But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” Gen. 11:5-7
Do you know what happens when you get to the end of a problem and realize you can’t solve it? Well, for me, I feel overwhelmed and depressed and defeated and pointless. I lose hope. I lose motivation. I lose life.
For reasons only explainable as God’s hand, our family relocated to live in close proximity with those who are in poverty, in constant position to be taken to jail, in easy access of thieves, in a stone’s throw of drug dealers and prostitutes, physical abuse, high school drop outs and even the middle class African American widows and young singles who have gone to college and have more gracious hospitality than I do but are more closely associated by the world with the rest of this list than with people who look like me. As a result of living around brokenness, I get broken. Feeling broken is overwhelming, depressing, defeating, hopeless, demotivating and steals life all while forcing me to cry out the question I swore I’d never utter here, “What is the point?”
The other night I ran into the back of a van with my car at the intersection less than a mile from our driveway, totally my fault for turning around to deal with crying children in the backseat at 6pm, and what followed only made it worse. The main road that runs right through our neighborhood is a transit for lots of commuters coming in from Cobb County and surrounding suburbs, lots of white commuters who keep their windows up and doors locked as they drive through. To the eyes of the folks sitting on the porch next to my wreck and standing in the parking lot on the other side, I was one of these white outsiders that they wanted to make sure was held responsible as the guilty party. They saw it, they yelled out in witness, and I easily responded that I did it and it was all my fault and I took full responsibility.
The three occupants of the obviously company-owned van got out in their moving company uniforms to see what damage had been caused. They were understandably annoyed and I apologized and owned it as much as I could and as often as they would hear me. The crowd softened a bit when they realized they wouldn’t have to hold court against me. Then a couple of the men on the sidelines recognized me as the lady with the big gray dog who actually lived in the neighborhood, which felt good for a moment. The van occupants wanted to just go on their way with the dangling bumper that they said was no big deal, but I worried they’d get in trouble for what I did to their company van, and the sideline audience also seemed eager to see me take responsibility for my fault, plus its the law that I do so. So, I called the police to begin the insurance process so I would bear the burden of the accident and they would not have to pay for it out of pocket or with their jobs.
Before I know it, the police are having the driver of the van empty his pockets, remove his belt, and are putting him in handcuffs. It turns out he was currently in violation of his parole, so after a day of honest work when he’d like to be going home, he would be going to jail and his two coworkers would be stranded because they weren’t supposed to be in the company van. I hit them. I was at fault. I got a ticket with an apology for having to be given a citation and they went to jail and were stranded. The whole vignette played out before the eyes of the intersection audience: white lady at fault, black people lose. My error got them in trouble whichever way it played out. Its no wonder one of the women from the van refused to look at me or even respond when I tried to apologize while the other could only say, “Its ok” as she avoided my eyes. It is not ok, I kept telling her. This is not ok. “Well, it is what it is” she resigned.
It would be easy to say, “Well, he shouldn’t have violated his parole or gone to jail the first time around.” or “Well, they shouldn’t have been driving a company van home.” Sure. That’s true. But I bet if you rewind our stories all the way back to our mothers’ pregnancies, everything has lined up from before that time for the world to work for me and the world not to work so easily for them. I don’t think they got an apology for being handcuffed or stranded while I got an apology for being given a ticket for slamming into the back of their van. The divide between race and class and socioeconomic standing is so deep and wide and iron clad, I realized in that moment, so that all of my noblest desires to move towards this divide, to participate in bridging it, are impossible as my white privilege goes with me like those gnats around PigPen in Charlie Brown, increasing the chasm even as I try to close it. I am not the reconciler, the restorer, the redeemer. I am part of the world so diseased that no health can ever come unless it comes with divine power from without.
remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph. 2:12-17
The divide that occurred in Eden wasn’t simply physical or emotional, it was straight through the heart of man. This is why building a tower to God would never be the actual fix. The separation was and is always at the core of our beings, not in our geographical standing. Yet, I kept hoping to build a new tower anyway, maybe a pyramid by which “both sides” could climb together toward each other and God and end up in harmony at the top. He showed me that the language barrier, the life experience and expectation barrier, the perspective and outcome barrier is as deeply rooted in our hearts as it is evident in our discord. I cannot climb to Him. I cannot pull others to Him. I cannot even scratch the dividing wall of hostility between any of us. I am hopeless to do anything.
But there is hope. In His flesh, He has done it and He will do it. I am defeated. He is not. For me, it is impossible. This is His story and He has declared such reconciliation and restoration which is impossible with man, the guaranteed outcome of His work. And, it will require no less.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Col. 1:15-20