Come, let’s go down and mix up their language there so they won’t understand each other’s language.” Genesis 11:7
Our church is doing a summer sermon series on Genesis. This past Sunday, the message was about the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-10). It has been good to revisit a familiar story that I probably haven’t read closely in quite a while.
This account explains why we have different languages. Yet even when we speak the same language, we don’t understand each other. It’s more than dialectical differences that separate us. It’s the differences of culture and family history and economics (to name a few) that keep us from understanding one another. Frankly, I’m not sure that we always want to understand each other, because that puts us in the uncomfortable position of recognizing that we need to change—our beliefs, our habits, our ways of seeing others and the world.
We can choose not to change, but when we make that choice, we grow a calloused layer of indifference around our hearts. This is an evil indifference for it arises out of knowing and not caring. Once you know something, you cannot un-know it.
Understanding is risky business. It is deep and disturbing and that is why we are much happier in our ignorance. When we don’t understand, we can spew our shallow knowledge at each other, using our limited understanding as a weapon to defend our position rather than letting knowledge grow into something that draws us to those who are different from us.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If knowledge is a tree, we too often choose to cut it down for spears to hurl at each other rather than nurture its growth and welcome its gift of shade for us, inviting others to join us in its shade. When I see the way we treat each other, I wonder if any of our ancestors really did eat any fruit of the tree of knowledge. Our unwillingness to understand each other seems evidence to the contrary!