If you were asked to picture the worst sin, what would you choose? Would it be murder? Genocide? Patricide? Or perhaps sins that are sexual in nature?
You may be right, of course. These may be what John referred to as “sins unto death” (1 Jn. 5:16). But what we often neglect are the “respectable sins,” the everyday trespasses that are at the heart of every other sin–even the worst we can imagine.
After all, what is sin except man willfully proclaiming that his way is better than God’s way of going about a matter? What is it, except a subtle (or obvious) attempt attempt to dethrone God from His rightful seat of judgment? Pride is us echoing Satan’s famous declaration against God, wherein he says in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. . . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” (Isa. 14:13a, 14).
No wonder the Bible states that “the proud he [God] knoweth afar off” (Ps. 138:6). It’s a pathway sin.
Here are some ways that pride manifests itself that we must learn to watch out for:
1. Pride Unifies Through Fear (Gen. 11:1, 3-4)
You might be surprised to learn that fear goes hand in hand with pride. Of course pseudo-courage (ignorance, really) can accompany pride, but fear is also quite effective. After all, the proud feel that they must be independent, even from God. And when we act on pride, we often end up afraid of the external forces outside of our control. This is only natural, if we assume we’re meant to control our world instead of God.
You may take the Freedom from Religion Foundation or of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network as examples of this form of pride. These organizations are what happens when the media repeatedly tell people the dangers that Christian groups pose to the liberties of minorities. Their unity isn’t simply about how they view themselves and the world, but also about who and what they fear.
It’s unfortunate that just as a group of people submitted to Christ can do great good for the world in the form of revivals, missions work, and charity; a group of people rebelling against Christ can do great evil.
I do not mean to insensitively suggest that their intent is doing evil, but it is certainly the result. This is why teachers are afraid to mention anything that might possibly incriminate them, sometimes even in private schools that are supposed to be Christ-centered. This is why political commentators who are tactful are still shouted down by an opposition terrified to hear a different point of view.
And as we read about the builders who said, “Go to, let us make brick” (v. 3), and later, “Go to, let us build us a city and a tower,” we must see the contrast between man saying “Go to, let us” and God saying to the rest of the Godhead “Go to, let us” (v. 7). God here is emphasizing the difference between man’s willful unity formed out of the fear of what punishment God may bring down on them when they’re isolated, and what unifying out of the desire to carry out God’s will on earth.
Historically, groups united by fear. The KKK feared black people and the way they would change the world as they understood it. The Nazis did the same to the Jews, this time because they felt it easier to blame them for their economic woes than face the fact that these things are out of their control because chance and misfortune happens to everyone (ref. Eccl.). And the witch-hunts made by the Catholics and others were a result of fearing diseases or economic problems that they didn’t understand the source of. In all these cases, these groups let their fear dominate them, transforming them into vessels of hate and horror.
They feared things outside their control, and their pride lured them into the lie that they could somehow force their actual struggles under control. But this is the folly of relying on one’s own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6).
Besides fearing what was currently out of their control, they also feared what could be. But as Lewis said in the Screwtape Letters, God “wants men to be concerned with what they do” while Satan’s “business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them” (p.25). Therefore, part of protecting ourselves against pride is admitting we can’t control our circumstances, and we don’t have to. All God wants us to focus on are our reactions to these fortunes and misfortunes.
After all, no matter how hard we try to control our circumstances, or how many alliances we form, we cannot rely on the strength of men. The builders of Babel did, refusing to fill the earth (as God had commanded) in favor of strengthening themselves in numbers. But they learned what Israel repeatedly learned through several betrayals and trials of captivity: “vain is the help of man” (Ps. 60:11b).
2. Pride Ignores Man’s Limits (Gen. 11:4, 6)
This should be obvious, but we often forget there are moral boundaries by which we must abide–not just because they take us away from God’s will for our lives, but because God set these boundaries for our own protection. Sin is corruptive, not something we can play with whenever we want.
If we can see clearly the answer to Solomon’s question, “Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?,” then we should be able to see why we can’t sin without repercussions (Prov. 6:28).
But the builders of Babel tried to push against God’s limits, anyway. First, they disobeyed His command to fill the earth. Then, they thought to rid themselves of suffering through any divine punishment by thinking to. build a tower that could reach unto Heaven.
They thought they could communicate with God by reaching up to His abode–never mind that God had already set up a very different way of conversing with Him–never mind that they were ignoring what God had already communicated to them and were unlikely to listen to any other commandments they didn’t;t like–never mind that God never agreed to degrade Himself to negotiate with them as if they were on equal footing.
Their pride didn’t acknowledge God’s boundaries. It didn’t want to.
Already, they let their imaginations become corrupted just as the people had in the days of Noah (11:6, 6:5). And they soon set their rebellious thoughts into action, crudely. thinking to outmaneuver God as if He were as limited as His creation.
They were wrong. It’s clear to us now looking back on it. After all, how could anyone be so foolish as to commit the exact same mistake as the one that the people only a few generations ago had commited when they were trying to avoid that punishment? It’s simple. They didn’t accept that they had to mold their will to God’s will, so they tried to mold God’s will to theirs.
We do this all the time. When we choose our will rather than God’s, we engage in the same pointless rebellion that the builders of Babel did.
In the end, God gets what He willed: the earth is filled with human life. But instead of gaining His blessing as they spread their knowledge over the earth, the builders gained His cursing as they scattered in their confusion. How often do we make this same mistake, choosing God’s curse instead of His blessing?
Let us learn from this that we must stop trying to superimpose our will unto God’s. Our understanding isn’t greater than His, and certainly not more selfless. It’s our pride that makes us believe the lie that we know best. Therefore, let us humble ourselves, for “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).
3. Pride Creates Long-Lasting Ramifications (Gen. 11:9)
We will never know what would’ve happened if our ancestors had obeyed God’s command. Perhaps we’d have communication and trade between peoples much earlier in human history. Maybe people would have fewer grievances against each other. Maybe this would lead to earlier advances in technology, art, and science. Perhaps our tongues would be more similar, perhaps the communication barrier wouldn’t be so difficult.
But this is all speculation. We’ll never know what could’ve been in place of the confusion.
But God, in his great grace toward us, finished this chapter with a note of hope: the lineage that led to Abraham. Here was a man who would listen and obey God, who would obediently carry out God’s will and go wherever God wanted Him–even without knowing the final destination. And as a result of God’s favor towards faithful Abraham, the Israelites received inheritance blessings and we received the Messiah–what a blessing!
Today, you and I have a choice. We can either serve ourselves, acting on the same pride that led to the ruin called Babel. Or we can serve God, acting on the same humble faith that led to Abraham’s blessedness. We all must choose our own course, but one can choose the place each course leads.
Did you feel encouraged or convicted today? If so, please help others by commenting below some ways that you can show humility instead of pride, or give examples of what helped you stay on track in your walk with God.