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..." (Bereshit / Genesis 11:4; ESV)
The Torah portion this week helps us to understand how we can achieve greatness in this life.
The settlers of the ancient city of Babel wanted to create a place of greatness, security, and unity. They thought that somehow their city would provide these things for them. They sought to establish an identity based on themselves, thinking they could find security in the work of their own hands.
But God thought it best to thwart their plans by confusing them for the following reason:
God acknowledges what we would call human potential. History has shown us how we have been able to take ideas - even fantastic ones - and bring them to reality. The technological advances we have experienced in the past 100 years are breathtaking. This ability comes from God as he made us in his image. Even though he put an end to the building of Babel by imposing confusion on the human family, he hasn't taken that ability away from us.
But as far as Babel was concerned, this is a project to which he put an end. But why? The answer is found in the story following this one - the Call of Abraham. God cursed Babel, but blessed Abraham. In fact much of what the people of Babel wanted, God promised to Abraham. That they desired (as we do) to create something enduring, to have identity, and to find community is a good thing. It was how they went about it that got them into trouble.
Self-reliance, self-focus, and self-protection are not what we are made for. We were created to be God's representatives on earth. Our identity cannot be found in ourselves; we, who were made in the image of God. It is only when we submit to God's direction in our lives that we can embrace the greatness he intended.
As we learn to submit to God, we don't lose our intelligence, creativity, and abilities - far from it! It is in this place of humility that we can truly realize our human potential. In fact, as we learn to trust God, we discover that our effectiveness in the world is not wrapped up in our natural abilities at all, but in his power. The talents we possess are gifts from God, instruments given to us by him for his purposes. But it's not until we put ourselves and all we have at his disposal that we will become all we were meant to be.
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