avoid being scattered by the Lord.

Guess what?

You guessed it; they scattered.

Now here’s the ironic part. In verse 9, it says that the Lord proceeded to scatter them abroad. Something tells me that the Lord was not picking them up one by one and putting them in a new place. The Lord uses many ways to “scatter” His people when they need scattering. I can’t help but wonder if He simply let them scatter themselves. I imagine it would be difficult to live in a city with multiple languages and few translators (if any). How do you even rule a people you don’t understand? They built a tower to avoid being scattered by the Lord, but I imagine that they scattered themselves to an extent. I imagine that they broke off into pieces when they no longer shared a common language.

Let’s bring it back to my story with Conner. I imagine that there would have been some scattering if Conner had not chosen to give up his pride and yield. There already was some “scattering” as I tried to avoid him. I imagine that it could have turned into both of us perceiving wrongs that may not have been there. I would have never come to understand why he had felt so condescended to, and he would not have understood why I felt backed into a corner. Because Conner gave up his pride and sought out how I was feeling, he helped me to do the same. The understanding commenced, and the scattering stopped before it became a huge problem.

Languages can be learned and relearned

If you have found yourself in a position where you are speaking an entirely different language than someone you love, hold onto the hope that languages can be learned and relearned. Also remember that languages are not learned overnight. They take a ton of work, and it starts off very slow. The people who learn languages best are those who go and travel where everyone speaks that language; if we are to stick to my allegory, it helps to walk in someone else’s shoes and practice their language.

It’s really not easy. Languages are hard enough without hurt feelings behind them. If you are starting on a path towards reconciliation, you have to change all the way deep down in your heart, and that is a huuuuuuge process. It’s a process of uncovering why you feel a certain way. It’s a process of questioning your original feelings towards what your loved one is saying and making sure your judgments are not too hasty. It’s a process of compassion when your loved one did mean to hurt you, and you have to find it within yourself to understand where their feelings are coming from.

It is also a process of prayer if you let it be.

It is not an easy process, but it is so worth it. Despite the tiff that led us there, the conversation Conner and I had that night will forever be cherished in my memory. 

Even after you’ve learned the language, you have to keep practicing that language or you will lose it again. 

I’m grateful for a Savior who speaks all languages. I’m grateful that He has the ability to help us see others clearly, and I’m also grateful that He’s willing to grant the gift of tongues. 

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