The story of the tower of Babel is an interesting one. It provides us with a narrative about the origins of the different languages of the world, but the whole story works pretty well as a metaphor about a how pride can fracture and divide people. This is what I want to talk about: how language and pride have shaped everything we know and believe.
But first, a metaphysical rumination: what are we if not talking stardust? In the incredibly-impossible-to-comprehend lifespan of our planet stretching back to when the same carbon and hydrogen molecules that make up our bodies were being incubated in a star somewhere, and forward all the way to when our own star ceases to burn, there was the smallest blip of time when some curious creatures learned to make commentaries on themselves and the world around them using symbols and sounds. Humans are unique in this solar system, possibly the universe, in our capacity for written language.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
In fact, humankind is the product of words. I’m not just talking about what makes us unique as a species (although that is worth discussing); I’m also talking about how God spoke and there was light. God spoke and matter was organized into man and woman. The Greek root of the word poet is a word that literally means maker. To use language is a small act of creation. C.S. Lewis said it much better than I could in his book Reflections on the Psalms when he said,
“It seems to me appropriate, almost inevitable, that when that great Imagination which in the beginning, for Its own delight and for the delight of men and angels and (in their proper mode) of beasts, had invented and formed the whole world of Nature, submitted to express Itself in human speech, that speech should sometimes be poetry. For poetry too is a little incarnation, giving body to what had been before invisible and inaudible.”
Exactly. God speaks words and worlds are created, the ultimate act of poetry. God speaks and His Only Begotten Son, the Lamb of God, obeys his will, saving us all in the process. It’s no wonder that language (the Word) is what saves us from all forms of death in the end. It is what created us in the first place. The Word is God. The Word is Jesus Christ, the poet, the maker, the creator of all things.
This humbling idea brings me back to the question: who do we think we are? How are we living our lives? How are we using the power of language? Will we allow people who distort truth to speak for us? Will we seek to silence those we disapprove of? Or will we let language be the free power we utilize to create and nurture, fostering healthy debate and spreading worthy ideas? Will we use our voices in the spirit of moral agency and democracy to change the systemic discourses that harm so many?
Like God, we are all poets. What world are we creating with our words?