God Came Down to Us!
Many people in this world believe that all religious beliefs essentially lead to the same place. Imagine God is on the top of a mountain. The world believes that each religion is simply one path on the mountain and that they all eventually end up at the top. In the end, it doesn't matter which path you take. You'll still end up making it to God. Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other religion might have different minor beliefs, but a lot of people believe that they will all still get you up to God.
There are definite problems with this analogy, of course. The most prominent is that these religions have not only different but also contradicting core truth claims. These are central tenets of their faiths that specifically denounce the central beliefs of others. They simply cannot coexist.
But there is one difference between Christianity and every other religion, which breaks apart this analogy at the very start. Nearly every religion in the world asks, "How do we get up to God?"
Only Christianity asks, "What if God came down to us?"
This is the exact issue at play in Genesis 11. The people of the earth gathered together in order to go up to God. Their plan for this endeavor was to build a tower to the heavens through their own strength and technology.
But this was not the plan God had for them. Genesis 11:5-7 tells us that God "came down" to the people, but in a spirit of judgment. How ironic! They tried to get to God but couldn't. God had to come to them.
This story is especially important to us because God's judgment on them was to confuse their languages and disperse them over the face of the earth. This attempt to get to God ended up actually creating the need for Bible translation to even exist!
The Tboli people in the Philippines are a powerful example of what it looks like to strive to reach God, and then have the gospel bring new light and hope.
They believed that after you died, there was a bridge over a dark abyss between this life and eternal life that everyone must cross. To make matters worse, they believed that there is an evil spirit on the bridge that will attempt to push you off over the edge into darkness.
The only way to make it across the bridge is to have light. And the only way to have light is to be burned. Because they believed this to be true, Tboli parents took balls of cotton, dipped them in kerosene, and lit them on fire. They would burn their children's arms and legs, leaving scars. The more scars you have, the more light you bring with you over the bridge. These parents believed they were doing what was best for their children – giving them the surest hope they knew.
This practice continued while translators were working on their New Testament UNTIL they translated John 8:12, which says,
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"
That was powerful.
So if you visited today, in Tboli villages, you would see children of believing families running around happily unscarred. If you were to ask them why they no longer scar their children, they would answer you, “Jesus is our light. Jesus bears our scars. Jesus will get us safely across the bridge.”
This is the power of the Gospel in their language and culture, changing their lives.
We are not that different than them. We want to try to earn God's love. We strive every day to make our good outweigh our bad so that we will be more pleasing to God. Or we negotiate with God to do what we want as long as we are going to church each week. Or we try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to stop particular patterns of sin in our lives. These are all attempts to climb the mountain on our own.
The good news of the Gospel is that God has come to us in person to deliver us from the power of sin and to bring us into relationship with God. He did not come in judgment but in love! This is the news that ends our endless striving, that brings us peace that passes all understanding.
We don't have to climb a mountain. God has carried us! There is no hope like this in the world, except in the pages of Scripture.
And so we work to bring that Scripture to the ends of the earth.