“And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:6-7 NKJV).
As I watched a mechanic and his helpers pull and replace the motor on the college van recently, I had one more occasion to feel resentment at the people of Babel.
Not only did the workers and I speak two very different languages, with each of us almost completely ignorant of the other’s tongue, but even the little we did understand was not helpful because when it comes to cars and mechanic’s terminology, the Banglas use entirely different English words than do Americans. Even when English was used, I still did not understand what they were trying to say.
The strange thing about the situation, however, was that when all was said and done, we managed to figure it out. Between pointing at a part, using sign language, and grasping intent, I was able to decipher his diagnosis of the problem, understand his proposed solution, and agree on a course of action. Remarkable? No, not really. We had a tremendous advantage – we wanted (and needed) to understand each other, so we worked at it until we did.
How often have we discussed the common belief that different people “simply cannot understand the Bible alike?” It is too confusing, too difficult, too different from “ordinary” books. We just cannot be expected to agree on all points of doctrine.
Is it possible that the problem is not always that we cannot agree, but rather that we do not want to agree? Each has his own preconceived interpretation and is unwilling to question it. Each is motivated by pride and stubbornness, determined to be proven correct. Truth and mutual benefit seem less important somehow.
But when it comes to the practical day-to-day realities of life (like repairing a vehicle) we soon realize that we cannot let pride prevent understanding and cooperation. We see difficulties, but address them with patience and diligence until we break through the barrier and come to a solution.
If we can do that in something as ordinary as a mechanical problem with a car, surely we must realize that things pertaining to one’s eternal soul demand even more effort.
Certainly many doctrinal disagreements are based on genuine difficulties. Some biblical texts are obscure, subject to various possible understandings. Some matters (like for instance the true nature of the Trinity) may be beyond human capability.