Shabbat Shalom Magazine

Written by: Benjamin Attal

The Coming of the Messiah and the Temptation of Babel

The forces of Babel are in the way of the hope of Jerusalem.

From all corners of the earth, the same clamor rises—the same stubborn frenzy to build the tower, the same excited desire to possess the gates of heaven (Babel). It is the same ambition to become the God of one’s life, house, town, and world. It would be unnecessary to draw out the precise design that these powers are tracing on the face of the earth in order to accomplish this purpose.

Events explode in the news all over the globe, causing terrible symptoms of the growth of Babel. We can see Babel on the left with its call for unity among the forces of the people. It can be seen in its policies of world conquest and desire to establish a socialist paradise. The god who is worshiped is perfectly tailored to man’s needs and dreams, for he is man himself. A god ascending from man’s inwards whose chant can only satisfy and please, a god that softly rocks us and slowly distills the opium of the masses.

We can also recognize Babel on the right, where more and more groups in the West scream an ideology perched upon history’s black boots. Natural forces, genius, and culture are exalted. At the same time, we witness a resurgence of nostalgia for the pagan and mystical past of the European people, while concurrently, there is a rejection of anything that reminds us of a Judeo-Christian culture. There is not a single political party that does not harbor the desire to conquer the world. Of course, the wording is different, the immediate objectives differ, and the declared intentions are noble and in the interest of humanity. But the underlying objective is similar: dominating the world through human power, following a Babel mentality. Efforts are spent and resources are pooled to try and build the kingdom on Earth.

And in our time, the arms race, the slaughters in Rwanda and Burundi, the wars in the Gulf and everywhere else, the independence movements, the land claims—they all point to the same motive and goal of the Babel movement: to possess the earth and build its kingdom.

Paradoxically, Babel also appears among the religions stemming from a Judeo-Christian origin. Because of these circumstances, Judaism has become a community that concentrates itself on the politics, security, and future of Israel. The Messiah, expected to come from above, has now nested himself within the walls of Jerusalem. Of course, we can explain why such a mentality has come about in a nation that has often found itself alone and constantly threatened. It is a nation’s reflex of self-defense. But, regardless of which historical factors have brought about the current situation, the fact remains that in the midst of Israel’s city may reside the spirit of Babel.

Politics, tradition, religion-made culture, the army, and the country have come ahead of YHWH’s kingdom and have even replaced it.

Babel can also be found within Christianity in the form of theologies. Under the influence of existentialist philosophers, the raison d’être of Christian hope has been lost. The Kingdom of God is now relegated to the category of myths. All that is left is kerygma. The Kingdom of God is now clothed in the newer and brighter cloak of intelligent modernism. It is now paraded as culture, ethics, and politics. In Marxist fashion, the church is now involved in social and political action, or just plain old politics. The Christian banner is now a mere pretext for the building of a city reminiscent of the one Saint Augustine spoke of. The difference is that its ideal is not the expectation of a heavenly kingdom but of an earthly one. Also, the weight of tradition has anchored the institution to its history and has given it complete power. Everything is justified and is given the seal of infallibility. Even God has to follow, as He automatically rubber-stamps the initiatives from below. God has been replaced by the Church, and His Kingdom has been rendered useless since it has been replaced with the organization of the Church.

We can also find Babel in those sects coming out of a Christian tradition that is multiplying today. They contend that the Kingdom of God is already at hand, and it is our duty to build the earthly paradise. The Messiah is here in human form, carrying the hopes of the world. Finally, it is also Babel we are dealing with when we witness the success Oriental religions are having in our society. Their practice of meditation and other spiritual techniques has the sole goal of deifying man and allowing him to access a spiritually superior paradise. Christians no longer seem to believe in a heavenly kingdom because they are busy constructing another one with their own thoughts, morals, politics, and epiphanies. The church has become merely militant. It confines itself to self-exhibition instead of pointing to the sky and identifying the essence of its vocation: the Kingdom of God. The church has become merely that: a church. In God’s Jesters, one of Morris West’s best-sellers, this embarrassment is illustrated. A pope at the end of times is forced to step down because he dares to preach the end of the world. His message cannot be acceptable because it does not fit within the church’s design, and therefore, he must be declared insane. In the end, Morris West himself would balk from going all the way, and Christ’s second coming metamorphosed itself into the appearance of a man who would help others prepare and wait for the real thing.

It is no longer conceivable in our Christian city to believe in a Messiah from above. All we have to do is look at the declarations our leaders make. They are heavy on calls to fraternity, unity, love, and peace among people. These are laudable causes, but we cannot stop wondering whether, behind these ecumenical desires, there isn’t an unseen and unconscious dose of Babel’s complex. Its main symptom is that the desire for unity overshadows the desire to attain the higher truth, which is external to all.

Today, there is hardly a single church that does not claim to be free of any trace of Babel. This mentality is not determined by doctrines or political colors. It crosses all confessional barriers, and no community could keep it away. It is more important to build up the house than to open the building toward the sky. The concern for power and authority has taken precedence over faith and hope. We must not deceive ourselves, because behind good intentions resides a spirit that is concerned with a worldly kingdom. This kingdom is full of ambition and jealousy and ignores the higher hope.

The Far-Away Kingdom

The coming of the Messiah is supposed to bring a different order. “‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,’ says the Lord." (Isaiah 65:17–25, NKJV).

This describes a place where life will be radically different from anything we know. A place of peace, love, and joy. There will be no more death, war, or sorrow. It will be a place of true happiness. A place where the God of life, love, and justice will live with us. Our experience with Him on this earth has been dimmer than a shadow. We will eternally be sons and daughters of God, members of His family, and completely dependent on Him.

This is unbelievable and unreasonable to some. It is inconceivable because it is not the order we have experienced. By saving man, God pulls him out of the reach of evil and death, which invariably await him on earth. Through salvation, God rips man out of the beast’s claws. What is offered is not a life of floating spirits evolving among fluffy clouds in a mythical paradise. What is promised is real life. The kingdom that is promised is one that can be touched, felt, and enjoyed. It will be the only kingdom not to be ephemeral and to withstand the test of time. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom is the one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14, NKJV).

This is where the rubber meets the road. In our space age, we have a hard time imagining an actual place where God and His chosen people would live. The idea of a Heavenly Kingdom seems appealing and worth meditating upon as long as it remains a spiritual or moral concept. It can be fiction or myth, but not history. It is hard to imagine a place far away from here where we would live differently. We are used to our lives and environments and have a hard time picturing different surroundings. We are so comfortably adapted to our homes and our world that we cannot imagine anything different that could exist. Babel is in the way of the New Jerusalem. We like the city of men so much that its sight obscures that of the city of God. This is why the Messiah’s coming will be a surprise. We have our language, our supermarkets, our TV dinners, and our habits. Those have become our reality. Through endless repetition, these small events and familiar sensations have become an integral part of ourselves.  We slowly become them, and we live only through them.

The daily routine, denounced by the movements of the 1960s, has made us into what we are. To try to imagine something radically different would be like killing a part of us. Even our thoughts have become stereotyped; we blend in with a collective smile of complacency and follow along. Sometimes we get a sudden insight and realize this life’s absurdity, but we quickly hurry back onto the paved road called prudence. We trek along the well-traced road; we follow the majority. A man has lost his freedom. We cannot believe today in the world of God. Of course, we still have our religion, our party, and our ideals. But it is all carefully charted in the natural course of our lives. To think that it will all come to an end and make way for something completely new seems absurd. Who in their right mind would dare believe in such a great collapse?

The reason the world today does not believe any longer in the Kingdom of God is because it is too absorbed in building its own. We literally have our feet firmly planted on the ground. The well-to-do relax in their reclining chairs, sure of themselves and of their truth. After all, “reality” is on their side. To believe in the end of the world? They allow themselves a small chuckle. Civilization is well established, and men are well prepared to hold it in place. Science progresses, and peace is not threatened seriously because we are guarding it. And with those reasonable words, we discard the problem.

It is true that we have been more active than ever to control weapons and guarantee peace. Summit meetings follow each other at a dazzling pace. Humans seem to have good intentions. And upon these reassuring thoughts, our man appeases himself and turns back his attention towards the football game.

Among those who still believe, more than one has become weary of waiting, and the once passionate expectancy turns itself into a bored “How much longer..." Time stretches out, and we become complacent. We stop waiting and start living in the present because it is getting too long. We start going about our business like everyone else, and finally, we no longer believe. Today’s people are caught up within the walls of Babel. And whether they live in Jerusalem, Rome, or Chicago, they stop looking ahead. And the less they look, the more of a surprise they will receive.


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