Ambition and Bricklaying

Making some progress on the latest chapter of my book; in my study, I’ve been wrestling with Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel and ambition (even for noble causes). In my study and research, I came across this helpful passage from Kent Hughes:

The problem with the tower as such lay not in the desire to be in touch with God but in its underlying suppositions and approach. . . . [T]he unadorned belief that man by his superior effort could reach God betrays the fatal delusion of all man-made religion. This delusion is at the heart of every religious enterprise apart from the gospel because the world’s religions all teach that works bring spiritual advance — as in an improved karma or works-righteousness. Collective apostasy had engulfed the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth as they stacked their bricks up to heaven.

The tower builders were clear about what drove them — “and let us make a name for ourselves.” . . . Negatively, they were driven by the fear of anonymity. Today this same will to fame is everywhere. It drives politicians and preachers and athletes and actors. If we can make a name for ourselves so people esteem us, we will have succeeded, we think. . . . This drive to make a name for ourselves can drive us to re-create ourselves. And the effect can be so tragic that neither we nor anyone else knows who we are. Alan Richardson says it well: “The hatred of anonymity drives men to heroic feats of valour or long hours of drudgery; or it urges them to spectacular acts of shame or of unscrupulous self-preferment. In its worst forms it tempts men to give the honour and glory to themselves which properly belong to the name of God.”

Indeed, the tower builders were going to make a name for themselves, but not the one they had hoped for. Their name would become a joke. The only name that counts is that which God gives, as when he said to Abraham, “I will . . . make your name great” (12:2). The fame that lasts comes from God. “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4).

The tower builders were a broken people. And the fact that they feared being scattered is proof that their fellowship with God and their unity with each other had been shattered by sin. Centripetal spiritual forces were at work. Their attempt to preserve their unity by outward means would not be successful apart from coercion, as world history so sadly proves.

R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Kindle Edition)

In your pursuit of your ambitions—even in the pursuit of the most noble causes—who and what is at the heart of your motivations? Is it Christ, His glory, His name, His renown… or is it your own?

None of us can manage this tension perfectly. We’re all going to stumble periodically. But what have you found to be the indicators in your own life that you’re building your own metaphorical Tower of Babel? What did you do to put a stop to it?

I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.