The Tower of Babel is a rather infamous account in the Book of Genesis. A common interpretation of the Tower of Babel is a Hellenistic reading from Josephus—that it was man’s poor attempt to get to God. But when we examine the text closely, it was not about that at all. The people who made the attempt give us the reason themselves. 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, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). And God responds, “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. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech” (vv. 6-7).
Thus, we see that, much like Babylon thousands of years later, the Tower of Babel was a ziggurat of man’s self-worship (pride) and, furthermore, false worship/idolatry. Seeing this, God confounded man’s language so that we cannot easily come together to worship ourselves and, therefore, perform greater evil actions. Even with today’s technology and economic globalisation, it is still difficult to do great evil because of the massive language barrier involved.
How concerned are you with making a name for yourself? Whether this be getting famous or increasing your reputation in a specific niche to which you belong, is making a name for yourself your goal in life? In other words, are you trying to make yourself God? Making a name for yourself is pride in action.
Simply consider all the desperate attempts for people to get their 15 minutes of fame on platforms like Vine, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, Snapchat, and so many others. This phrase comes from artist Andy Warhol in the 60s and 70s, who predicted, “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” And boy, was he right!
His prediction is not entirely literal, however. As YourDictionary.com defines it, it is an idiom signifying “a very short time in the spotlight or brief flurry with fame, after which the person or subject involved is quickly forgotten.” Think of any hilarious or controversial video that was across all social media platforms and on everybody’s mind and tongues for a couple weeks or even months, only to quickly vanish from their brief spotlight of fame. A year later, everybody’s forgotten about him or her. A decade from now, nobody will care. Fifteen minutes is not a very long time; neither is a couple days, weeks, or months.
Even the entire premise behind the evil of abortion is so the mother can sacrifice her unborn baby for the sake of making a name for herself. For them, making a name for yourself in your career is more honourable and brave than making a name for yourself with your children who need you. Society says that if you’re a woman who’s trying to make a name for herself in the niche of her career, and you “accidentally” get pregnant, you can just sacrifice your baby in the temple of Planned Parenthood upon the altar of your Pride. Then you can praise yourself in the liturgy of your social media posts, utilising the undivine service of “Shout Your Abortion.” You don’t need to shout your abortion; God has already heard the cries of the unborn.
(I say “accidentally” pregnant because, even if you use any form of contraception, you’re still risking pregnancy. Contraception doesn’t eliminate the chance of pregnancy; it simply minimises the possibility. Contraception is basically just sexual roulette. If you have “safe” sex, the pregnancy may have been unplanned, but it’s no accident by any means because sex, in case you didn’t know, is how you get pregnant.)
Making a name for yourself is a temptation for everybody, and it doesn’t always appear in the format of social media fame or great evils like abortion. Some of us might aspire to fame within our little niches. Let us consider the little niche of Lutheranism, for example. In our church body, you will rarely meet somebody who hasn’t heard of Reverends Bryan Wolfmueller, Jonathan Fisk, Matthew Harrison, Charles Arand, Robert Kolb, Joel Biermann, Paul Raabe, Arthur Just, David Scaer, Peter Scaer, and many others. They are famous in our circles either because of their position, scholarly reputation, publications (especially if it’s through CPH), their online presence, or all of the above.
For a while, I used to desire getting a Ph.D. at one of our seminaries so I could make a name for myself. I wanted “Dr.” in front of my name not just because “Rev. Dr. Garrick Sinclair Beckett” sounds cool, but mainly because having that credential would place me among the elite theologians in Lutheran history, increase my reputation among these elite men, and finally make a name for myself.
But then I wondered: to what avail? So I’d have the highest of degrees and be an expert in a very narrow, specific area of theology—so what? How would this benefit my congregation? Who really cares about my name? Getting my M.Div. was stressful enough. Is it worth it to go through more stress and give up more of my time and money for 15 minutes of fame? “No,” I decided.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with completing doctoral level work. It is certainly needed in the church at large and at our institutions of higher education. Some are more suited for that kind of work than others. Yet I was considering it for the wrong reasons. So, I decided that if I’m going to complete that level of work in the future, it has to be for the benefit of my congregation and give glory to the name of Christ rather than my name.
I went through this humbling experience long before I read Genesis 11:4, but this text should give us all pause to think, “Where am I trying to make a name for myself?” That is, “Where does my name reign supreme rather than the name of Christ?” For, as St. Peter preached, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Or to use John the Baptiser’s words, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Theology Terms Used
- Hellenistic: of Hellenism, meaning, ancient Greek culture and thought.
- Idolatry: false worship, i.e., worshiping someone or something else over the One True God of Israel.
- M.Div.: Masters of Divinity, one of five master’s level programmes the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod requires a man to complete in order to enter the Office of Holy Ministry. The other five include: Resident Alternate Route (RAR), Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP), Specific Ministry Pastor to General Pastor Certification (GPC), and Center for Hispanic Studies (CHS) that’s a Spanish-language pastoral formation programme for men coming from Hispanic communities (as well as Deaconess studies for Hispanic women). For more information, visit https://www.csl.edu/academics/.