I preached on Pentecost last Sunday as “Babel Revisited.” In that sermon I repeated the conventional thinking that God punished mankind’s attempt to build a tower to reach to the heavens. But listen to what Wendell Griffen says,
That interpretation of Genesis 11:1-9 is not fair to God. Do we really think the Creator of the universe is threatened by a municipal construction project? Are we dealing with a Being who is so insecure that a few people who put a city together and build a skyscraper get on His nerves? If God is that petty, God should not be called good and gracious, but petty and tyrannical.
Instead of reading the passage to mean that cultural diversity is divine punishment, we should understand it to show how cultural diversity is part of the great redemptive purpose of God. God is not threatened when people cooperate to construct cities and tall buildings. One story buildings and rural settings are not entitled to divine favor.
What the passage truly shows is that God wants humans to be spread throughout the world and enjoy cultural diversity without being afraid. If there is a condemnation in the passage—and I use the word if intentionally—it condemns the idea that cultural sameness is the way to salvation. We are one people because we have a common Creator, not because we speak the same language or live in the same location. Our oneness lies in who we are before God, not who we are physically related to by human ancestry and geography. God loves our diversity. God intentionally caused our diversity. God is glorified by our diversity.
— from Babel and Pentecost by Wendell Griffen
I wish I had said that. I will not think of Babel in the same way again. Griffen’s interpretation gives even more meaning to the Pentecost event, as God’s means of bringing diversity together again to send us back out into the world with God’s message of hope and salvation. Read the entire sermon here.
Judge Wendell Griffen is a former Arkansas appeals court judge; the first person of color to join a major Arkansas law firm; CEO of Griffen Strategic Consulting; pastor of New Millennium Church; professor of law at the University of Arkansas’s Bowen School of Law.