The word “city” first occurs in the Bible when it is mentioned that Cain, the murderer and accursed wanderer, built the first city. Cain wanted to avoid God’s curse that he would be a nomad, and built a city to provide refuge from those who might want to avenge the blood of his neighbor. And from that point until now, the rivalry between urban and rural people has continued.
Throughout the initial books of the Old Testament, God is always sought in remote rural places, while cities are depicted negatively—Nimrod’s Babylon/Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt. The tide doesn’t turn on cities until King David comes along and establishes Jerusalem as “Mt. Zion, the City of the Great King.” Unlike the leaders before him, David pulled the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Presence of God in from the remote places and put it in the very heart of the City.
From David’s Zion Theology, the picture shifts to seeing the eternal destiny of humanity as urban. The earthly Jerusalem falls into dishonor in Paul’s Allegory of Hagar (Earthly Jerusalem) and Sarah (Heavenly Jerusalem) and in John’s Revelation (Jerusalem as “Sodom and Egypt where our Lord was crucified). But the final revelation of our destiny shows God dwelling with the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem. Just as Christ redeemed our souls on the Cross, He has begun to redeem all of Creation. They City itself will be saved. God is not far away on some remote mountain, but dwelling in the heart of the City.
So what does that mean for Christians? Our task as citizens is not to reject the city as accursed and godless, but to recognize that we can move the city (society, nation, world) away from Sodom and toward the New Jerusalem. We can do that by bringing the Tabernacle into the midst of it. We can bring Jesus into the City. When we make God’s presence in the city real, we join with our Pilgrim ancestors in seeking to build a replica of New Jerusalem here and now.
One of our great American patriotic songs says, “O Beautiful, for Patriots’ Dream that sees beyond the years thine alabaster cities’ gleam undimmed by human tears.” I have no illusion that we will succeed in building New Jerusalem, as William Blake’s great patriotic hymn of England charges us to do. But in seeking to build replicas of it, we can succeed in bringing God into our cities and making them more like NJ (no, not the otherwise lovely New Jersey) and less like Sodom. That should be the Christian citizen’s dream—to bring God into the city.