What do we see when we look at our city? Do we see beauty or ugliness? Soaring skyscrapers or dilapidated dwellings? Do we see light or darkness? Harmony or discord? Righteousness or injustice? Do we see opportunity or despair? Promise or hopelessness? Do we see riches or poverty? People thriving or people wasting away? Signs of life on the outside or signs of decay on the inside? Do we see laughter or tears? If we have eyes to see, when we look at our city, we see it all. This place is beautiful and broken, glorious ruins, like the people who inhabit it. God made us for Himself, to bear His image, to reflect His creativity in ordering chaos and building civilization. But ever since the Fall, we are drawn to building for ourselves instead of building for God’s glory. Like the bricklayers of Babel, we are tempted to make a name for ourselves and defame the Name of the true Builder. And the higher our worldly ambition reaches, the farther the Lord has to “come down” to see it (Genesis 11:5). The reality of God’s common grace explains many of the beauties and benefits of living in a city, and the reality of sin explains much of the danger and devastation that dwell here, too. How we live in the midst of all these tensions truly reveals how we see God, ourselves, and our city. Are we here for ourselves or for the Lord? Is the city here for us or are we here for the city? Are we parasites or blessings to this place?
God’s Word offers us a corrective dose of realism as we think about our city. “For here we have no lasting city,” the author of Hebrews writes. If we’re honest, evidence of this fact is all around us. We see it in the ruins of history’s greatest cities, now reduced to rubble and tourist attractions. We see it in the unending construction around us. Roads, bridges, and buildings are falling apart. We’re tearing down perfectly functional homes to build new homes that will immediately start to decay. We’re longing for a place that can withstand the relentless forces of time and nature. Left to ourselves, however, we try to make heaven on earth, just not in God’s way. We seek the perfect paradise in a home or a backyard or a vacation, but the ache for permanence remains. So the author of Hebrews reminds us that “we seek the city that is to come”. The longing is not an accident, for the Lord is building a city that will satisfy it. Ironically, if we want to build a life and a city that lasts, we must first embrace the fading futility of what we see with our physical eyes. Then, with eyes of faith, the Lord can begin to give us a vision for the city that is to come, and we can begin to pray with new vigor: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Are we willing to surrender our counterfeit kingdoms and scrape our Babel-ish buildings in order to embrace God’s dream for our city?
If we are, God’s Word also offers us a spectacular hope. John’s vision in Revelation 21 should cause our hearts to burn and our imaginations to soar. John sees “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Just as Jesus came down from heaven to dwell with us on earth, the City of God will come down from heaven to earth. And as beautiful as the new creation will be, the defining characteristic of the place is the Lord’s presence. “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The LORD is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). The dwelling place of God will be with us; we will be His people, and He Himself will be with us as our God. In that place, God will ruin everything that ruins our cities: tears, death, mourning, and pain. The former things will pass away in the presence of Him who is making all things new. How does a heavenly vision affect our lives on earth? If we are citizens of this city that is to come, we should begin to relate to our earthly city in new ways. We can embrace that we are the light of the world, a city set on a hill, the first rays of light heralding the coming warmth of the rising Son. We can celebrate that God Himself is with us, when we gather as a church family and when we scatter to every corner of the city. We can engage with the brokenness in our own lives and in our city with new urgency and fresh hope. We can no longer exploit or avoid the city. Following a Savior who died for His enemies, we must lay down our lives to love this city and its people. Wherever injustice, racism, wealth, or poverty are obscuring the abundant life of Christ, we must extend ourselves, to be and to bring the transforming presence of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. What did Jesus see when He looked at the City of Man? He saw a beautiful, broken place full of people He loved and longed to redeem. And He gave everything He had to that mission. What do we see when we look at our city, and by God’s grace, what will we do?
By Robby Higginbottom, assistant pastor of college ministry, Park Cities Presbyterian Church.