The Tower of Babel and My Own Unmaking


Last year at this time, I was sitting in a new home in an unfamiliar town surrounded by piles of boxes and probably trying to remember where I put something (or everything).

They say hindsight is 20/20…and while there’s still much about the past few years that may continue to be confusing, God has graciously allowed us to start to make sense of much of the chaos and change and challenges of the past few years…and all I can see is GRACE.  Perhaps a grace that was disguised for a time – as suffering or injustice or disappointment or hurt or need – but a grace uncovered, unwrapped, and unpacked like the boxes that left our moving truck last November, revealing the valuable goods inside.

As I reflect over the past few years, my heart jumps at the evidence of God’s mercy and kindness, even and especially in the midst of disappointment and difficulty.  I feel as though my Father faithfully continues the process of unmaking my kingdom of me, and though sometimes painful, I am so grateful for it.

During the late winter/early spring of 2014, it became apparent that some major decisions needed to be made about the house we lived it.  It belonged to the church my husband was ministering at, and though we knew that it was probably a temporary housing solution, it became our home for 6 years and the place we started a family.  Despite all its quirks and imperfections, it was what we knew, really all we knew, and we were grateful for it.  But the living room ceiling was beginning to sag, the windows needed replaced, the bathroom leaked, and the heating system broke.  The reality of those circumstances meant that either the church would have to sink a LOT of money into the house…OR they would tear it down and we would need to find a different place to live.  At that point, I did NOT want to move into a different house.  I begged God to let us stay.  The irony was that even though the house itself was insecure and unsafe and uncomfortable, to me leaving that house is what shook my security and comfort.

Packing up and leaving?  So much work.

Looking for a new house?  So overwhelming.

Buying our own home?  So. much. money.

In the midst of all of that we also had begun to question our longevity in our ministry there.  Though we had cherished our time there and had fallen in love with the people and students we were privileged to serve, there were some yucky circumstances that left us reeling, confused, and uncertain about the future.  To be honest, it hurt and felt unfair and just plain scary.  It certainly wasn’t in our plans.  We had felt confident and competent in our ministry there.  We felt good at our ministry there.  We liked our life there.  Though it certainly wasn’t easy, it was familiar and comfortable and safe.

But we also were feeling God was stirring in us something new.  Something different.  Something unknown.  And now, looking back, we can see Him using all of those things to push us out of the nest…while still being sheltered under His wings.

We really, really wanted to stay.  But He said “go”.

The choosing to go felt uncomfortable.  It did hurt and it was scary.  But we needed to – we WANTED TO obey.

And if we hadn’t been met with those yucky circumstances, I wonder if we would have.  I wonder what we would have missed.

This past weekend marked the one year anniversary of our move across the state, and Adam just happened to be preaching on Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel, as he’s been preaching through the Bible’s grand story of redemption.  I was struck with what he drew out of verse 1-4.

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, aand bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they 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.”

So what’s the big deal?  They were just using the resources and abilities that God had given them to make something pretty great, right?  Why did God have to go shut it down and spread them out?

You see, God had told them back in Genesis 9, after the flood, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”.  They got the “be fruitful and multiply” part down, but they didn’t “fill the earth”.  Instead, they found a nice spot, settled there, and made themselves not only good and comfortable, but also good and proud of themselves.  Building the tower revealed not only their self-suffiency and pride, but also their defiance in trying to keep themselves from being spread out over the earth.  John Piper has said that their two sins were a love of praise (so you crave to make a name for yourself) and the love of security (so you build a city and not take the risks that come with filling the earth).

So God’s confusing of the people, frustrating their plans, and dispersing them across the earth was not a jerk move, but actually the exact opposite.  It was a beautiful act of kindness, mercy, and grace.  And that same God that is in the business of rescuing us from our own little kingdoms is the same God that, thousands of years later, is still in the process of graciously rescuing ME.

THIS is the grace of God – to not leave us in the mess of sin, false securities, and our love for things that will never truly satisfy.  To rescue us from ourselves.

“We all want our will to be done.  We all know what we want, when we want it, how we want it, where we want it, and who we want to deliver it.  So God give us His grace.  Is His grace given to give you what you need to be your own king?  Is His grace bestowed on you so your little kingdom purposes will happen?  No, God’s grace dethrones you from your little kingdom and welcomes you to a much better kingdom than you could ever want for yourself.  But in this kingdom, you will never be at the center, it will never be all about you, and you will never rule, because in this kingdom, all things are for God and God alone.”

Paul Tripp

I thought back through the past few years.  The frustration and confusion.  The packing up and leaving.  The going and starting new.  All done to keep me from staying when He asks me to move.  To push me to risk in order to trust.  To crush my man-made attempts at building for my own security and praise.  To give me the grace to love His Kingdom more than my own.

This past year in a new place has been FULL of grateful excitement and contented fulfillment and intense joy…but it has also forced me to stand face to face with my own insecurity and incompetency and insufficiency.  And though often painful, it’s all been part of God’s beautiful, continual process of unmaking me.

Tearing down my misplaced security.

Questioning my misplaced identity.

Confusing my self-sufficiency.

Thwarting my plans and autonomy.

Crushing my pride and idolatry.

Losing myself and giving me Himself.

My identity given at the cross.

My approval and value fixed.

My security protected.

His perfect sufficiency in place of my lame attempts at being enough.  

So what if our biggest disappointments and devastated plans and greatest sorrows are all part of our loving Father’s gifts of satisfying grace?

Taking what we thought was best and giving us what’s even better…  

more of HIMSELF.

And so now, we allow Him to rebuild.  Continuing this chapter of our lives in a home we love in a town we love among people and a church family we have come to dearly love.  But my prayer is that rather than “making a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4), in our unmaking we will make HIS name great.

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”

– Psalm 115:1

“This is where the walls gave way
This is demolition day
All the debris, and all this dust
What is left of what once was
Sorting through what goes and what should stay

Every stone I laid for You
As if You had asked me to
A monument to Holy things
Empty talk and circling
Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do

What happens now
When all I’ve made is torn down
What happens next
When all of You, is all that’s left

This is the unmaking
The beauty in the breaking
Had to lose myself
To find out who You are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking

The longer and the tighter that we hold
Only makes it harder to let go
But love will not stay locked inside
A steeple or a tower high
Only when we’re broken, are we whole

What happens now
When all I’ve made is torn down

This is the unmaking
The beauty in the breaking
Had to lose myself
To find out who You are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking

I’ll gather the same stones where
Everything came crashing down
I’ll build You an altar there
On the same ground…”

Nichole Nordeman