The view from a thousand year old castle keep shows a taller five hundred and fifty year old tower. In the background are several much taller towers, three times as high, none of which is yet more than fifty years old.
Early humans fled from predators by climbing into trees or inaccessible high places. Soon they began to construct towers, places where not only could they take refuge, but also keep watch on the horizon for signs of approaching danger. The image of the tower as a place of refuge and defence crops up in scripture, associated with divine protection. Two examples:
The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
I will say of the Lord “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:2)
One of the earliest Biblical stories (Genesis 11:1-9) recounts the construction of a tower in ancient Babylon, noted for ruins of tall pyramids called ziggurats built six centuries before Christ. The tower of Babel was part of a great urban construction project, rising into the sky as its centre-piece, uniting inhabitants and giving them a distinct identity, as tall buildings still do today, all over the world.
They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)
This ambition has been imitated by planners and developers in every city ever built since then. What originated as a place of safety evolves into a status symbol, to invest with vain pride and pretensions of grandeur, forever bigger and better.
This story was told as an explanation for the exstence of different human languages and the problems caused by there being so many. At the beginning simplicity and unity reigned.
And the Lord said: “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this (construction project) is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:6-7)
Breakdown of communication between human is attributed to divine intervention, with the aim of thwarting their ambition to become god-like in self-estimation. It is a punishment for pride, one of the deadliest sins to which human beings are prone? Or is a test of mettle and determination, through which to grow by learning about each other's differences, finding out how to communicate and collaborate despite this 'historic' set-back?
The towers of our time still serve their ancient purposes, but our evolution as inquisitive and social beings has found new uses for man-made high places. Over thousands of years a line of towers across a continent could relay a warning by simple signals - fire, smoke, flags, noises - now they convey the digital electronic information that drives so much of daily life.
We have learned how to understand and use each others languages in order to work together for the common good. Yet, this doesn't prevent communication failure on the grandest as well as the simplest of levels between individuals, groups, societies, and sometimes the consequences can be catastrophic.
No matter how marvellous the achievements of this modern era, or great its successes, the realisation of failure in communicating well with one another, despite best efforts, is truly a humiliating experience. God can hardly take pleasure in this. But, if it is allowed to happen, it must be so that we can learn, and grow to understand Who really is in charge, Master of All.