We often describe our lives as having peaks and valleys. No one misinterprets these words as meaning geological formations. Metaphor, that is, using physical objects to represent psychological qualities is a common part of our language. It is an example of the human cognitive function of thinking in abstract terms.
Why is it that we do not ascribe this ability of abstract thought to God, who reputedly possesses Infinite Wisdom?
For instance, in Genesis 11:2, we are given a scenario in which a population of people journeyed from the east and settled into a valley in the land of Shinar. It is in this valley that the people begin the construction of a tower that would reach up into heaven itself.
This biblical story is taken as historical truth by most theologians, clergy and the laity.
But a funny thing happens when we look at this story as a metaphor. It becomes much more theological, more doctrinal, and provides a much more potent lesson that is relevant to our lives.
So let’s put on our thinking caps and move beyond our habitual minds. Let’s look at Scripture with an eye to seek out not simply historical truth but deeper, psycho-spiritual truths.
In ancient times people would turn to the east to worship God. Since the sun rose in the east, this gesture symbolized orienting oneself to God’s enlightening truth. Therefore, when we read Genesis 11:2, journeying from the “east” means people putting distance between themselves and God. In fact, it symbolizes turning one’s back on God.
Settling in a “valley” represents that they had settled into a lower form of worship with a diminished and inferior understanding of religion. In other words, the worship of God hit a new low, and had sunken to a new level.
It is from this low and inferior level of faith that they decided to build an edifice that could reach heaven. Such an edifice was founded on a worship built on incorrect and false principles. This false worship is further underscored by their choosing to build the tower with bricks. Since bricks are man-made, they signify worship made artificial, that is, a fabricated worship.
Like bricks fired and baked hard in a kiln, all false principles are forged from the “fire” of self-love and self guidance – further evidence of a people putting psychological distance between themselves and God.
Bitumen was used for the mortar. Bitumen is a sulfurous or inflammable substance. It denotes the passion of self-love that can burn in people’s hearts. Self-love is in opposition to loving God and the neighbor. Only true spiritual love keeps things connected and glued. Therefore, the mortar (bitumen), which represented the quality of their selfish love, could not hold their edifice of perverted doctrine and worship together. As a result, they became a confounded people and were at variance with each other.
If you do not think that God would stack levels of deeper meaning within the words of Holy Scripture then you are most certainly underestimating the true nature of Infinite Wisdom.