God gave us Eden; we built Babel.
So begins the story of human history. In Genesis 2 and 3 we read of God’s creation of Eden, and our hearts weep for the loss. Though the human race as a whole may not consciously mourn our lost home, nothing informs our existences more. Our daily struggles, our joys, our griefs, our pains, our pleasures are all viewed through the cracked lenses of our exiled state. We are wanderers, you and I, longing for our home.
In Genesis 2 God created man, and man needed a place to call home:
“Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”
God designed Eden for man. We must not miss the intentionality and the purpose of this grand garden. All good art reveals deliberation, intentionality, telos. God so loved man, on purpose, as to create an ideal, beautiful paradise for him, and therein “to put the man whom he had formed.” No ruse, no gimmick, no tricks. God laid Adam in the center of Eden as if to say, “I love you and want you to have all of Me by enjoying all of this.” Eden was God’s first surprise gift for mankind. God crafted a masterpiece for undeserving, unlearned man, seconds after his making, and gave it over unreservedly. Our debt of gratitude to a loving God has gone strong ever since, for He is a God who lavished Eden upon us:
“And out of the ground, the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasantto the sight and goodfor food.”
Eden was a brilliant display, an art form itself, the epicenter of loveliness and virtue. In Eden, God surrounded Adam with an abundance of both aesthetic value (“pleasant to the sight”) and practical value (“good for food”). And, if that were not enough, God caused all this value, all this beauty, to spring up from the ground, a geyser of brilliant trees and fruits in a dazzling, miraculous kaleidoscope of creation. Wherever Adam looked, he saw God’s grandeur shooting up from the same dirt which formed his own bones and skin, blood and lungs.
At the heart of this wonder stands God’s first words to Adam:
“You may surely eat […]”
Adam, showered in God’s unbelievable abundance and joining God in unbroken companionship for all eternity, knew the intention of Eden. But God wasn’t through. Atop all of God’s unknowable love in Eden, God fashioned Eve, the “helper suitable for man,” and Adam was finally home. God had given man a most precious gift: a people and a place. God had given man community. The beauty of Eden’s acreage, the love of a kind woman, all needs afforded, all hungers satisfied, all desires met in full, and all of God all the time. All of life was meant to be all-lived in all of Eden.
But man was a prideful beast, longing for the minds of gods, and he fell. Selling Eden for pretty words from a silver tongue, man traded God’s gift for the stuff of earth. From dust to Eden, Eden back to dust.
Generations pass, and man is steeped in sin. Evil is the order of the day. In Genesis 11 the full gulf between God and man is imaged in the colossus of Babel:
“And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and tar 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 […]”
Notice the Creation language in this passage that is borrowed from Gen. 1:26 “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” The parallel is distressing; as God’s display of His own image is man, man’s display of his own image is a tower of brick and tar. God builds a tower of dirt and calls it man; man builds a tower of dirt and calls himself god.
Nowhere in Genesis 11 does the Bible mention any attempt of man’s to “reach God” through the building of Babel. They simply built for themselves a great city and a tower “with its top in the heavens.” Their intention is unmistakable: “let us make a name for ourselves.” Let us build our own Eden, exchanging the breath of God for the smell of tar, the coolness of the day for the hot clay of a thousand bricks. Let us exist not in humility to God but in the pride of our own hands.
If I could summarize all of human history in one statement, I would say, “God gave us Eden; we built Babel.” God gave us all things richly to enjoy, and we threw (and continue to throw) everything away. With one hand we stack our pile of bricks to the sky, with the other we shake a fist at the sky. We are wanderers, Lost Boys stuck in Neverland, clocks and candelabras caught in a cursed castle, sleeping beauties poisoned by lies, puppets longing to be real.
We have shattered the One True Story.
Every corner of this world echoes the hallowed ground of Eden. As John Milton once said, “The end, then, of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents.” We are all aching for the beauty of homecoming. All of this world, though feeding at the prodigal trough, yearns to come home to Eden and the Father. Any height of pleasure, any happiness, any beauty the world hands us is a warped, corrupted photograph of Eden. The world still hears the language of Eden but only the words and no meanings. One may know every word in English, but without meaning, he ultimately knows nothing; he has harnessed the wind in vain. Without the substance, we are left with mere shadows. When we gaze at stars, rock peacefully in oceans, stare into the greatness of canyons, we hear the language of God, but the meaning is lost. It is no wonder the curse of Babel is the confusion of languages; when we exchanged God’s garden for our own towers, we gave back the definitions but tried to keep the words.