Repenting of the Desire to Be Clever

by Sean Nolan May 30, 2016

I love being clever and original. I’m not bragging, I’m confessing. At its best, my desire to be clever is a blessing given by a creator God who made me in his image. We long to create as a reflection of the image of God that was put in us.

But at its worst, my longings for originality show a heart that says, “Did God really say?” The effects of sin have distorted the intellectual gifts God gives us so that we desire to be like him but in a way that displeases him. 

We see in Babel (Gen. 11) skilled craftsmen making a giant tower. Not to please and honor God’s name, however, but in blatant disobedience to his commands – to make a name for themselves. The God who spoke them into existence with a word watched in displeasure as they used the single existing language to plot and plan and rob God of his glory. The result was a confusion of human language and a frustration of human communication. 

With many languages comes great opportunity to misunderstand and distrust each other. Not because God’s confusion of languages was bad, but because it reveals that our hearts are evil. It exposes our desire to be gods, that we think more of ourselves than of others. Rather than assume the best of intentions in those we don’t understand we malign and accuse them. God’s scattering of humankind and confusion of languages exposed our predisposition to racism, xenophobia, and all forms of pride. 

But God, in his grace, also provides the solution: the God-man, the Word made flesh bore the sins of people of all nations in his body on the tree. We see him pinned there by our foolish pride. Our pride that thought it could build a tower bigger and better than God. That God that spoke us into existence with a word made his Word become flesh (Jn. 1:14) and that flesh was put to death on our behalf to save us from our wicked desire to be smarter than him. We couldn’t build a tower to reach him but he descended to our level and was then lifted up that we might look upon him for salvation (Jn. 3:14, 15). 

In the New Testament, Peter’s interactions with Jesus before his resurrection show a man who was always first to break the silence. Many laugh at these interactions, but I find in them a mirror to my own heart. I’ll seize an opportunity to speak. I long to be given a platform, to impress with my originality and clever speech. The post-resurrection Jesus reinstates Peter to ministry and he goes on to write a small portion of the New Testament. As the spokesman for the original twelve disciples it’s surprising he didn’t write more of the New Testament. But the matured Peter is different, wiser. He doesn’t try to impress us with long lofty words but so often simply reminds us of the truths already spoken by God (2 Pet. 1:12, 13; 3:1, 2). 

The curse of confusion at Babel is reversed at Pentecost (Acts 2:6). Jesus gives us the mission to go “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19): to cross lingual and cultural barriers as his ambassadors. This should give me pause, but at times instead of using language to make disciples for him, I find the desire to make my own name great and impress others with lofty speech (1 Cor. 2:1). God wasn’t fooled at Babel and he’s not fooled now. The truth is, I’m not that clever and there’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). My own attempt to craft original ideas and impress others with my speech is not impressive to God. Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.

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