Weekend Edition #1: Teaching the World to Sing.

So, as you likely know, this has been the cause of much angst and teeth-grinding this week:

If you listen to conservative talk radio, you likely heard that Coke has undermined the American “Melting Pot” by highlighting the diversity of these United States.  If you listen to some quarters of religious talk radio, you may also have heard some grumbling about the apparent same-sex couple near the end of the spot.  If you listen to progressive/liberal talking heads, you would hear paeans of praise for this diverse and forward-thinking ad, with an added kick that those racists on the right probably hate it.

(It should probably be noted that Coke has a history of this type of holding-hands-around-the-world advertisement. I don’t think this latest piece is anything more than another in a long line of such concepts. It’s actually more nationalistic than it could have been.)

If you’ll permit me authorial privilege, I’m going to ignore the “English-only” folks and the SSM debate folks and the diversity-champion folks, and provide a few disconnected observations:

I actually thought the ad was quite nice. It highlighted the fact that America is a place where people from very different backgrounds can live together within a common nation, and all recognize that this imperfect, scarred, scared America is in fact quite beautiful. That was the extent to which I “read” the ad. If you find this position naive, that’s fine. I don’t hold that against you.

I didn’t notice the same-sex couple on my first viewing, and don’t feel much like addressing it now. You’re free to interpret it through your personal ideological grid and come to the conclusions you wish. If you know me, you know where I stand on the issue, and if you don’t know me, well, I figure you’ll eventually figure it out based on the context clues.

Rather than addressing the diversity issue or the SSM issue, I want to mention the interesting (and providential) serendipity–is that a contradictory statement?–of my Bible reading this week:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 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. Come,let us 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.Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9, ESV)

If you haven’t read the Book yet, here are the highlights thusfar: God made the great big universe, including a perfect spinning ball of blue, upon which he made all living things, including a man and a woman. God had a special relationship with these creatures, and gave them dominion over the perfect planet, with one rule: there was a tree in their garden, the fruit of which they should never eat, fruit that would supernaturally give them understanding of good and evil. The crafty Serpent (a fallen angel in a snake suit) tempted them to sin by appealing to their pride, and they disobeyed their Creator, bringing sin and pain and death into the world. God declared a curse on the ground (thorns and thistles) and the Serpent (that He would one day be crushed by the Offspring of the Woman). The fallout of their rebellion was immediate: one of their 2 sons killed the other one. Several generations passed, full of so much wickedness and murder and sin that God punished the whole of humanity, wiping out almost all of them in a worldwide flood. But God kept His promise by preserving a remnant of humanity and animalkind in a big boat. Then, several generations after the flood, here we are in Genesis 11.

Notice a few things from this account: The people wanted to build a tower that reached “the heavens” to make a name for themselves. They wanted to stay in one place, as part of a unified kingdom. God had other plans, and confused their languages, so that they could not work together and complete the name-making project.

Now, there are a few different ways that this passage can be read, I guess. (I heard one recently that i’d never heard before, arguing that the confusion of languages was a divine blessing to promote diversity… Okaaay.)  But the traditional reading of this text is that the confusion of languages was God’s means of thwarting the pride of a unified, sinful humanity. God didn’t want Babel to be built. Why? Because the glory of Babel would be the name of the builders. It was an act of defiance against the glory of God. (“I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God, I will set my throne on high…”) So God confused the language to humble the people. He will not share His glory with another.

Now rather than trying to draw a crooked line to our current cultural argument, let’s draw a straight line to a future hope:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice,“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12, ESV)

See here, in the great hall of heaven, a reverse of Babel, surrounding not a tower of man’s glory, but a throne, as all of the diverse peoples of the world who have been rescued from the effects of sin and the rage of the Serpent by our risen Champion, our Shepherd-King, our slain-but-living Lamb, Jesus.  People of all tribes and tongues and nations, in one voice, praising God.

You want diversity? See the millions of faces around the throne, of all different shapes, colors, variations.  You want cultural identity and unity? See their bond as one family, with one Spirit, one Savior, one faith, one baptism, and one Father and Lord who is over all  and through all and in all.

Observe the throng of the redeemed, singing in perfect harmony.

 

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