The Wisdom of God in the Frustration of Man

Sometimes it takes a good 4,000 years or so to appreciate just how wise God is. When you read the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11, God's response can sound like a bit of an overreaction. Humans developed the material and engineering technology to construct a tall Ziggurat on the plain of Shinar. And they had the totally mistaken notion that they could build it to reach the heavens (Genesis 11:4), perhaps building their own access to God's dwelling. So God's response was to "confuse their language" in order to frustrate their ambition and dilute the population concentration (Genesis 11:7–8). Why? Did God feel threatened by their faulty tower?

No, God was not threatened by human ingenuity. Rather, God was wisely and mercifully mitigating the threat of human ingenuity to humans and to the rest of creation. When God said, "this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" (Genesis 11:6), he had in mind things far grander than a brick and bitumen tower. He foresaw things that have taken four millennia to dawn on the human mind.

The Towering Century

I don't know an English superlative that captures the 20th century. The quantum leaps in human technological advancements on almost every front boggle the mind.

When the century began, a two horsepower engine meant two horses were powering your carriage. When it ended, horseless carriages like the Dodge Viper were powered by internal combustion engines containing the equivalent strength of 450 horses. On December 17, 1903, Orville Wright made the first recorded powered flight, a 12-second, 120-foot voyage that reached a top altitude of about 20 feet. On December 19, 1999, the Space Shuttle Discovery took off on an 8-day, 3.2 million mile voyage soaring 317 nautical miles above the earth. Advances in medicine, agriculture, and many other converging technologies increased average human life expectancies in the U.S. 30–40 years, more than doubling them in some demographics. Technological wonders exploded everywhere.

And therefore, so did the horrors. In 1900, the most powerful armies had long-range artillery that could fairly accurately hit targets a few miles away. Barely five decades later and humanity was facing the existential risk of nuclear weapon proliferation. Many of the technological advancements that had power to greatly benefit humanity also had power to destroy it. And as a result, never in the history of the world were so many people destroyed by so few in the course of a hundred years. Statistics vary, but credible calculations put the number of human deaths resulting from wars and armed conflicts in the 20th century to over 230 million.

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