How Flannelgraphs Gave Me Hints of the One True Story
- By tracyhigley
I never understood the Sunday School story of the Tower of Babel. In my mind, I pictured this group of well-meaning folks, just trying to build a tower (sounds cool to me), when God hits them with this metaphorical lightning bolt of language-confusion, and they scatter like ants from a stomped-on anthill. Oh, yes, I knew what my teacher told me – they were trying to be like God, it was a prideful thing to do, etc. But I never actually saw that in the story. I only saw people making a tower and God getting mad. Was it the bricks and tar they used, instead of stone and mortar? (The biblical account seems to make a point of mentioning the building materials, which made it seem significant to me.) And when God says that the tower building indicates that “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” and so he’ll make it harder, doesn’t that seem a bit spiteful? As though God is jealous of their accomplishments, and wants to trip them up before they outshine him?
It wasn’t until reading it today, with the One True Story in mind, that the lightbulb flashed. Or perhaps it’s because since those Sunday School days I’ve set three books around the city of Babylon, heavily researching the great city that scholars believe sprung up around this half-completed ancient tower.
The Tower of Babel, if scholars are correct, was eventually finished in some form, and became the ziggurat that formed the central worship of the city of Babylon. It had another name besides the one found at the heading of Genesis 11 in every Bible. It was called The House of the Platform of Heaven and Earth.
Many other ziggurats have been found with similar names. In the city of Larsa, The House of the Link between Heaven and Earth. At Borsippa, The House of the Seven Guides of Heaven and Earth. Do you get a sense of what these towers were? They were not simply big structures meant to show off the engineering skills of the builders, as you may have thought of the Tower of Babel.
They were temples. They were man-made “holy mountains” that created a link for the gods to descend, a platform for them to rest upon when they visited man. In other words, the Tower of Babel was man’s very first attempt to construct an Alternate Story. There would come a day when God would approve of a temple built in his honor. This was not that day.
And from Genesis to Revelation, Babylon becomes for us an enduring symbol. It is the city of exile, set up as the antithesis to Jerusalem, where God’s people are given over to their never-ending proclivity for an Alternate Story, dragged away from their own holy temple and cast at the feet of this first one.
But Babylon is more than this literal city of exile. Through Revelation, it becomes the very symbol of the Alternate Story, a religious spirit of false worship, that rises up in the last days in yet another attempt to build a tower of opposition.
Yes, our God is a jealous God. But not jealous of man’s trifling accomplishments with bricks and tar – he who flung the stars across the heavens! He is God jealous of hearts, not willing that we should give them to any other story but the One True Story that He has written.
Once again, we see that God’s actions, this “lightning bolt” of language confusion, are more mercy than judgment. God steps in, not as a bully who wants to slow human progress, but as a merciful Father, to slow his children in their race to find themselves in a story that will lead only to destruction.
May each of us examine the towers of our own making, the stories of our own making, and give thanks when God steps in to hinder our plans.