Eden was a garden-temple where we walked with God. We were his priests, created by the Creator to perpetuate Creation, and God tasked us with expanding the borders of Eden. We are called to draw together the resources of Creation, to bring wise order to the garden, and to release human potential.
The purpose of our cooperative work with God is to ensure God’s government, God’s creativity, and God’s peace cover the earth. Those divine qualities—government, creativity, and peace—were passed on to us as imagination, vocation, and connection. They are the tools with which we are meant to cooperate with God.
God gave us a garden, but requires from us a City. The archetypal city, to which all humanity aspires, is the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to cover the earth with the glory of God.
Our sin, however, resulted in our expulsion from Eden and God’s gameplan for divine-human cooperation short circuited. Adam and Eve had children, one of whom God cursed. Cain fled from God and founded the first city, counterfeiting God’s gameplan. Other cities followed suite.
Yet God did not abandon his project for human development. He has not forgotten our cities, but entered them.
Three complex metaphors help explain the truths of our relationship with God. The Kingdom of God refers to our authority with Christ. The City of God refers to our cooperation with God. Heaven refers to God’s power and presence promised to us.
If “the city” is a catch-all term for human development in emulation of God, we must always bear in mind that the opposite of a godly city is not a godly farm, but a godless city. The opposite of cooperation with God is both lack of cooperation with God and cooperation with counterfeit gods.
God has placed us within our cities to work for the good of the world. All cities have infrastructure, amenities, and “soul.” Cities are the engines and multipliers of human flourishing. Cities are magnets and amplifiers of human culture. A right spirit can heal our city, and our work in the city now anticipates God’s final redemptive work in all cities later on. Yet the lure of the city is dangerous. We can easily be distracted into falling in love with our city, rather than recognizing we are meant to remain in love with God who sponsors our work in the city.
God wants us to love our city because we’re lovers, not because it’s lovely.
Every city has idols and icons—things that point to God and things that point away from God. People can be idols or icons. Possessions can be idols or icons. Achievements can be idols or icons. “Things” are spiritually neutral until we orient them either toward God or away from God People often leverage these “things” in an attempt to control God. We try to earn his favor, but grace cannot be earned. It is free. When we chase after anything other than God, we become commodified, and this creates dis-ease.
The City of God is a metaphor for cooperation with God. It is not a place but a culturally distinct people, embroiled in an invisible war. The church is the City of God amidst the cities of men. We live as ‘the City in the city’ and are called to show the world a better way to live together. We must be active and intentional at home since we are responsible for leading our families. But our work isn’t limited to our households. Our influence must expand. We have to enter into our culture and minister to it. We must contextualize the gospel so the world can comprehend it.
We are citizens of heaven, but we live on earth as resident-aliens. Our “true citizenship” is revealed in the way we live: work reveals our citizenship; charity reveals our citizenship; sex reveals our citizenship. And, in all things, we demonstrate that Christ is our Lord when he receives our secret obedience. If all this seems overwhelming, never forget that God’s gameplan always involved a multi-millenia execution. We must be faithful for a long time before we will see lasting results. Like Abraham, we yearn for the city whose architect and builder is God, the city he will ultimately gift to Creation in full and final fulfillment of his Edenic mandate, so his glory covers the earth.