Saturday, November 11, 2006

Babel

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) was the effort of sinful man to find meaning and significance apart from God. The new movie, Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, is a sad but pretty good modern illustration of the same thing. While I found the interweaving of 4 different stories fascinating, I did not "enjoy" this movie and don't recommend that everyone see it. For one thing, its premise is that Americans are all narcissists and mean; everyone else in the world is victimized by Western values and are not themselves responsible for their choices (so let's pile on the USA, again). Also, the too-lengthy scenes involving the deaf Japanese girl are exploitive, very sad, and raise the question of how far a filmmaker should go in his effort to depict reality.

Despite those drawbacks, Babel reinforces the Biblical teaching that one person's mistakes are not merely his own, they ripple out and affect a host of others. All of us are still experiencing the effects of the sin at the plain of Shinar, where some folks got together and decided to build for themselves a city, "with a tower that reaches to the heavens" (Gen. 11:4). Their motive was to "make a name for [themselves] and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." Instead of trusting in God for significance and security, they relied on a god of their own making, essentially re-enacting Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden. We're still paying for the Tower of Babel, the evidence of which is hatred, war, racism, oppression of minorities, and terrorism...the very things depicted in this movie. The moral is that when I do something wrong, I subject others, even people I love, to the consequences of my sin.

Another way the movie connects with the Biblical story of Babel is in its depiction of man's endless quest for meaning. Everybody in this movie is searching for something of transcendant value, and they mortgage everything they have to get it. The married couple played by Pitt and Blanchett are looking for a fix for their marriage, at ridiculous cost to the wife's heart. Their nanny back in San Diego is looking for love and approval, even if it means putting the lives of two children at terrible risk. The young Moroccan brothers are looking for the love of their father and a sense of manliness, at the cost of their own and others' lives. The Japanese teenager, likewise, is desperate for the love of any man who will play the role of father in her life and let her know she's acceptable.

Those who tried to build a tower that would reach to the sky mortgaged everything they had -- social unity, peace, relationship with God -- in a quest for that elusive "something more." And in the end they lost everything. It's like the rich man of Luke 12 who decided he needed more and bigger barns for his crops. To him God said, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you" (Luke 12:20).

I think in this connection of young adults and teenagers who bet their future that a one-night stand is just that, and end up losing their innocence and never being able to enjoy sex in marriage. I think of young married couples who get under a mountain of debt to buy the American dream, and in the process lose their freedom, fun, and relationship with each other. I think of men in midlife who want someone to love them, and instead of asking for it from their wives and friends turn to pornography or lonely women, and end up losing the people who really care.

The search for significance is not bad; it's inevitable, given our lost condition. The question for every person is: Where will your search take you? If you look for it anywhere but God, you'll be frustrated. God meant it when He said, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). Fortunately for us, He also meant it when He said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

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