When I was a kid, I loved the Nintendo game Baseball Stars by SNK. I played it constantly. What I loved most about it was that you could build your own team. You would start with a pretty poor group of players, but as you accumulated victories and money, you could purchase free agents to improve your team. Now, there was one free agent who was just awesome. He was also the most expensive. But I would save up my money and buy him…over and over again…until I had a full team of that player. And then I would spend a little more money training that player to make him completely perfect. Eventually, I had a full team of “perfect” players. They were all the same. They were all great. I never lost.
So, I’ve been asking myself this week, “Is God, like me, trying to accumulate all of one sort of ‘player’ for his team, his kingdom, in order to build the ‘perfect’ team?” Now, the reality is that all of us humans are pretty “imperfect”. We are full of sin and certainly don’t live up to the standards of life in God’s kingdom. But that is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the ideal. I’m talking about the true kingdom. In the kingdom of God, is uniformity the ideal? Does God desire a world full of the same ‘type’ of person?
I was thinking about the Tower of Babel yesterday and wondering if God really scattered the people because God was afraid that they would be able to accomplish anything they wanted since they were all alike. Did God diversify their language in order to divide them? Or was diversity the plan from the very beginning? When the Flood brought devastation upon the earth, all that was left was one family…Noah’s family. They were all basically the same. They spoke the same language, had the same bloodline, and looked a lot alike. So, if the ideal is uniformity, there it was…right? God has achieved it in one mighty act. Perfect. Right? Well…seemingly not because God does not leave it that way.
Now, there is definitely more going on here that just God randomly deciding to scatter the people. They’ve built a city and a tower that reaches to the heavens. And they clearly have some selfish desires for fame. But in dividing the people, those desires did not really go away. And God would have known that. Is it possible then that God’s plan all along was diversity? And if so, does that mean that diversity rather than uniformity is the ideal?
The problem here is that diversity tends to lead toward disagreement and segregation. We’ve seen this throughout the ages. In the enslavement of the Hebrew people by the Egyptians. In the subjugation of women by patriarchy. In the widening gap between rich and poor. If that is the result of diversity, then God would never make diversity the ideal. Right? Perhaps…but I think it more likely that God desires a diversity that is BETTER than that. God desires unity amidst that diversity. I believe Scripture supports this view.
Galatians 3 says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Is this verse about unity in diversity? Or is this verse actually supporting an ideal of uniformity in God’s kingdom?
In Revelation 7, John describes the scene he saw in heaven, saying in verse 9, ” After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” John’s vision seems to clearly depict diversity. People from EVERY nation, ALL tribes, ALL peoples, ALL languages stand before the throne. Yet there is unity in purpose. They are there to worship the Lamb, with palm branches in hand.
For Baseball Stars, uniformity made for a team that won all the time, but playing the game wasn’t really fun anymore. I could hit a homerun every time up to the plate…with any player. I didn’t need to draw walks or get singles or doubles or triples. I just hit the ball out of the park every at bat. I won games by a very large margin. It was not very fun anymore. If uniformity is the ideal in God’s kingdom, I’m not sure I want to be a part of that. Maybe that sounds terrible. Maybe I am a heretic for even thinking it. But I long for a world where we can celebrate our differences and stand united with our brothers and sisters of other nations and tribes and peoples and languages under the wings of our great God.
Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.” If uniformity is the ideal, then differences do nothing but divide us. If unity in diversity is the ideal, then differences can actually bring us together. So, which is it? If you look at or churches, you would probably suspect that it is uniformity that is the ideal. In most of our churches, everyone looks alike, dresses alike, and talks alike. But even more than that, most of the time we fight for a uniformity of belief. If you and I disagree on what the Bible says about women in church leadership, we make that issue a dividing line between us. If we disagree over what the Bible says about sexual orientation, we make that a dividing line between us. If we disagree about what the Bible says about immigration and how we treat the “foreigners” among us, we make that a dividing line between us. There are so many dividing lines, but very few places where Christians of differing viewpoints can live together in unity. So, is uniformity the ideal then? Do we need to all conform to one pattern of belief in order to enter God’s kingdom? Or is the umbrella of faith large enough to invite a vast and diverse population inside?