For the week of October 24, 2009 / 6 Heshvan 5770
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5
The Tower of Babel
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." (Bereshit / Genesis 11:6; ESV)
I recently heard a radio interview with futurist and inventor Raymond Kurzweil (see http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2009/200910/20091013.html). Kurzweil believes that technology has been advancing at a rate much quicker than most of us realize. It is not as if technology has simply been increasing in a linear fashion, but rather exponentially. An example he gives is "The computer I used as a student took up half a building; the computer I carry in my pocket today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful. That's a billion-fold increase."
There is no doubt that technology has been advancing at an ever increasing rate. What makes this even more interesting is how we seem to take it for granted. It was hardly thirty years ago that many of us were just getting used to fax machines and voice mail. Now we take email and text messaging for granted, we have instant access to a good portion of all human knowledge, and soon the number of cell phones will be equal to the number of people on the planet.
The main subject of the Kurzweil interview was the real possibility that in the near future technology will enable us to live forever. Listening to what he had to say brought what may seem impossible into the realm of the possible.
Whether Kurzweil's predictions prove to be accurate, he may or may not realize that he agrees with God's assessment of human potential at the time of the building of the Tower of Babel: "nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." The building of the tower at that time was a technological marvel purposefully designed to be an expression of human greatness and preservation. God stepped in to ruin this plan through the confusion of language. By breaking down the lines of communication, he significantly reduced the rate of progress.
The creation of people groups through the diversity of languages and the resulting cultural differences has disrupted our desire to find greatness in our achievements. Instead of the human family working together, we have been at odds with one another. God did this to us on purpose to prevent us from achieving our desired goals.
We were made to be one family. We were designed to be great and to do great things. But our moral condition inherited from our first parents would have destroyed us. So God in his compassion disrupted our plans and slowed down progress in order to give us the opportunity to be restored to him through the Messiah.
Returning to our day, we find ourselves living in the midst of incredible achievements in technology and if Kurzweil is correct, we will soon experience even more incredible leaps in progress beyond most of our wildest imaginations.
The Tower of Babel is being built. It just took a lot longer than planned. It's not a literal tower, but it is designed to serve the same purpose of the original. Technological advancements apart from God seek to preserve, protect and unite human beings on our own terms. The more we progress in this way, the less we are aware of the emptiness and depravity of our lives. Our technological Tower of Babel is a fortress through which we attempt to shelter ourselves from the reality of human need that stems from our alienation from God.
Thinking of our technological advancements as true progress is a big lie. There are a billion undernourished people in the world today, diseases are increasing faster than our ability to cure them, broken families have become the norm, abortion is a world-wide movement, the killing off of the elderly and the infirm is no longer simply the agenda of some fascist regime, and addictions of all kinds affect every level of society.
God's people need to see this technological Tower of Babel for what it is with its empty promises of happiness, greatness, and immortality. It is a sham that seeks to cover up who we really are without God.
As we give ourselves to the understanding of God and his ways as revealed through the Scriptures, we may be called to disengage this exponential development of human achievement as we embrace the eternal life available to us through the Messiah. Unless we build our lives on God's foundation, we will crumble when the technological Tower of Babel falls.
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