“I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4).
“You’re So Vain” is the title of a hit song of the ‘70s by singer Carly Simon. It depicts her evaluation of the problem with one of her boyfriends, but it really describes the root problem with the whole human race.
I was about 10 years old when I and my next-door neighbor and childhood friend, Donna, decided to build a makeshift fort/clubhouse over the Dichondra (small genus of flowering plants in the morning glory family) in her front yard.
We draped blankets, towels and newspapers over old chairs, tables, 2 by 4s, boards and whatever else we could find in our parents’ garages to form a labyrinth of low-lying rooms and compartments within our clubhouse. And oh, did we think we were ever-so-clever!
Our little project inspired another childhood friend, Debbie, who lived about five doors up the street, to build her own fort/clubhouse in her front yard with the help of her friends.
Come late morning, we discovered that their clubhouse rivaled or even exceeded ours in some ways, in terms of creativity and cleverness. I found myself sneaking down the street to spy on what she and her friends had created in an effort to not merely improve our creation, but to outdo theirs!
It didn’t take long before a bitter rivalry ensued. By about midday, both construction outfits had become totally consumed with creating a better clubhouse than their rival. We did whatever we could to demean the other’s creation and exalt our own, all the while stealing the other’s ideas for our own benefit.
Late that afternoon, we declared a truce. Each side agreed that the other could now visit and even enter the other’s clubhouse to observe each other’s impressive creations. However, when Debbie crawled her way through our clubhouse (remember, it was low-lying), she deliberately clawed with her hands at our flimsy flooring, consisting of newspapers, tearing it up on her way through. The truce was a ruse—the enmity and competition had continued despite the peace treaty which had been declared.
Funny thing, no one ever had to teach any of us to compete with each other. No one ever had to teach any of us to envy what the others had done, or to spy on one another, or to tout our creation as better than the other’s, or to tear down the efforts of the other’s either verbally or literally. It all came so naturally, and we hardly gave it a second thought.
It reminds me of how adults behave. It actually reminds me of how nations today behave in relationship to each other. Have you noticed how, even in the midst of a worldwide crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a rivalry between the U.S. and China over who created the problem in the first place, who had the best response to the pending pandemic, who is holding back, or in turn, generously providing, supplies to the other, and accusations that the W.H.O. (World Health Organization) catered to China by covering up the seriousness of the outbreak in its early days? Each side wants to be viewed as the world leader in overcoming the disease. President Trump is again bragging about how the U.S. had the greatest economy in world history and has the greatest medical system in the world. Of course, Putin in Russia doesn’t have near the number of cases the U.S. does. What’s more, North Korea hasn’t experienced any cases. Just when international relations would beg for cooperation in overcoming the deadly pandemic, it appears that what each nation is really all about is coming out of the crisis looking like they’re better than all the others—at least in their own eyes.
Should it surprise anyone why “Peace on earth” is still an unattainable goal?
Remember the motive for the construction of the Tower of Babel—that Nimrod and company might make a name for themselves! (see Genesis 11:4). Yes, human pride reared its ugly head way back then.
Do you ever wonder why God confused the languages at the Tower of Babel? I think there were at least two reasons.
First, when He confused the languages, He ultimately created the various nations. As He separated one people group from another, He knew that our sinfulness would be revealed, even to ourselves eventually, in how we related to each another. Our selfish ambition and pride would easily trump our concern for the welfare of others. We would be preoccupied with glorifying ourselves and taking care of ourselves at the expense of others—demonstrating in our vanity how superior “our nation” is to any and every other people on the earth. And since “we” are superior to others, doesn’t it make sense that we should rule over others, because clearly we know better how life ought to be lived—for everyone?!
It’s just that kind of pride that was behind Hitler’s World War II ambitions—to establish the Third Reich and his Arian race as the world power for thousands of years. And though it’s not as well known, Japan’s aggressions in Asia that sparked World War II on the other side of the world were fueled by the same kind of pride and selfish ambition.
Wars have ruled the history of mankind. They have revealed our desperate need for God and repentance from our great sin of exalting ourselves at the expense of others.
The second reason for God’s intervention at the Tower of Babel has to do with how our sinful nature affects our relationship with God. Mankind was about to create its own great kingdom upon earth apart from God. God even admitted how clever mankind was when He said, “And now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6b).
Yes, we are very clever. We are certainly impressed with how clever we are. The problem is that our cleverness has a sinful bent—it has also been applied to seeking out “many devices” for doing our own thing rather than God’s thing (see Ecclesiastes 7:29).
One day, mankind will overcome its selfish ambitions and nationalistic tendencies to unite as one—apart from God—again. But when that happens, our pride in our joint cleverness will raise itself up against God’s superior wisdom and rightful authority over us as we attempt to establish a kingdom—under antichrist—apart from God.
Until we get over that notion that we are so very clever that we don’t need God, or each other, peace will be impossible, and life will continue to be ever-so difficult.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Next time you’re impressed with how clever you are—how much more you have than the Joneses, how much more successful you are than the Smiths, how much smarter you are than the Browns, how much greater your country is than any other, or how much better your church is than the one down the street, consider where any and every ability that you or anyone else possesses ultimately came from.
“For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (I Corinthians 4:7).
And give Him glory!