God has not abandoned the city, but entered it
I wrote this letter for Jvo, my co-pastor. Your indefatigable creativity and zealous passion keep me in the game.
There’s no place you won’t go, there’s nothing you won’t do, there’s no boundary you won’t cross to remind people God wants them back.
Every time you walk around town you’re marching to war. Your presence blares like a trumpet, putting the enemies of our world on notice. Every step you take—in every shop you visit, in every dive bar you love —is like a snare cracking in the drum line, shouting “This place is not forgotten! You have not been cast off! God is here for you!” You are God’s battering ram, and you smash your way into the city with a heart-shaped hammer. You lead with love, and every door upon which you pound bears the marks of your affection.
You remind me of God—specifically, of what God did with the Cities of Refuge. You remember those? Remember all the talks about how cool they were, about the stories they contained, about the legends they fostered?
The Cities of Refuge were the first cities God consecrated to himself. There were plenty of cities by this point in human history, and forty-eight Israeli cities were governed by the tribe of Levi, the priestly caste in ancient Israel. Of those Levitical cities, six were set aside as places of asylum, so that if you were accused of a crime you could flee to these cities and be guaranteed a fair trial and protection from violent retribution at the hands of the Avenger of Blood.
The Cities of Refuge demonstrate a remarkable strategy. Knowing that humanity had rejected their original calling to expand the borders of Eden, and knowing also that even God’s own people were following more closely to the legacy of Cain—employing God’s gameplan of human development without God’s government, God’s creativity, and God’s peace—God decided he wouldn’t just sit around and wait for his people to get back on track with his City; he would enter theirs.
God intervened in a world that tried to refuse him entrance. He didn’t build new cities; he entered existing ones. He sanctified these Cities of Refuge, taking something unholy and making it holy. French theologian Jacques Ellul, perhaps the brightest light in City theology, claims that in this act “God enters the very heart of revolt and refusal,” refurbishing these human cities as symbols of peace, justice, and divine protection.
That’s what you’ve been doing. You’ve been entering a city that has rejected God. You’ve brought God to the party. God hasn’t always been accepted. God isn’t always welcome. But you bring him regardless. You’re the best possible escort for the Holy Spirit. Because people admire you, because people trust what you have to offer, they’ll put up with your divine dinner date.
God has not abandoned humanity, despite the fact that we have abandoned God and his plans for Creation. You have not abandoned your city, despite the fact that your city feels abandoned.
Your work to resuscitate our town isn’t wasted. Your noble efforts bear fruit every day. You are an example of godly interruption, a trophy of divine cooperation, and we’re all a little more holy hard-headed because of you.
 C. 900 BCE, or possibly earlier.
 Numbers 35.6-8.
 Numbers 35.35; Deuteronomy 19.6. The Avenger of Blood was a blood-relative of the deceased who was on a mission to claim an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life (Deuteronomy 19.21). If the accused seeking asylum was found guilty by the elders in the City of Refuge, they could still be handed over to the Avenger of Blood. Refuge didn’t guarantee absolution, only justice in the form of a fair trial. They were not protected from prosecution, only from vengeance.
 Ellul, The Meaning of the City, 101.
- Victors and Victims November 6, 2018
- 3 Hacks for Happiness October 29, 2018
- Hope Against Death September 20, 2018
- The Shape Of The Cross September 19, 2018
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