Genesis 1:26, 6:4, and 11:1-9
Today, I will just point out some smaller passages that puzzle me:
1. Just before the full story of Noah: Gen 6:4: "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days -- and also afterward -- when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown." Very interesting! Who were the Nephilim?
2. Some passages where God says "we" or "us": "'Let us make humankind in our image'" (Gen 1:26); "'Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech'" (Gen 11:7). Why is God referring to Godself in the plural?
3. The second passage in #2 above is from the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9). This famous story, as I read it, puzzles me. Why should God be threatened by humans understanding each other and working well together? Examine, for example, this passage: "And the Lord said, 'Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them'" (Gen 11:6). What strikes me about this passage is that we hear something like it echoed when people will say, "If we work together, imagine what we could accomplish!" Taken on its own, this seems like a wonderfully positive affirmation of human potential. If only we could stop miscommunicating! If only we understood each other better! Imagine the problems we could solve!
And here, in the Bible, for a moment it is nice to hear God affirming this potential: "nothing ... will now be impossible for them"! There is nothing in the passages up to here to suggest that the people are up to no good, or that God is displeased with them. The people are simply building a city, and a tall tower. So the unwary reader, unfamiliar with the story, can read happily along thinking that this is a story about human community at its best, and God's delight in this. But then the next sentences change the story completely: "'Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech.' So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city" (Gen 11:7-8).
Does this mean that the next time we find ourselves in a heated meeting in which misunderstandings ricochet around the room, we should cite the story of Babel and say, "It is God's will that we should not understand each other, and that we should fail to accomplish our joint task here"?
Ok, I never said my Bible Wonderings would be pretty!
But, seriously, these are the earnest concerns of one trying to understand.
I know that the Babel story is supposed to be about the tempering of human pride. It foretells how groups of humans do sometimes get together and, with their combined power, create something terrible. That has happened repeatedly in human history in spite of the Babel story. After all, the confounding of human languages did not, once and for all, solve this problem of human pride.
But what troubles me the most about this story is, again, the image of a God who seems rather threatened by humans and who does punishing kinds of things to try to control and subdue people. My own image of God is very different; my own faith can no longer be challenged by passages like these. But when I hear the questions and doubts of other seekers who have developed an aversion to "organized religion," or Christianity, or the Abrahamic traditions, or the Bible, I can see why, and it is not always clear how to respond to their concerns.
A Spiritual Approach to Difficult Times
3 months ago