Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
— Genesis 11:4
If we look at Babel as the prototype for the pursuit of fame and power, we see a few interesting things by way of diagnosis. First, the pursuit of renown is really a pursuit of significance. Why do I want you to notice me, to tell me how great I am? Not because I fundamentally trust or value your opinion, but because I fundamentally distrust any notion that I’m anything in anywise special. The proof in that is that one ounce of praise from a few isn’t enough; I want more from many. Secondly, the pursuit of renown is the result of fear. “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” We seek security in attention.
Like the Babelists, we build our towers, not knowing the great dangerous irony — that the stronger we get, the more vulnerable we become. The fall is prefaced by pride. The split second before the great collapse is the proudest we’ve ever been.
The lesson appears plain: if you really want to fall, get big.
Mary sings, “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51). By building our towers, making our name for ourselves, we are stone by stone actually contributing to the very thing we are trying to avoid: getting “scattered,” being “dispersed.”
King Uzziah is a cautionary tale. He was “marvelously helped, til he was strong” (2 Chronicles 26:15). When he was strong, he got proud (v.26). He got big. We think bigness is the way. We think bigness solves lots of problems. We think bigness is safety. We think we can get too big to fail. But it’s the other way around. We see over and over — outside of ourselves, of course — that it’s possible to get too big not to fail.
Which is why the greatest man ever to live (Matthew 11:11), aside from Jesus himself, knew the real secret to success, the real work of significance, the real strength of safety:
He must increase, but I must decrease.
— John 3:30