This blog post will be first in a series of posts from different academics that I’ve asked to reflect on the Deadly Vipers / Zondervan controversy. They are scholars from different fields that will be drawing from their research to speak to the church on issues of culture, race, gender, justice, etc. I hope that the blog posts will provide a resource to discuss these very important issues from a biblical/theological framework. Many have asked important and legitimate questions regarding the DVZ issue and I hope this series of posts will provide some context and content for our ongoing discussion.
Our first post is from my good friend, Randy Woodley (see his previous post on Native American Christianity). Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian teacher, lecturer, poet, activist, pastor and historian. Randy is an adjunct professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and is the co-founder of Eagle’s Wings Ministries. He is the author of three books and the blog post is taken from his book published by IVP, Living in Color.
(Excerpted from Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity by Randy Woodley, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2004) Posted by Randy Woodley
Diversity from the Beginning
The tool of ethnic and cultural homogenization has been used throughout the centuries to protect what is valued in one’s own culture. Usually this ethnocentrism stems from fear that differences will pollute the old way of life and the familiar standards of the culture.
On the one hand, the philosophy of homogenization makes perfect sense. Human beings naturally desire stability in life. Standards give us something to hold onto; they link us with the past. But God Himself wants to be the standard by which we measure everything in society. The difference seems indistinguishable unless we have a sound biblical and theological foundation that reflects God’s true heart on any given matter.
To get a glimpse of the heart of God concerning diversity, let’s consider the first example of diversified cultures presented in Scripture and see where God was heading at a time when everyone on earth had a common language and culture.
They said, “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.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “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.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11:4–9
Although the Bible provides no physical descriptions telling us how one group of people differed from another, we can suppose that the seed for all the races were in Adam and Eve, and that people were, at least in some ways, different from each other. There seems to have been no inherent evil in having a culture of common language; rather, the people used this powerful communication tool in an evil way.
What was evil about this situation? The people’s disobedience to God’s commands. The people at Babel had one overriding motivation: to make a name for themselves. Their corporate self-admiration stood in direct contrast to the natural revelation of Himself that God had planted in their hearts, and it violated what would later be known as the first commandment. Think of what a tremendous ego boost it would be if everyone else were just like us! But trying to remake society in our own image would mean that society could not reflect God’s image, for His image is reflected in the unity of our being like Him while at the same time being unique in ourselves.
The people’s disobedience also stemmed from their resolve to remain in one geographical area. God’s injunction from the beginning had been that people be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But the earth could not be filled when the people of the earth refused to leave its only city. God’s command had never been withdrawn—it still has not, to my knowledge—and the people of Babel were in direct violation of it.
But let’s think about God’s strategy. Why would the Creator want them to occupy the ends of the earth, anyway? Didn’t He realize that once they became separated by various geographical barriers, communication would be disrupted? Over time all languages naturally change. And people would eventually develop different physical characteristics according to the laws of genetics. Did God know what He was doing?
He did, indeed—and that is why acting in disobedience to His plan is just plain stupidity. God has planned since the beginning of time to cultivate diversity among human beings. When people tried to circumvent His plan, God intervened by creating many languages. Distinctions would have developed naturally over time, and changes would undoubtedly have taken place anyway if the people had spread out and obeyed God. His intervention merely sped up the process of developing the various ethnic groups that brought about His intended diversity.
The Scriptures do not say that the people of Babel looked much different from each other, but the laws of human genetics show that after many generations, distinct physical genetic traits begin to repeat themselves in the same families. Nor would it have been beyond God’s capability or design to have given certain families with genetic similarities the same languages when He separated them (for example, Oriental genetics and languages in contrast to Caucasian).
The Scripture notes that after God intervened, the people were scattered across the face of the earth and the city was never completed. This was a decided disciplinary action taken by the Creator to fulfill His original plan, but I would not call it a curse, as some have. It was a self-inflicted curse brought on by their stopping to build the tower, but out of God’s discipline a great blessing was to be found in their inhabiting the whole earth.
God’s plan of ethnic diversity is at least as old as the earth’s first habitation. But regardless of human diversity, God always expects a unity of belief and obedience to Himself. Can you imagine why the Creator intended such a wide diversity in people’s cultures from the very beginning? Or why God’s heart is turned toward our living in a multicultural world?
As I ponder these questions, I cannot help but realize that He is a God of innovation and extravagance, diversity and lavishness. God is the artist who formed the planet Saturn and its beautiful surrounding rings. He is the humorist who formed the giraffe and the narwhale, the armadillo and the platypus. God is the designer who set the constellations in place, who causes roses to bloom and who enables bees to make honey. We are not threatened by the stars that tower overhead or by a blooming rose or by the taste of honey in our tea. Should we be so surprised to find that God also created such diversity in human beings—all distinct and all equal—or that He insists that every culture be unique in its own right?