January 12, 2016

The Tower of Babel or the Kingdom of God

Post by Brittany Tedesco

Save the earth! Transform society! End world hunger. End disease. End war. Cure poverty. Uplift your fellow man. These are causes toward which many people, whether Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, etc., have worked.

Christians aren't the only ones who feel an inward urge to make a positive difference in the world. Noble acts of altruism have been demonstrated by people who view the gospel as nothing more than a fairy tale.

A few months ago, I attended a presentation on sex trafficking given by a woman who started an organization in Tennessee to rescue women trapped in the dark industry. She worked hard and overcame a lot of disappointments. I was impressed with her intelligence, business savvy, and resilience.

Through a federal grant, she was able to provide ex-prostitutes with a place to live to rehabilitate from substance abuse and receive counseling, education, and vocational training. Several of the former sex workers were with her at the presentation and testified to their changed lives. One of them talked about the free dental work she'd received. Over half of her teeth were missing when she entered the program. She also mentioned how difficult it was for her to obtain employment with her criminal record, and how the organization provided her with a way to earn an income. The founder started a company to provide work to the women under her care. They make and sell soaps, lotions, and other high-end bath products.

I was very moved by the testimonies of those women whose lives had been completely transformed.

My ears were tuned throughout the presentation for some mention of Jesus. . .but it never came. During the question and answer time, I learned that the organization isn't faith-based.

That organization—with all of its grand demonstrations of kindness and transformation—surely resembled a Christian-based organization, but it wasn't.

Christians, after all, haven't cornered the market on "good works."

Consider the following quote: "Heaven is something for which we should work now—here on earth—for all men together to enjoy."

"American Atheists bench back" by Bubba73 (Jud McCranie) - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

Take a guess where it might have originated. Was it a tweet from a popular theologian? An excerpt from a daily devotional? Maybe from a self-help book?

It's actually part of the opening statement that Madalyn Murray O'Hair, founder of American Atheists, gave before the Supreme Court in the Murray v. Curlett lawsuit to remove Bible reading and recitation of the Lord's Prayer from public schools. The Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1963.

"An atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god," she said in her statement.

Love of fellow man. Working to create heaven on earth for all people to enjoy. These are noble goals.

I visited the American Atheists website to find quite a lot of noble goals. Under the "Aims and Principles" section, I found this: "To encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy, understanding, and interdependence of all people and the corresponding responsibility of each individual in relation to society."

Sounds pretty good. How are their good works any different from Christians' good works?

In his book, How Then Should We Work?, Hugh Welchel discusses how the Christian should work to make the world a better place. Writes Welchel: "Thomas Cahill, in his book How the Irish Saved Civilization, tells how Christian monks in the Middle Ages moved out of Ireland and through pagan Europe. Along the way they invented and established academies, universities, and hospitals. Through these new institutions the monks transformed local economies and cared for the unfortunate."

Welchel mentioned how the monks "worked for the flourishing of all mankind rather than strictly for themselves."

Ok. Atheists claim to do the same thing. How is this any different?

A Christian Aid Mission-assisted ministry in South Asia provided 5,000 toilets to a Muslim community.

It wouldn't be any different except for the fact that the monks' activities were "inspired by the gospel."

The inspiration or motivation behind good works is the defining factor that determines the ultimate outcome of the good works.

Good works that are inspired by the gospel always produce glory for God by pointing to Him. They contain tremendous power and potential to move us beyond the temporal world, lifting our eyes to that which is transcendent and eternal.

From 2009 to 2011, a Christian Aid Mission-assisted ministry in South Asia developed a large sanitation project in a Muslim community. They provided 5,000 toilets to people who had no place to privately relieve themselves. The Muslim women were especially touched by this act of kindness, and they repeatedly thanked the missionaries, expressing how the sanitation project had "saved them from shame."

The project was a noble endeavor, but it's a noble endeavor that secular humanists could have undertaken. The motivation behind it, however, would have been the glorification of man and the building of an earthly kingdom--a Tower of Babel, if you will. It would have been an example of how irrelevant God is to this world, and how man's reason is all that is needed to heal the world's ills.

In contrast, the missionaries were motivated by the gospel to undertake this project. They pointed the women beyond the here and now to the God Who made them and cared about their needs. And in so doing, they contributed to the building of an eternal kingdom--the Kingdom of God, comprised of living stones (aka: people). That ministry has planted over 100 houses churches among Muslim communities in the last 10 years.

The people who worked on the Tower of Babel viewed human reason as the means to build for themselves a civilization without a need for God. They banded together in defiance of the One Who formed them with the very capacity for reason. Their entire motivation in building the tower was to glorify man.

"Sanzio 01 Plato Aristotle" by Raphael - Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

The good works of the American Atheists are no different. The motivation behind them is to form a society without a need for God. During Christmas, they put up a billboard featuring a picture of Santa Claus with the words: "Go ahead and skip church. Be good for goodness' sake."

Man can do good works without having to believe in God, they reason. And they're right. But how sad that those works merely glorify man, who was made from dust and will return to dust. How sad that those works will pass away and mean nothing in the end.

In his Inferno, Dante describes the various circles of hell. In each circle, people are receiving an eternal punishment commensurate with their sin. The circles are in descending order of sins Dante considered bad to worse, with Satan in the bottom and final circle.

Darkness pervades hell—presumably because the light of God isn't present—except for a little light emanating from the first circle of hell, which Dante calls "Limbo." This is where the great poets, philosophers, and so-called "virtuous pagans" reside—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the like. Because of their great contributions to society, Dante couldn't quite bring himself to place them in the lower, completely dark circles of hell--even though he couldn't place them in heaven because of their rejection of Christ.

Dante explains that the small light in this circle is generated by human reason, the glory of man. There they all are, content as in life, to forfeit living in the brilliant light of God to live in the semi-darkness of human glorification.

Beneath the surface of every good and noble act lies a motivation for that act, which is either the glory of man or the glory of God. And that motivation is the difference between Babel and Heaven.

Mark - posted January 20, 2016
I have to say your articles are wonderfully and thought provoking; but as I read this particular article something seemed to be off. Maybe its me and how I read it. The thing that creates distinction between a born-again Christ follower and an atheist is selflessness. However selflessness is defined by the love for another without any thought or expectation for oneself; or better put unconditional love. If we just define things from a stand point of doing good deeds for the sake of pointing them to God than there is selfish intent in that, namely a desire to impose my belief on another through my action. Christ's intent was to live in such a way that a persons perception was altered, through God living out of Him, so that they would know and experience the true living God. How we live out good deeds is more important than the showing, that is why Christ would not perform miracles at times because the good deed He performed did not lead to truly understanding God and His desire for mankind. Don't misunderstand I agree with the article and I believe this is what was attempted to be conveyed. I just struggled with how it was stated, I had trouble connecting with its wording.
Pamela - posted January 18, 2016
I was pondering on what Babel meant to our society this week. So thank you for answering my unspoken question.
Lin - posted January 18, 2016
The article makes a point in saying that the difference is the christian missionaries were motivated by the gospel vs atheist being motivated by love of man. Consider that the atheist are doing what the christian church should be. the churches should be envious and want to do more. Some churches do reach out and some individuals in churches reach out and help. Unfortunately many churches do not but rather behave in a manner of a closed social club with much out reaching activities in their own communities or elsewhere. as a church we need to do more, Jesus was motivated by his love for man, so should we be.
Mary - posted January 14, 2016
I was reading Psalm 50 this morning v-14 "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay Thy vows unto the Most High: V-15 And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." This is not what flesh will do. Flesh exalts self no one else.