Heaven and Earth, Towers and Mangers

canstockphoto11755625There’s a story in the 11th chapter of Genesis that tells how humans tried to go where God was. It’s actually the culmination of a series of stories in which humans try to take for themselves prerogatives that belong only to God.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve wanted to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong.

Then Cain decided to take upon himself the decision which belonged only to God: deciding who deserved to live and who deserved to die.

With the flood God tried to start all over again with a whole new set of people. What the story teaches is that the problem wasn’t with any particular set of humans, as if this set was bad but a new set would be better. Rather, the problem is that the heart of humans was a mess.

We all fall. Wipe out this set, another set just like them will take their place.

Then, in the 11th chapter, the humans had an interesting idea: the problem, they thought, was that they were bound to earth while God was up there in heaven. If they could just get up to Heaven where God lived, then everything would be all right.

So they started building a city, and in the center of the city they built a tower that would reach up into the heavens. A Stairway to Heaven, as it were. If they build it, they could climb up to where God is, and everything would be all right.

That’s understandable; people still think that way. We can leave this mess on earth behind us and we can go up to Heaven where everything is great, and nothing is impossible, and there will be no more tears and no more sorrows.

So God had to do something. Sometimes a punishment is not so much a punishment as much as it is a correction, a correction which points you in the right direction.

God confuses their language so that they can’t understand each other, and the result was that instead of reaching heaven they were scattered all over the the earth.

And then we have the rest of the Old Testament, where humans encounter God over and over and over. The Lord speaks to Abram, and to Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos.

All these people have encounters with God, and none of them take place in heaven.

All of them take place on earth, usually as they were going about their business, sometimes in the midst of great stress.

Rarely in a special place.

Sure, Moses spoke with God on Mt. Sinai, but that was before Mt. Sinai was Mt. Sinai. Before that, Mt. Sinai was just a mountain in the desert.

Besides, Moses’ first encounter with God was while he was watching his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness.

In the wilderness, God came to Moses.

Maybe, just maybe, at the tower God was saying, “You can’t come to me; but I will come to you.”

Maybe he scattered them over the face of the earth because that is where you will find God—all over the face of the earth, in the midst of the mess.

Where the hurt is.

Where the disappointment is.

Where dreams have been broken, and hope has been extinguished.

The most God-forsaken places have not been forsaken by God. That’s exactly where you will find God.

Where the mess is, there you will find God.

It’s not the way we would have done it, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We’ve tried every which way out of this mess, and it just seems to make things worse.

There comes a time when you just have to stop trying to fix the mess, admit that it’s bigger than you, and let go.

In that moment, when you let go, you give God space to walk in.

And when God walks in, things start to happen.

What God does may surprise you. It must have seemed strange that God would be born in a peasant home to peasant parents who weren’t yet married, then placed in a manger.

But that’s part of the wonderful mystery of God.

A God who told us to call him “I AM” because, he said, “I am what I am, and I will be what I will be.”

In other words, “I’m not what you want me to be. I am what I am, which is exactly what you need.”

And who is God, and what is it that we need?

He is Immanuel, “God is With Us.”

We don’t have to go to God; he comes to us, and that is exactly what we need.

And I hope it is all we really, really want.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / ginosphotos

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