This is the title of a small study that sums up my Global City Babel Series about the antithetical war between the words of men (Babel) and the Word of God (The Babe of Bethlehem). I mentioned following up on this painting in a previous post called Word/Image.
Babel and the Babe 7″ x 7″ graphite, watercolor, text on paper
This painting and the one following are featured on the covers of Issue 8.1 and 8.2 of Relief Journal. Babel and The Babe is on the Spring cover. (It was incorrectly titled Babel Baby, suggesting instead a human baby or our human condition, not the intended “Incarnate Word of God made flesh,” the baby born in Bethlehem.)
This encaustic mixed media painting, divided into two parts, is also about the antithetical war between Babel and The Babe. The bottom half includes black and white photographs I took in New York City and images of the 1999 war in Kosovo and the Balkans. The top half includes church architectural drawings, Arabic text — the Word became flesh descending on the tower, biblical texts and the large text — I AM. It is covered with golden beeswax.
The City of God / The City of Man takes its title from Saint Augustine’s book De Civitates Dei, in which he presents human history as being “a conflict between the Earthly City (The City of Man) and the City of God, a conflict that will end in victory for the latter. The City of God is marked by people who realize the transience of the earthly city with its concern for power and pleasures. They dedicate themselves to the eternal truths of God revealed in the Word of God. The Earthly City consists of people who celebrate the pleasures and cares of the present world and who believe the ever-changing words that promote power, peace and comfort on earth.
The basic thesis of Augustine’s book is the history of the world as the universal warfare between these two cities and between God and Satan — the theme of my Global City Babel Series. This biblical warfare began when man sinned. God told Satan in the Garden of Eden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This conflict is also summarized in the final prophetic drama of the book of Revelation (The Unveiling).
Last week, the painting Foundation/Global City Babel that began this series was purchased by collector Dona Spaan for the Permanent Collection at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a collection that includes artwork by Gerhard Richter and contemporary Dutch photographer Henrik Kerstens (1965).
The Tower of Babel (right) by Pieter Bruegel (1563) is my central motif. It references the biblical tower (Genesis 11) where God intervened to confound man’s words and his desire “to reach the heavens” and “make a name for himself.” This Dutch artist had a biblical view of reality. His visit to Rome inspired this Babel tower styled after the Roman Coliseum.
Christians of his day equated Rome with the Biblical, Babylon the Harlot, the antithesis of the Bride of Christ. Babylon was the seducer of man’s heart. Babel and Babylon symbolized all that is opposed to God’s Word and his glory.
The hand-made frame of this painting includes the all-seeing eye of God at top center and small pilgrims in the wood on either side. The incised text is the stylized acronym for the Tanakh or the Hebrew Scriptures.
This series describes our postmodern culture where meaning and words are confused and manipulated for power. Breugel’s Tower is an apt symbol 500 years later as this cosmic battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is revealed. It will continue until The Word of God, who is Faithful and True, returns to claim his kingdom already won by his sacrificial death.
Babel’s Child I (below) is also about this conflict. The figure is bowed with a Babel tower on his back. A snake skin, a symbol of The Fall, is embedded in the beeswax at his feet and the sacrificial death of Christ is alluded to by the snake on the pole.
In Purified Lips (below) God’s Word descends from the sky. The title is taken from Zephaniah 3:9 — For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, and all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder.The Tower of Babel is situated on deconstructionist texts and city plans, while the text from the sky in the French language is from John 1:1 — In the beginning was the WORD and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The Babe of Bethlehem pronounced Satan’s mortal wound and defeat as he approached the cross. He said, Now shall the prince of this world be cast out (John 12:31). And in his last discourse Jesus proclaims as if it were already an accomplished fact, The prince of this world has been judged (John 16:11). In the painting below you can see the plumb line and the tent or tabernacle over the Tower of Babel. This suggests judgment, when all shall be justified or made straight by the God who “pitched his tent” or tabernacled with us (John 1:20)
Tabernacle (2005) 24 x 34 (New Canaan, CT collection)
As this battle between Babel and the Babe wages, we wait. Until Christ has taken captive all His captives, we are “strangers and aliens on earth,” captives in a foreign land. As C.S. Lewis writes, “We are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of he door. . . . But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in (The Weight of Glory).
Finally, two recent paintings on “Ikea photographs” of cities — New York’s Brooklyn Bridge is turned upside-down, the city is burning. It references Revelation 17 about the doom of Babylon, the Great Prostitute (aka the Harlot) — all that is opposed to the Bride of Christ. They (those who follow the Beast) will make her (Babylon the Harlot) desolate and naked and devour her flesh and burn her with fire . . . and the woman that you saw is the great city.
And London is turned sideways, painted in whites, suggesting the purified bride where the unrighteous deeds are covered by the God who came to take the judgment and wrath of God on himself. This Vessel makes sins of scarlet “as white as snow.”
Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away (Matthew 24:35), Josh Garrels sings in Words Remain.