The Blueberry Tart of Babel
Nothing like a week of negotiations with Japanese, Americans, Chinese, Indians, Sri Lankans, and Vietnamese (thankfully, not all during the same session) to remind us which side of the Tower of Babel we’re living on. Not only are we separated by language; communication is also hampered by having to interpret different worldviews and cultural norms.
And this despite the world becoming more of (dare i say it) a global village. We can make tea-time snacks in Singapore with blueberries from South America, a tart filling recipe from North America, and a tart shell recipe from France.
What a reminder of our sin – that the inclination of the human heart is evil all the time, so when we were one people speaking one language, we abused our unity by stupidly plotting to usurp God (Genesis 11). So God responded, not in fear as some say, but in mercy in not killing the lot of us, by confusing the language of the whole world. And the human race scattered throughout the earth just as God had first commanded them to do (ie. to multiply and fill the earth).
The gift of tongues in the Book of Acts, is a wonderful part reversal of this judgement – the apostles were given the ability by the Spirit to speak languages they had not learnt, so that they could communicate the good news even to foreigners (Acts 2:4-12). This had been prophesised a long time ago by the prophet Joel.
What some currently claim to be the gift of tongues does not seem to be useful in this way. And Paul himself addresses this in 1 Corinthians 14, saying that (1) the gift of tongues can be controlled by the person to whom it has been given; and (2) all gifts are given by God for edification of the church – if the tongues-speaker has no idea what he/she is saying nor does any one else, what use is that? If there is no one to interpret, then it is more loving to desist from using the gift in a gathering of God’s people.