We are witnessing a time when the world appears to be falling apart. At the same time the dream of human unity is very much alive. Unity is a big topic and across the globe there are groups working to build unity across human religions and cultures. Many believers are caught up in the effort to bridge religious divides through human effort. There is no question ending sectarian violence is a good thing. Human unity is seductive. Who can argue with such a goal? But human unity it is a false hope and a trap! It is up to God’s people to lead those who are willing out of the trap.
We live at a pivotal period in human history. In the last two centuries science has removed one barrier after another to human control of nature and even our own biology. During that time we have seen both the best and worst in humanity. Triumphs in science and human rights have time after time been followed by the terrors of death camps. There is a theme that has developed as we humans have struggled to understand who we are and our purpose in the universe. It is that we can achieve everything and live at peace with each other if only we can achieve mutual understanding and unity across the globe.
Our energy is focused on removing barriers to ‘mutual understanding’ because we assume that wars and evil in the earth happen because we misunderstand one another, and we are beginning to succeed. We are at a place in history where for the first time since Babel, humans are beginning to understand one another across the globe. Language and culture barriers are falling fast. There are efforts to reconcile religions. Technology is removing the barriers of time and space. Now is the time to look back at when those barriers were put into place and why. The story of the Tower of Babel is the starting point because scripture records that God Himself destroyed human unity at that time. Why?
Gen 11:2-6 When the people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building. And the LORD said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them.
Look at the Lord’s discernment: “nothing they plan to do will be beyond them.” Nothing is beyond us. How we love to hear those words and here they are spoken by God Himself! If we just hear them in isolation, they are music to our ears. Odysseus and the Greek heroes lived this. Heroes throughout human mythology strove for this and succeeded. The early Science Fiction of the 1950’s and 60’s is full of this assurance. Even today, in Western society at least, we idealize those like Dr. House who is imperfect in character but brilliant. We have our “Enders” in 21st Century Sci-Fi who, even as children, are brilliant and overcome all obstacles. There are many of us who live for nothing else but to hear them spoken of ourselves individually or corporately.
It’s true, God does not lie. When we are in unity, nothing can stop us except God Himself: but it’s a trap. We are flawed, not in our abilities, but in our direction. We must always remember God’s judgment just a couple of generations before Babel in Noah’s time:
Gen 6:5 says, “But the LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time.”
Although Noah himself had favor with the Lord, the actions of his sons immediately after the restoration shows this fundamental assessment of human inclination did not change. We are like a terrible spoiled child commanding massive power. It was for this reason that God hindered our abilities, to protect us from ourselves.
Gen 11:6-7 And the LORD said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.”
Ultimately, total human unity outside of Jesus will lead to total depravity not utopia. God saw this and prevented it from happening. Now God is allowing those barriers to fall. The protection put in place at Babel has been removed allowing humans to unite. We will soon see the fruit of human unity.
The reasoning we outlined at the beginning of this essay is absolutely correct in one sense: God agrees that human unity will in fact release the ability to create anything we dream about. Like the great empires of human history it might even eliminate the major wars and violent revolutions that plague the earth, at least for a time. It just won’t change our inclinations that are “only evil all the time”.
It’s the assumption that ‘misunderstanding’ is the cause of human evil that is fundamentally incorrect. ‘Misunderstanding’ was a gift from God to preserve us until Christ brought grace into the world and humans again could ‘choose’ to unite under Gods banner. Of course humans don’t see this. In our excitement we are crying out ‘let us be free’. By that we mean free of all restrictions, free to pursue our hearts desire independent of God. To this cry Jesus responds, “apart from me you can do nothing.” It is only Jesus who can truly set us free from ‘total depravity’ and make us fit to exercise the power that comes from unity.
At the beginning of this essay I said that humans were at a pivotal point in our history. Christ’s church is at an even more pivotal place. While the rest of the world pursues unity and freedom at any price we are the ones who hear Jesus’ response. “Without me you can do nothing” and “with Him (Jesus) all things are possible”.
As Jesus’ body on earth we must continue to uphold this truth and to build our lives upon it. Through the grace given to the Church, God plans to give the world a clear choice between the fruit of Human unity and the fruit of a Church functioning as His Body (Eph 3:10) The Church is unified because we are all connected to Him, not because of a common philosophy or even because of good works and love for people. The glory of Christ unifies Christians into one Body here on earth (John 17) We demonstrate the heavenly wisdom that flows from our relationship with Him (James 3:17) The world is presented with a clear choice (1 Peter 3:8-16).
To be this light the Church must never confuse God’s peace and God’s unity with humanistic peace and unity. God says:
Col 2:8-10 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
So the pivotal question is not ‘Will humans unify?’ , but ‘Who will rule over the unified humans?’ We must ask the question “Will it be Jesus or will we try to rule over ourselves?” The Church must continually raise this question, and it will not be well received by the world. Throughout history God’s people have been accused of disloyalty to the world. Haman falsely accused Mordecai and the Jews of refusing to honor established authority. In Rome the charge was that Christians were trouble makers because they would not acknowledge other gods. Romans didn’t care about the other gods; they wanted civil peace, and everywhere Christ was preached worshipers of other gods rioted, just like at Ephesus. It wasn’t Christians that rioted demanding their rights, but it was Christians who got blamed for stirring up trouble. That charge will be renewed with even more vigor in the coming days. By our exclusivist stance we will be accused of destroying human ‘unity’. If we misunderstand unity, we will be tempted to give in for ‘the greater good’ or to ‘keep peace’. We must remember that, although Christians are called to have peace in their hearts, Jesus said the result of His message would not be peace on the earth but division. (Luke 12:51) It is only when humanity acknowledges Him as Lord that there will be true peace.
Our message is not disunity but unity in Christ. The founding fathers of the USA had it right: “One nation under God”. We cannot withhold this message just because people will object. The Church is like Ezekial; if we withhold the message, then the worlds blood will be on our hands! The Church in this day must be ready to prophesy to the world and to model the alternative to human wisdom. To do this we must be prepared. What must we expect?
We must not expect that the world will understand God’s plan to demonstrate His wisdom in a Church united as His Body. (Eph 3:10) Scripture is clear that only the church can understand God. The Holy Spirit makes clear in 1 Corinthians 1 that God’s plan will appear as foolishness to the world just like it did to the Romans. Even within the Church there are those who do not truly belong to Christ. They are attracted to the philosophy and teachings of Christ, yet they do not see that those are not what make Him unique in human history. Paul told the Athenians on Mars hill that the laws are obvious to anyone who will look. It’s the cross that makes Jesus unique.
The cross is hard for humans because it means that it’s not about us. Those who want to celebrate how God made us are in for a shock, because if we try to save what we think is our life, we will surely loose it. Gal 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” The world wants to celebrate our humanity; God wants to replace our depraved human spirit with His Holy Spirit. That’s impossible for the world or philosophical Christians to accept. Scripture is clear that the only way to save our lives is to submit to Jesus’ rule in our life and through that submission receive grace, which is the power to live a life pleasing to God. The world will never fully understand this, but the Church must still point the way.
It is vital that the Church understand our role in the developing unity of earth. Our LORD said, “You are My witnesses” and so we must keep His pointed question, “Who will you serve?”, before the world. Nonetheless, the New Testament is clear that we must never be in a position of violent resistance to human government. Those scriptures were written when Nero was using burning Christians as lamps in his garden. Like Joseph, Daniel, and Mordecai we should serve with integrity any government established, and still not deviate from Jesus’ Lordship as our priority. Like these men, we should always uphold Christ as the rightful ruler of the earth and publicly acknowledge Him as the source of our wisdom and integrity. This cannot be a private matter because our public acknowledgment will make it possible for some governments to acknowledge Jesus as the King of Kings and gain the blessing that flows from that acknowledgment. Unfortunately, for governments that do not acknowledge Him, the judgment that Jesus spoke over the towns of Judea when they saw His works and did not acknowledge Him as the Christ will flow instead. (Mathew 23:32-39, Luke 13:34-35, Luke 19:41-44)
Unity is coming. World unity is coming and this has not caught God by surprise. With this unity is coming a choice that the entire world must make. Will the unified human race accept the rule of Jesus or not? As the Church we are Christ’s body on earth; Our job is to make their choice clear and by our good works make it as easy a possible to make the correct choice. Joseph and Mordecai, uncompromising men of God, found that the way opened up to spare thousands from death—because they were faithful to secular authority. Daniel was so faithful to Nebuchadnezzar that he was able to prophesy that the King would have seven years of eating grass as a wild animal because of his pride and yet have Nebuchadnezzar accept that judgment and repent afterward. Don’t be confused by the rise of worldly philosophies and ideologies of human unity that those don’t understand the true consequences of the unity they are so desperately chasing. Don’t be surprised that you are accused of disloyalty when you refuse to go along with the world. Let’s prepare to be the Body of Christ that both prophesies the truth and models the alternative.