We Built This

We Built This
“‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.  Shelley

Sometimes, in human history, words outlast the monuments we build. And sometimes words have an echo, or carry more baggage than the current users intend.

“We built this” is one of those phrases.

To anyone with any knowledge of the Bible, this phrase is jarring at the very least.

To a Christian who knows that, above everything else, we are saved, if at all, not by our works, but purely by God’s grace. Any of our accomplishments, and certainly our righteousness, are, as Paul put it, rags, or even garbage (Philippians 3:8).

The Old Testament context to this phrase is even more disconcerting. “We built this” is remarkably similar to the words used by those who built the Tower of Babel.

Those ancient architects were proud of their tower for what it was – and what it proved; they could do anything, and they didn’t need anyone else – even God (Genesis 11:6-9).

God’s judgment was immediate – and affects us still. We get the word ‘babble’ from linguistic division and resulting confusion (Genesis 11:9).

Our pride in our own accomplishments, according to the Bible, is, at best, misguided.

Brave New Films

Our national, ethnic, or racial pride is silly, if not downright delusional or even sinful. None of us had any choice about where or when, or to whom we were born. We are not responsible, in any way, for our skin color, size or the health we were born with. At its most basic, we didn’t ‘build’ anything.

As the term “We built this” emerged in its latest incarnation, I was reading the book Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell. As Gladwell puts it, “no one-not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses-ever makes it alone” (page 115).

In one of the very few verses that is in the Bible twice (in two separate books), God clarifies who He opposes and who He blesses (James 4:6,1 Peter 5:5).

God opposes the proud and lifts up the humble, in fact He loves those with a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17,Isaiah 57:15).

Our current obsession with individualism as ideology is alien to the Bible, history and personal observation and experience.

As intoxicated as we might get from the works of our own hands, we dare not lose track of God’s far, far larger vision.

And we dare not forget that Psalm 127:1 reminds us, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain”.

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

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About the Author

Morf Morford

Morf MorfordMorf Morford is a writer, teacher, word-nerd, 98% vegan, listener, community story-teller, poet, advocate of the oddities of earthly existence. Scavenger of the unlikely.View all posts by Morf Morford →

  • Anonymous

    Indeed, Jesus never taught his followers to engage in hubris, self-righteousness, or smug self-worship.

  • guest

    I am grateful for the hard work and risks taken by small business owners. They should be much more esteemed than an arrogant, obnoxious President.

    • Anonymous

      Why is Jesus missing in your comments?

      • guest

        Jesus is there even if not explicitly mentioned.
        He would celebrate the success of small business owners who built a business fairly, using talents & resources to develop a product or service that finds a market that can use that product or service.
        Additionally, owners often have an attitude of gratitude and express it by giving back to their communities.

    • Anonymous

      Why is it arrogant and obnoxious to point out that governments build highways? It doesn’t exude Christ for you to show contempt for the president like that.

      • guest

        No contempt intended. Just telling the truth. Watch or listen to Obama’s statement and pay close attention. Understand it in context of his worldview, whom he associated with, and what his vision is for the future. Then let me know what you think.
        Certainly the government builds highways & other necessary elements of an effective infrastructure, but does so to serve its citizens, not to take undeserved credit.

      • guest

        One suggestion on how to do the things I said: Watch 2016:Obama’s America. Or read Dinesh D’Souza’s book: The Roots of Obama’s Rage.

        • Anonymous

          Do you understand that you’re engaging in a tactic for dismissing somebody through guilt by association (worldview, who he associated with, etc) so that you don’t have to take his ideas seriously? Dinesh D’Souza is projecting his own rage onto Obama. D’Souza has always had not only a partisan agenda, but a sensationalist agenda; it’s part of his brand; it’s how he sells books. Rage? Seriously? One of Obama’s weaknesses is that he’s so calm and cerebral. I’ve read all the dirty awful liberation theology books that supposedly tainted Obama’s “worldview.” I’ve also read Marx. Having been exposed to these thoughts doesn’t mean that I subscribe to them; it helps me to understand where other people come from and what to say when I engage them in debate.

          All truth belongs to God and is revealed not only in scripture but through reason and nature secondarily. It doesn’t scandalize me that Marx had some correct criticisms about capitalism that were problematic even if his proposed solutions failed miserably. It’s a flawed approach to epistemology to posit that there are “worldviews” that people are inside of and controlled by. It’s also a very cynical postmodern deconstructive tactic. We all mix a wide variety of intellectual influences that we either embrace or rebel against.

          My identity would not be possible if I were not raised inside of a fundamentalist Christian worldview that I never accepted but never rejected either.

  • dsmaxwell

    As opposed to government building, which is what the tower of Babel is about?

  • I was linked here by a picture of Dore’s “Tower of Babel,” & the caption “We Built This,” & found myself chuckling.

  • I was linked here by a picture of Dore’s “Tower of Babel,” & the caption “We Built This,” & found myself chuckling.

  • Anonymous

    Taking pride in our accomplishments is misguided? Hmmm…I’ll have to noodle this. I’m not so sure…

    Sure, all talent comes from God. And no one reaches success on their own. I get that. But pride and humility/giving the glory to God don’t have to conflict.

    • guest

      It would be nice to see a post that gives some balance. We are volitional beings in God’s image. Maybe there are choices we can make that lead to success over time. Success can be overrated – but it has benefits for people.

  • And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21 KJV)

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