Perhaps this is an over-generalization, but it seems rather apparent that the world has always endorsed the idea of individuals making a name for themselves. While this sentiment has historically come under many different guises from being famous to self-branding, the concept has remained the same. In order to be successful, popular, wealthy, etc., you need to get your name out there, or so we’re told. This is especially true with having an online presence. Just Google the phrase “self-branding” and you’ll find more than 13 million results, mostly lists of how-to.
Modern efforts to make a name for oneself are not all that different from those efforts in Genesis 11 where members of society tried to make a name for themselves by building a tower to heaven. Verse 4 summarizes well
4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
The people of Babel were united with a common language and a common motivation to make a lasting impact on history by drawing attention to their technological advancements. That they attempted to build a tower to heaven, highlights their common blind spot as a failure to rightly recognize God, most notably that no amount of human effort will be enough to earn your way to God. Though the technology and methods have changed, the human heart has not.
The little phrase, “let us make a name for ourselves” becomes all the more remarkable when we encounter Abraham for the first time. In the very next episode, after Babel, we read in chapter 12 of Genesis God’s call of Abraham and the introductory covenantal formula that will be repeated throughout Abraham’s life
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Amidst the covenantal promises outlined above is the phrase just highlighted from the Babel events only this time, it is God who is speaking, “I will bless you and make your name great”. The contrast between these two statements, specifically Who it is that is making the statement, should be striking. In the first case, it is the people of Babel who are attempting to make a name for themselves. In second case it is God who declares that He will make a name for Abraham.
Only One can accomplish what they set out to do. Only one can guarantee lasting value.
Through desire, invention, and efforts, humans are constantly trying to make a name for themselves, a lasting legacy as it is sometimes called. Ultimately these desires are rooted in a recognition of human frailty and the brevity of life on the timescale of humanity. It’s a desire to live a life of purpose and meaning that finds value in being remembered. However, as Christians know all too well, this world is not our home. Our longing is for a city who’s builder and maker is the Lord. Therefore our lasting value, our worth, is found in Christ and it is our union with Him that is His great accomplishment in making our name great…child of God.
I’ve often been tempted, and have sometimes fallen into the trap, of wanting to make a name for my self or to somehow make efforts for self-promotion or branding. But then I am reminded that first it is God who will make a name for Himself. Then it is God who chooses who, when, and how to make a name for those as He sees fit. Ultimately there is a reminder found in the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase. I must decrease.”
Soli Deo Gloria.