The world's tallest man-made structure is the 829.8 m (2,722 ft) tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I don’t know the height of the Tower of Babel, but every time I see a photo of the Burj Khalifa, I’m reminded of what God thought about that earlier structure.
Sometime after the flood, the people were migrating eastward. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” They used brick for stone and bitumen for mortar and said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the people had built and said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” He did it and they were dispersed from there over the face of all the earth, and they stopped building the city. (Genesis 11:3–8)
Not only had they disobeyed God who told them to fill the earth, this folly added to the mess sin made of the human work ethic. We love/hate work.
By the time of Solomon, his conclusion was that work was meaningless. He said, “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18–21)
Solomon later figured out a more meaningful attitude, but those words and those towers stuck in my mind today. How long will that tallest tower last? What does God think of it. And what does God think of my work? When it is finished, it will go to someone else. Will they preserve it? Or will it wind up in the trash? Will it have any value at all, or will that value be short-lived?
My husband and I talked about the value of what we do in this life and concluded with much the same idea as Solomon did. What is the meaning of work? Everything that we do or produce cannot go with us. Some toil of some people might change the lives of the next generations, but for the most of us, our work leaves less impact and has little significance. However, this was not a depressing conversation. We both agreed that the work that lasts and makes a difference is the work of loving God through our actions of loving others.
Today’s NT reading says ‘amen’ to that: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35–36)
Jesus again shows us how to live and how to work. I can easily look at the crowds who are like He described and ignore them or be annoyed with them. But Jesus shows me a better way, a better work.
He also told the crowds that followed Him, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:27) When they asked how they could do the works of God, He answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
The bottom line for me is that anything I hope to accomplish better be God-given, God-directed, and done in faith. Otherwise, like those great towers, it will mean nothing and could even mess with history in a negative way. Jesus wants me to labor for that which lasts forever, just as He did. Toward the end of His life, He prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4) When I step into His presence, I’d like to be able to say the same thing.