Do human technologies threaten God’s sovereign reign over humanity? This timely question is raised by Genesis. And the question fittingly arrives from a podcast listener named Noah! Noah writes, “Hello, Pastor John! In Genesis 11:1–9, we’re told that God confused man’s common language into a bunch of different languages in order to thwart human progress. It sounds like God, who is infinite, was threatened by the unity of finite creatures. But how could God ever be threatened by anything man could do, even the whole of humanity unified in any endeavor? Is he threatened by our far superior technological advances today? This has never made sense to me. Can you explain it?”
Story of Babel
Before I try to answer that question, let’s get the story in front of us. It’s a really interesting story, and let’s see if it raises the questions that Noah is raising:
“I think the point of the text is that man’s efforts to compete with God are pathetically weak and futile.”
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 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, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. (Genesis 11:1–5)
I think that’s sarcasm. This tall tower that’s going to reach into the heaven can’t even be seen from heaven. I love it. The story continues,
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. “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:6–9)
A Small Tall Tower
Now, Noah is saying that it sounds like God was threatened by these humans getting out of hand, and he wonders if God is threatened today by a far superior technology than burning bricks and putting them together with bitumen. If Noah is asking, “Does the text teach that there are, resident in human nature, ingenuities and abilities that, left uncheck by God, would frustrate God’s purposes and thus vie for the very place of God?” then there are two ways to answer it.
First, observe that the first point of the text seems to be that this effort on man’s part to build a tower with its top in the heavens was ridiculously futile. God had to, so to speak, come down in order to see it. I think the point of the text is that man’s efforts to compete with God are pathetically weak and futile.
So, the first answer to the question seems to be that even if God doesn’t intervene the way he did by confusing the languages, the human race is never going to attain the upper hand over its Creator by building its way to God’s throne by any technology whatsoever. That’s the first answer, which I think is implied in the text.
God Is God
The second answer is more important. I think we see it when we ponder the very nature of Noah’s question. The more I think about this question, the more it sounds like this: Would God be threatened by man — man’s ingenuities and man’s abilities — if God were not God? In other words, would God be threatened by man’s action if God could not sovereignly counter man’s actions at any time and in any way he pleases? The answer would be “Well, yes. God would be threatened by the glory of men if God were another creature like man rather than being the all-glorious, all-powerful God.” But he is God.
“God would be threatened by the glory of men if God were another creature like man rather than being the all-glorious God.”
God calmly puts man in his place. God is not threatened by any of man’s ingenuity or capacities because he can and does frustrate all of them at any moment, in any way he pleases, which is what he did in Genesis 11:7. He confused the language.
In other words, the point of the story is precisely that God cannot be threatened by man’s designs or actions because God is God. God is sovereign over all man’s designs and actions. If man begins to achieve things that God does not want them to achieve, God simply stops them. He takes the steps necessary to frustrate their designs. That’s the point. They were taking steps to do things that were highly damaging to the human soul, and highly dishonoring to God. So God just stopped them.
He could have stopped them in one hundred ways. They could have gotten sick. They could have had opposition. I mean, good night, he had a hundred ways he could have stopped them, and he chose to do it by confusing their language.
There are two answers to whether God is threatened today by the amazing technology and ability of the human race. First, he’s not threatened because all our most advanced technology is simply child’s play as far as God is concerned. Our most advanced physics and artificial intelligence is a kindergarten primer in God’s library — at best. We’re talking about God here.
Second, he is not threatened because at any moment in one hundred ways, he can simply thwart the plans of science, business, technology, and nations. That’s what Psalm 33:10 says: “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” That would apply to all science, all business, all education, all technology, all industry, all military. “The Lord brings the counsel of man to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”
Now, both of these answers, I think, are implied in Genesis 11. The great achievement of the tower is pathetic in God’s eyes, and he can frustrate any pathetic human plan he pleases.