We’ve been called to have dominion over the earth to the glory of God, but we want dominion for the glory of man. That’s what was going on at Babel—a distortion, an evil twisting of the legitimate task that God had given mankind. There’s nothing wrong with building. There’s nothing wrong with sowing and reaping. Those are the tasks God gave to us in creation, but they’re to be done under the authority of God.
When I return to the first few chapters of Genesis, I’m able not only to review the events of early human history but also to see how humanity hasn’t outgrown our earliest aspirations. Perhaps most illustrative of my point is the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. We read in verse 1 that “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” Note the unity preserved from the original pre-fall creation. In the garden of Eden there were no translators; everyone spoke the same language. And even though sin intruded to destroy the harmony of the original creation, at least people could understand each other in the initial years of human expansion. They could speak the same language and communicate with some degree of harmony.
Speaking the same language and having the same values, this humanity built a city: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens” (v. 4). From the beginning, the dream of human progress, the dream of the human spirit has been to build a city of such magnificence that it reaches to the pinnacle of heaven itself. It’s part of our nature as human beings to build monuments to human accomplishment. We can go through the cities of this world and see magnificent human achievements. We can view the Eiffel Tower from almost any point in and around Paris.