“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’ ” (Genesis 11:2–4).
THE “TOWER OF BABEL” IS A FAMILIAR STORY, BUT ITS POINT IS OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD. The problem was not the height of the tower but the presumption of the builders. Refusing to acknowledge their need for God, they declared their independence and said, in effect, “We will do as we please; there is no problem we can’t overcome and no goal we can’t achieve on our own.”
Today, the effects of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and Progressivism have combined to produce a presumption bolder by far than that of Babel. Our culture is built on the premise of human progress and perfectability. There is no inward unrest that can’t be calmed by mindfulness and meditation, and there are no outward problems that can’t be solved by science and technology. Even in the realm of spirituality, God is no longer essential. Our faults and foibles can be eliminated by looking deep within ourselves. Our authentic lives are waiting to be discovered by the wisdom and love that are already in our hearts.
Postmodernism (to its credit) rejected the unbridled optimism of modernism, but we are currently seeing a resurgence of interest in the Enlightenment. Bestselling books are once again praising the Enlightenment, arguing that human reason and science have given us a world that is very good — and getting awesomely better.
Yet despite the diminishing danger of war, hunger, and disease, the global incidence of suicide is increasing dramatically. Clearly, our “progress” has left many people deeply disturbed. Can it be that our profoundest problems have no human solution?
The truth is, we can’t help ourselves where we need help the most. Yes, we can “science” our way out of some of life’s lesser problems, but the potential of human self-help is limited. We do not have it within us to solve the problem of sin. We cannot get back to God on our own — and that is what the gospel of Christ is about.
“The cross has revealed to good men that their goodness has not been good enough” (Johann H. Schroeder).