A FEW THOUGHTS ON CHRISTIAN UNITY
It is a thought that plagues me every now and then, even though I know it shouldn’t. I am aware that we are living in a fallen world. I am also aware that God is not the author of confusion. But sometimes I come across a passage like this one, where God says “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” [Genesis 11:7] and I get startled, wait, doesn’t the Bible say that God is not the author of confusion? By the way, where does the Bible actually say that? And I find myself on another rabbit chase for the crucial verse. Ah, here it is! 1 Corinthians 14:33, “for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” However, the knot in my heart grows tighter. What do I do with this apparent contradiction?
But then I recall something that might help. Context. Sometimes I feel like that word is just thrown into the confusion to rationalize things. But then I remember that the original biblical text was not partitioned into verses, Bible verses are a later addition. It is therefore only reasonable that I read it in context. On examining the context of 1 Corinthians 14, I discover that God [through Paul] has just given the proper order and sequence for the use of tongues in the church. This is because He wants the hearers of the gospel not to be confused, but to understand the message. God does not cause confusion when order in worship will lead to a more accurate and better knowledge of Him. That makes sense. God is not the author of confusion. The verse is not talking about “confusion” as an abstract word or concept, it is talking about confusion in light of what will lead to the true knowledge of God and thus bring Him glory.
On the other hand, the context of Genesis 11 is the account of a people united in their defiance to God. The Lord had commanded people to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” [Genesis 9:1], but the people’s resolve was in direct opposition to the command: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” [Genesis 11:4]. So God causes confusion so that the people may end up not understanding each other, which will then lead them to scatter all over the face of the earth. The confusion in Genesis had a purpose, the fulfillment of the will of God. The confusion in Genesis glorified God. The verse is not talking about “confusion” as an abstract word or concept, it is talking about confusion in light of what will lead to the true knowledge of God and thus bring Him glory.
Suddenly, what once appeared like a blatant contradiction suddenly becomes clear. Confusion honors God when order will lead to His dishonor. Confusion dishonors God when order will lead to His honor. The point is God and His glory, not the abstract concept of confusion. And the faith of the Christian who had started entertaining doubt is strengthened… until the next theological problem rears it’s ugly head.
This blog post is a product of a series of events that have happened in my life in the past week. To be precise, its a series of conversations. On Thursday, I was having a conversation with two Christian brothers and very good friends of mine. We were talking about God and the challenges that we face in ministry. The three of us agreed that the divisions in the church, especially on matters of doctrine, can be quite frustrating at times. I remember saying passively, “It’s like a continual Babel that just won’t go away.” That’s when one of my friends picked up the thought and said, “I know this may sound almost blasphemous, but it’s like God deliberately confuses us in our attempts at knowing Him.” Yeah, that sounded almost blasphemous. But then when I consider the scenario like the one in the title of this post, that observation was actually not far from the truth.
We are living in a fallen world. Everything is somehow tainted by sin, including our understanding of the Truth and God. To claim that one has an untainted theology is to implicitly claim that one’s mind is not at all corrupted by sin. The desire to have the true and unblemished knowledge of God is in the heart of every true Christian. It is a true and noble desire. But I am afraid that it is a desire that will go un-quenched (fully) until Christ returns (1 John 3:2). Yes, we have great and quite impressive schools of theology that we are all proud of. Some think Calvinism is closest to the the real deal. Others think Arminianism is closest to the real deal. But then God steps in and looks at both towers of theology forsaking love in the name of truth, and He shakes His head and seems to say, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” [Genesis 11:6-7]
And God is not talking about “confusion” as an abstract word or concept, He is talking about confusion in light of what will lead to the true knowledge of Him and thus bring Him glory. But what will bring us to the true knowledge of God? What is the one thing, one doctrine or one way that will ensure that we never go astray? Jesus steps in and offers the only answer that trumps all others, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” [John 14:6]
Please chew on these preliminary thoughts as I prepare the second part of this muse… Click here for part 2.
In His service and for His glory,