This is a tough one. One one hand we see a newness in celebrating diversity and on the other it appears that the emergence of culture was a form of punishment by God when he confused people’s languages at the Tower of Babel.
In the United States celebrating significant cultural events (Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.) is part of who we are as a nation. And yet at the same time we bemoan and protest the fact that minority groups are still victims of discrimination. So which is it? More culture, less culture or what?
I believe some clarity on the issue will salve the confused. The book of Genesis gives us a full account of what happened. God created everything and assigned humankind to have responsible dominion over his creation. Adam and Eve had complete freedom to do anything they pleased except eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They succumbed to the serpent’s temptation, ate of the forbidden fruit and God punished them.
Man continued in rebellion which ultimately resulted in God destroying his creation save Noah, his family and anything on the ark. It did not take long before the lessons of the flood were forgotten. Instead of obeying God by “filling and subduing the earth” man decided to come together and make a name for themselves1 God could have punished them with equal flood-like results but in an act of mercy God decides instead to thwart their plans by confusing their one language and disperse them over the face of the earth. And we have needed translation services ever since.
Understanding each other across cultural difference is a challenge.2 But it’s a welcomed challenge. And here lies the beauty of the Gospel. If all we have in this life, devoid of hope and restoration, we will be doomed, hopeless in our human interactions. Frustrations, civil unrest, chaos, all the accompanying social ills would be the norm in a post-truth society.
However, the good news, the thing we hope for, the answer to our prayer “thy kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” will be fulfilled in a curse that has been redeemed. William Edgar wisely points out that access to the tree of life that was taken away from us due to sin is now present in the new earth for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2, 7; 22:14, 19).3 Further it appears there will be a great celebration praising and worshipping God in the eschaton, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”4 It is clear by John’s choice of words, “nation”, “tribe” and “languages”, that what began as instruments of the curse in the book of Genesis is now redeemed in Revelations. We start in the garden and we find ourselves back in. Only this time enriched by each others strengths and nothing of our weaknesses.5. That is the gospel message. Is culture a bane or a blessing? It’s both.
2Erin Meyer, The Culture Map (New York: PublicAffairs), 254.
3William Edgar, Created & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2017), 227.
4Rev. 7: 9-10
5Meyer, The Culture Map, 251.