Growing up in suburbia, I’ve never been a fan of cities. In fact, they make me feel claustrophobic. Cities are often places with higher crime rates, heightened materialism, and a faster rate of decay of traditional morality. Unlike suburbs, they force you to rub shoulders with those around you, whether you want to or not.
Who in their right mind would like such a place?
Well, my wife, for one. Shortly after the wedding, I was shocked to discover that I had married a woman who actually enjoyed these concrete jungles (all right, I might have had some knowledge of this beforehand)! Instead of seeing all the things I saw in cities, she saw the beauty of what people produced in cities. Instead of being bothered by the compactness of the people, she relished the glory of human activity and diversity—the new foods, sights, and sounds. I saw the NYPD. She saw the Metropolitan Opera.
And recently, I’ve learned that God sees cities through both of our eyes. He acknowledges the heightened depravity, but He also glories in the potential beauty of so much concentrated humanity, which is why Revelation doesn’t end with people in a garden or on a farm, but in a city—all living and working together.
Did you know that the Bible presents a theology of cities?
What Is a City?
The Bible doesn’t prescribe a certain size that cities have to be. So, cities are simply places with high concentrations of humans. As you can imagine, this means a city is a magnifying glass of humanity. It can either magnify the image of God in mankind, or it can magnify sinfulness in mankind.
The first mention of a city in the Bible (Genesis 4:17) is the city that Cain builds for protection after he kills Abel. God allows Cain a measure of safety in the security of a city. On the other hand, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t fare to well in God’s eyes.
Why I Have to Work to Like Cities
By the above definition, a conference is a sort of “temporary city,” where a group of people come together for a period of time to accomplish something that none of them could get done if they stayed scattered. At a conference, people set up booths specifically designed to network with people.
You may not like cities, but I’ll bet you usually like the conferences, camps, or seminars that you go to.
I like conferences I go to because they are mini-cities that revolve around my value system. I’m comfortable in those cities, because they are full of people pursuing the same goal I am! In that case, I’ll enjoy the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22), because finally all the diversity of God’s creation will be working toward the common goal of serving God.
But in the meantime, we’re stuck with cities that are full of the diversity of God’s image but are not working toward the common goal of God’s glory.
This means that in every city—because it is a place where there are people—there are both terribly twisted things and beautiful reminders of the image of God in people. Every city, no matter how depressed and discouraged, has latent assets that God designed to be a blessing to others. These assets may be in a deep sleep, chained up by sin and suffering, but the hope of the gospel can unchain them and redeem the broken vestiges of the image of God in the people there.
Think about your city (or a city close to you). Sure, there are a lot of things to be discouraged about. There’s probably a lot of sin and suffering.
But on the other hand, that city is also full of sleeping potential for great good. Imagine if every person in that city were a follower of Jesus Christ, and everyone was working together to accomplish God’s purposes on the earth. What could that city do?
Thinking about that possibility helps to peel back the shroud that we’ve grown so accustomed to as to forget it exists over our cities.
What Can I Do?
Right now, your city is not accomplishing what it could for the glory of God. What can you do to help it? Look around you, and see where God is already working. Look with eyes focused to see the image of God in the people in the city. What potential do you see if the light of the gospel were to roll back the damage that sin has done?
Then ask God to show you what He would have you do to make your “city” a magnifying glass for His glory.