Saturday, 10 May 2008

Pentecost and the Grand Design of Humanity

Franz Kafka wrote stories about political and social control. Grand projects of uniformity, with those who fail to fit persecuted. The Tower of Babel is the great myth of the Bible that tells us that this is part of the human predicament from which we must be saved. It is seen throughout history wherever uniformity becomes the foundation upon which human arrogance attempts to build an everlasting testament to itself. History is strewn with these grand projects, from the macro level of empires down to the micro level of families. But God is kind to humankind and destroys the tower, and separates people into language groups so that there can never be a successful grand design. Human diversity and variety will always bring down the grand project, at least eventually.

The destruction of Babel and the disunity of humankind is not God's final response, though. God's vision for humanity is not Babel, but it is unity. Pentecost is the Biblical 'answer' to Babel and all attempts to mimic Babel. Notice that in the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 language is not a barrier to unity. But not the uniformity of a single language, for everyone hears in their own tongue. And what do they hear? The good news about Jesus. This is not to be confused with some grand design rolling out over the top of human difference, for it is not founded on uniformity (symbolized in Babel by a single, universal language) and is achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus, a victim of the Roman Babel. Moreover, in addition to the universal message communicated in each tongue, the Jesus 'project' is directed toward God, and is not a monument to human arrogance. The message of Jesus is communicated through the art of a living discipleship and persuasive proclamation, and the result is a humanity oriented toward God.

A few points to finish:
  • The Spirit of Jesus received at Pentecost will always lead the baptised to oppose the grand designs of humanity, whether at the macro or the micro level.
  • The unity of the church is not an authoritarian based uniformity, but a genuine unity respectful of differences. Even the differences that usually pull us apart.


  1. Yes, each in their own language is important

  2. I think we in the Church also need to remember that Language is tied in with Culture. Thus by having different languages we also find ourselves with different Cultures. At Pentecost we find them all though declaring that Jesus is Lord.