In the Old Testament, human beings used their common language not to glorify God but to try to become Him. In the current age, we may be using social media the same way.
The Tower of Babel
Genesis 11 relates the tale known as the Tower of Babel. The scene takes place in the earliest days of humanity when all people were gathered together in one place. The chapter opens saying, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” “Same words” means they had the same language.
Wouldn’t that be breathtaking? Imagine the entire earth’s population sharing the same language, able to communicate with each other freely and intelligibly. What would could we achieve with such cooperation? What did our ancestors do with the ability to understand absolutely anyone? They built a tower.
The Tower of Babel wasn’t just any tower. It was a monument to humanity’s pride. The people in Genesis 11 used the power of words to coordinate on a building project that would testify to their own greatness. Verse 4 says, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.” Even though God created humans to glorify Him by mirroring His lordship as stewards of creation, the entrance of sin causes all people to bend that glory toward themselves.
The Lord recognizes the dreadful potential of a sinful people with unlimited opportunity to collaborate in evil endeavors. “And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (v. 6).
God’s response to the arrogance of humanity is to disperse them to prevent greater disobedience. “’Come, let us [Father, Son, Spirit] go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” Ever since Babel our multiple languages serve as a gracious barrier to prevent us from partnering for evil.
Social Media as the New Babel
The Tower of Babel story also has lessons for our use of social media today. Like the people of the Old Testament, we have the “same words.” In Genesis 11 having the same words meant speaking the same language. In the 21st century, having the same words means sharing the same medium. The Internet, specifically social media, gives us a shared platform to communicate. We speak hundreds of different languages across the world, but social media brings the globe together in a cyber social experiment. But this experiment doesn’t follow the rules laid out in the Bible, so sin abounds and compounds.
If you’re easily angered or frustrated, avoid the comments on various timelines when a controversial issue comes up. Even Christians engage in cheap ad hominem attacks and libelous remarks. The concept of speaking the truth in love seems suspended on social media. Even though we still speak different languages, social media acts as a sort of common tongue that engenders sinful conspiring.
Social media also enables us to repeat the sin of Babel by congregating for lawlessness. When God made human beings He commanded them to fill the earth and subdue it (1:28). We were supposed to act as stewards of God’s creation by spreading out over the planet and creating culture. But one of the reasons for building the Tower is that people did not want to be dispersed over the earth (11:4).
We congregate on social media the same way they did at Babel. Instead of fulfilling our God-given mandate to fill the earth and subdue it through acts of positive cultural creation, we come together via computers. While we stare at screens we turn our gaze away from the immediate circumstances that demand our gifts and attention. Just as God dispersed the people as judgment for their sin, these days, we may need to disperse ourselves from social media to avoid condemnation.
The point is not that social media has no redeeming value. Indeed, even the Tower of Babel had positive elements to it like human cooperation and the use of technology. But those goods weren’t used to glorify God. Social media today also displays cooperation and technology. But if we don’t use those elements to glorify God, then we contradict God’s laws.
Social Media and the Savior
God has provided a solution to our modern Babel. In the very next chapter, Genesis 12, God encounters an obscure man named Abram. To Abram He promises, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
These obscure promises become clear when a man named Jesus, a descendent of Abram (later renamed Abraham), comes to earth as God in flesh. Christ is the answer to our social media sins. He comes as the one who built not a tower, but a temple (Mt. 26:61). The temple is His body and after His ascension, the temple is built of living stones, those who by faith receive His salvation (1 Pt. 2:5). Christ in us points us back to the mandate to fill the earth and subdue. He points us forward to the holy city. Unlike the Tower of Babel, we will not build it but God builds it. In Genesis 11 we tried to ascend to God, but in this city, God comes down to us (Rev. 21:1-3).
When we glimpse the majestic vision of the life God has for us, we should do less babbling on social media and participate in God’s kingdom-building work in the world around us.