‘Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.’
I’ve heard it said that small is beautiful. But I don’t think this is a statement has often had much uptake with the human race. ‘Bigger is better’, ‘Might makes right’, ‘Live large’, ‘Mine’s bigger than yours’, big business, big vision, mega church… we humans seem to think that the larger we are the better we are. We measure our success by size, the size of our income, the size of our house, the size of our car, the size of our facebook friend list, the size of our Instagram following. Big is beautiful. Small… well it just doesn’t get a look in.
But what if this measure we use to evaluate ourselves and each other by is all wrong? What if success were not measured by size or amount. What if it were measured by love?
‘Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.’ Genesis 11:1-2
East. It sounds like a location on a map but sometimes it is more. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden of Eden and blocked from entering it on the East side. Cain wandered eastward ‘East of Eden’ when he left the presence of God. East can be a pattern, a pattern of wandering away. A wandering away, a losing our way, a losing sight of God’s face and intimate presence. And when we lose sight of God’s face, all we have left is ourselves.
‘They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens,’ Genesis 11:3-4a
Small wasn’t enough for these people of Babel. They thought bigger was better. They were out to prove that they were a mighty people, strong, powerful, too big to fail. It was all about being the biggest, the best, the brightest, the strongest. They had no time for small things. Small things like people. Small things like the still small voice of God in their hearts whispering that He loved them.
They were so focused on their own identity that they had forgotten who they were. Verse four, which has these people talking collectively, has five personal pronouns in it (we, us, ourselves). Five in just the one sentence!
‘Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ Genesis 11:4
It is a strange phenomenon that the more self absorbed we are, the less truly satisfied we become. Selfishness and pride is a never ending pit, never satiated, never ending, always grasping more and never having enough.
When we build our towers with pride and conceit we rebuild our hearts with concrete and stone. Stone hearts break easily. Stone hearts break each other easily. Stone hearts are numb to God and numb to love.
Nothing but the love of God can fully fill and truly fulfil our hearts with real significance and value.
This human pride hiding human insecurity, these motivations expressed collectively by the people of Babel are actually strikingly similar to the enticements Eve succumbed to in the garden long before, that failing falling moment when humanity lost itself to the dark (Genesis 3:4-6).
Eve and subsequently Adam reached for what they thought would make them like God, their version of ‘a tower reaching to heaven’. They reached for what they thought would give them wisdom and make them significant. They believed the lie that they were not already enough, not without this fruit.
They were like God, made in His image, they were significant, created to partner with God in stewarding the earth, but the fear they were not enough drove them to reach for more. And in grasping for the more, they made themselves less. Less human, less whole, less satisfied than ever before.
This is the very same journey that the people of Babel are on. They feared they were not enough and that they needed to make something of themselves in order to be successful, in order to be significant; ’so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth’.
They wanted to be strong, building a city for themselves, they wanted to be powerful like God, building a tower reaching up to the heavens, they wanted to make a name for themselves, proving their significance. Proving their self worth.
But lurking beneath all our drivenness towards success and significance is the fear of our own insignificance. Subconsciously perhaps we hope that if we can prove it to everyone else, maybe we’ll start to believe it ourselves.
Underneath outward pride ‘I can do it alone’, ‘look at me’, ‘I’m the best’ is a vacuum of self worth. Human pride (the conceited kind) is actually not about true pride (feeling good about your authentic achievements) but about fear. The fear that we are not enough, the fear of not being in control, the fear of our own lack of value.
Building towers, monuments to ourselves is never really about the tower, not really. Drivenness is never just about the success or failure of a particular project, accomplishment, event or relationship, it is about the payoff our soul gets from that success. But the very fact that our soul is searching for that payoff means that we somehow feel inadequate without it. Drivenness is an attempt to prove our own importance, fuelled by our fear of our own insignificance.
The funny thing with monument building though, is that it never actually assuages these fears. It only ever propagates them. The monuments only ever get bigger, looming over us, shadowing our joy, and life does not thrive in these shadows. We live on our treadmills, getting nowhere but always feeling urgently the need to deliver, to run, to please, to achieve. We becomes cogs in the machine of our own pride, fear and driveness.
No matter what I do in my life, no matter how many or how large the monuments I build, as long as they are built from a place of fear, anxiety or a need to be seen and loved they will never fulfil the longing underneath these drivers. Monument building always strangles the life out of life, never breathing it in.
Pride always builds it’s monuments but the rooms within are hollow, empty of God, empty of love. Nothing built in pride will ever equate to satisfaction at the end of the long day of our souls.
When we human beings believe that bigger is better, might makes right, strength is in numbers we bind ourselves to a lie. Big business, big cities, big visions, when they are empty of God, God-less, they empty out our humanity also. Driving ourselves to prove ourselves only ever drives us into the ground, away from God and away from wholeness.
They wanted to make a name for themselves, lest they be scattered and forgotten. They had forgotten who they were, these people. They wanted to make name for themselves because they’d forgotten their true name; Imago Dei Human. They thought being the cog in the machine of a big vision and big business could satiate their need for significance.
Their need for significance was their true beating heart, but the way they were reaching for it was tearing them apart.
When we forget God, we forget ourselves. We cut ourselves off from the one relationship that makes us fully human. Everything we reach for that is not Him never satiates never fills the void, and so we are forever searching, searching for the significance and value that only God can give.
Human beings are made from the dust of this earth, like all other creatures, we share the same genetic code, the same chemicals, the same minerals. Our difference is not by degree, but by Breath. God breathes His own Breath, His own Spirit into us at the beginning of all things and we became different from every other creature on earth.
We became significant, not because we are big and strong and mighty and large. We are significant because we have the God of the Universe’s breath in our lungs, the Being who made the spinning stars’ Spirit in our hearts.
We are big. Small on the outside but endless on the inside. God’s own imprint was pressed into us, His likeness lines the sinews of our hearts. We are bigger than time and space. God has placed eternity into our hearts and we have never understood this ( Ecclesiastes 3:11).
‘But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.’
The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Genesis 11:5-6
God came down. because this is who God is. We may have wandered east of Eden, and far from Him, but He is never really far from us, and He is always a Father in search of His children. Even when they have forgotten Him and forgotten themselves. When they have forgotten that small is beautiful and love is the true measure of greatness.
In the beginning, the genesis of all our beginnings God said “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Us. Not I. God exists as a triune God, a family of three and it is this family that intervenes to help humankind remember who they are. Jesus has been walking with His father, searching out his children from before time was written down.
‘Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ Genesis 11:7
Love intervenes so they cannot understand each other, because they have never truly understood each other. They had never understood their own worth, their own breath, their own significance as children of God. So in Love God comes down and divides them, not to break them, but to make them whole.
And on the surface level it looks like God is just being mean, a bully stamping on a child’s sand castle, like the capricious and moody Greek and Roman gods.
But God does not measure success the way that humans do, ‘Big is better’, ‘might makes right’, big business, big vision. God’s measure is not the size of a persons success but the size of the love in their heart.
Because we humans, so often we see the world through the lens of our own short term gain, but God has a longer view in mind, an eternal perspective. Babel’s monumental tower was in Gods eyes a monumental mistake. A dangerous mistake teetering their civilisation towards self destructive selfishness. Love was nowhere in the rhetoric of the people of Babel, not love for people nor love for God. They spoke as self focused cogs in the machine of their own drivenness to succeed. Pride cannot love. Fear cannot love. Machines cannot love.
When we stop loving God with our whole hearts, we stop remembering that God loves us with His whole heart and we become less whole ourselves.
‘So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel– because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth’. Genesis 11:8-9
The problem with ‘Big’ is that the larger it is, the harder it falls. And it always falls, Pride always comes before a fall. All human towers will oneday fall. There is no human monument, movement, organisation, multi-national company, political system, or ideology that will not one day fall.
We fear when big things fall, like banks ‘too big to fail’, because we have bought the lie that bigger is better, that there is somehow safety and strength in numbers, in size.
But only after the fact, when we are picking through the rubble of our decimated pride, and disintegrated ambition will we see through the settling dust, to one another’s human faces once more. When you are only a customer, a consumer, a mega church member, a factory worker, a cog in the machine of big business, you become no longer human to me.
Up close there is love, empathy and care, from a distance there are only statistics. Up close it’s not business, it’s personal. You are a person. Small. Frail. beautiful. And the most significant creature that has ever walked the earth.
You are valuable beyond measure, not because you are a cog in the machine of a mighty vision that builds a mighty monument, but because you are a child of God, with His likeness and image pulsing through your veins beating in your beautiful, broken, but not-yet-beaten heart.
We are human. We are small. But we are mighty with the love of the Almighty.
They were talking all about city construction and tower building but in all their rants and ramblings they had forgotten the language of love, Love for God. The only language needed, the most important language all of us human beings need, is love.
So Love came down and divided all their languages to help them be small again, smaller communities with smaller plans. Because love, connection and intimacy only grows in the smallest places, small spaces like families, small groups of friends, small moments where eternity enters time and we breathe in our human breath once more, long and deep and slow. Small moments like a baby’s chortling laugh, the hug of a good friend, the disclosure of a difficult truth, the knowing that we are truly deeply known.
When we one-day find ourselves standing on the final shore of our lives looking out across the ocean of eternity (as every one of us one-day will) we will find that all the monuments we built to ourselves, all our tall towers of success, our big businesses and big visions are nothing but sandcastles washed away by time. Nothing we grasp on earth will come with us into heaven, nothing but the small moments where eternity entered time, nothing but the people we have loved along the way and nothing but the space in our heart we left open to God’s love.
Love is actually the true measure of success. Size never has been.
Because bigger has never really been better for humankind. We love the buzz of the big cities but we rarely thrive in them. The loneliest place in the world can be the centre of a crowded room. God said “It is not good for humankind to be alone”, but we cannot find each other in the crowd. Small really is beautiful. It’s the only place we can reach out and truly find each other.
God is larger than a this spinning universe of light, and yet He too is part of the smallness of intimacy and love, He is not a crowd, but a family. And with Him it is never business, always personal.
When the human race had so forgotten God, had wandered ‘eastward’ so far that they had no sense of His presence, no sense of who He was, God chose to reveal who he was to human beings all over again. Not through a flood, not through a rainbow, not through changing languages, but through a family. God was about it make it personal. One man. One friendship. One family, one people partnering with God to bring the blessing of His presence to the whole human race.
And years later, after humankind has spread to the ends of the earth with many tribes and tongues dwelling in families and communities and cities, God Himself comes down once more, making Himself small, small as a seed planted silently in the ground, small as a shoot from a sawn-off stump, small as a baby laid to rest in a manger. In humility He made himself nothing, in order to give us everything. To teach us that it’s not the the monuments we build that make us great, but great Love that reaches out to us to heal us, restore us and make us great in Him. Great in Him. Great in love. Only love is true greatness. And His great love has been on this journey to find us since before all time began.
The God of all the vastness of the Universe, the being that breathed out galaxies of spinning stars made Himself small. Made himself minute. Made Himself nothing to help us begin to learn, begin to see, begin to understand that big is not better, might does not make right, and success is not measured by a size, an amount, or a following. True greatness is only ever measured by love.
We are small.
And Small is truly beautiful.
‘All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:5-7
The story of Babel is found in Genesis Chapter 11:1-9
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