John of Salisbury quoted Bernard of Chartres (circa 1100 AD) who said, “We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.”
What a profound thought! As C21st people there is an arrogance in our spirit that we know it all or can know it all. In science, technology, medicine and a whole host of other areas we puff out our chest. We even decry the feebleness and simplicity of earlier generations. We fail to understand what Bernard did. Our understanding, education or knowledge only came about because of the mighty works of others. In fact, we are the dwarfs and they are the giants.
It hearkens back to an earlier time that is found in Genesis 11. Then, as now, there was a supreme arrogance in humankind. They thought they could do anything, including, building a tower to the heavens so that “we may make a name for ourselves.” Pride wasn’t in short supply.
God thwarts their plan by confusing their language.
My question is this? How do we maintain a proper and healthy perspective today? How do we actively place ourselves in a continuum of history rather than seeing ourselves as some sort of apex of it?
The Bible has some handy reminders. First of all we are created beings. We are beholden to a supreme God for our existence. Our gifts and talents come from Him. Secondly, we have rebelled and sinned. Our understanding is not as perfect and sharp as it should be or could be. We are constantly in need of grace. We see that in our failures; in the evil that many of our clever creations engender. We made computers but there are those engineering viruses. We made the internet but pornographers run rampant with it. We made penicillin but super bugs have developed.
Modern humanity should learn from the giants on whose shoulder we stand. We only need to think of examples such as Galileo and Copernicus for whom their research was an extension of their faith and acknowledgement of God. Much of maths, philosophy, science and medicine was driven because of faith, not despite it.
We think we are so big but we have jettisoned a Biblical concept of family, life and morality. Socially today, we are disfigured and ugly. Just look at the murders that occur within broken families, riots, corrupt politicians and myriad other example that slap us in the face every day.
The people of Babel were humbled by God. They became confused and spread throughout the earth. We too need to be humbled. We are created creatures. We were created to worship God – not ourselves. Self worship has got us into the moral morass we see today. For the Christian, humility starts at the cross. The journey commences before a Saviour who came to give us life to its greatest extent – eternal life in an eternal kingdom. With this fresh set of eyes we reflect on science, medicine, family, society and the multitude of other areas that make up what we call “life” and ask: How does my Creator want me to use, utilise and serve Him and my neighbour with the gifts he has give me?
The giants of the past weren’t perfect either but what set the true giants apart from the rest was that they knew and depended on their God. If there was ever a moment in history where that realignment with God was needed, especially for us in the West, it is now.