The Garden and the City
The Bible begins in a garden but ends in a city.
Why doesn’t Revelation end with humanity back in the garden? Why doesn’t the story come full-circle, like all “good” stories are supposed to?
What can we learn from the fact that God’s garden matures into God’s City? And what significance does that have for the cities we now call home?
There are many avenues to explore, and I’ll get to them in a moment, outlining the journey we’ll take together over the next thirty-one days. But, for now, I want you to think about where you live. Consider whether you’re happy, content, settled. Ask yourself whether it truly feels like home. And then I want you to fall in love with that place, even if that place is unlovely.
While golfing with my friend Kevin, the results of a “Worst Places to Live in America” survey came up, in which our town—Jackson, Michigan—fared poorly. At the time, I didn’t know Kevin especially well. I sensed he was about to rant, and the fifteen remaining holes in our round suddenly felt like they were going to take a long, long time to complete.
But Kevin surprised me.
“I’ve only got one thing to say about that survey,” he began, “it means we live in a fabulous country. If this town is one of the worst—with its great schools, great restaurants, great golf courses, and great parks—then just imagine how blessed we are to have even better cities all around us.”
Wow. Ok. I gotta admit I didn’t see that coming.
Kevin demonstrated a powerful truth that afternoon, one that sticks out more prominently than the only birdie I hit all year: we all have the chance to be happy, regardless of where we live.
In the beginning stories of the Bible we learn that we were made by God to be like God. We’re his agents and emissaries in this world, people made in his image and likeness, his shadows. As Athanasius of Alexandra famously stated, “He was made man that we might be made God.”
As God’s co-creators, we are meant to expand the borders of Eden, to fill the earth and to subdue it until the glory of God covers the earth. That task includes cultivating God’s government, God’s creativity, and God’s peace, which will require us to not only draw together the resources of Creation but to bring wise order to the garden and to release human potential in cooperation with God.
I’ve taken to summarizing our identify and our vocation by saying The Creator created creators to perpetuate Creation.
The image the Bible uses to describe our work with God in expanding Creation—the specifically human portion of that work—is the city. Cities are the product of our cooperation with God. They refer, in the biblical nomenclature, to places of imagination, vocation, and connection where humanity gathers and our societies flourish. That’s why the final picture in the Bible is of the New Jerusalem, a garden-city that covers the earth entirely.
God gives us a garden, but requires from us a city.
That’s the thesis of this book: We’re meant to cultivate God’s government, God’s creativity, and God’s peace everywhere we go. We’re called to draw together the resources of Creation, to bring wise order to the garden, and to release human potential until God’s glory covers the earth. We’re working toward an unbroken wholeness between God, ourselves, others, and Creation.
Piece of cake, right?
Not entirely. As we’ll learn, the human project of co-creation got off track quickly. Adam and Eve, our spiritual ancestors, abdicated their divine calling and began trying to achieve God’s gameplan without God’s involvement. Cain made it even worse, and things deteriorated from there. Several times, however, God tried to re-boot his plan of divine-human cooperation—with key people, in key locations, and at key moments—but it wasn’t until the birth of the Church that God finally received a people who were committed to living as the City of God amidst the cities of men.
The Church is, metaphorically, the City of God. We are not a place, but a people, and the more we study the scriptures together the more we’ll realize that God’s requirements do not mandate that we build cities so much as they require we become a city. We are a living temple. God makes his home within us. He lives in us. He is both master builder and chief cornerstone.
Let’s come back to our introductory question. Why doesn’t the Bible end as it began—in a garden?
We might say it’s because God’s purposes are not cyclical, but developmental. He doesn’t make us endlessly repeat life’s lessons, but leads us through a long process of maturation resulting in our final and eventual perfection.
God’s not making things all over again; he’s making all things new. That includes our cities and—more importantly—that includes you and me. He’s making us into people who can love the unlovely, enjoy wealth even when we’re poor, rejoice in the midst of suffering, and not fear death because the life of Christ lives in us now and forevermore.
Stick around for the next month; we will be posting daily readings from The Garden-City Epistles starting tomorrow!
 Genesis 1.26-27.
 2 Corinthians 5.20.
 The Hebrew word tselem, often translated “image” (“…let us make man in our image”), can also be rendered as “shadows.”
 Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Section 54: 93, accessed June 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation
 Genesis 1.28.
 Habakkuk 2.14.
 Genesis 1.28.
 Genesis 2.20.
 Genesis 4.22.
 Exodus 31.1-11.
 See David McDonald, Telos: The point of life on earth, for further explanation and development.
 Revelation 21.
 Revelation 21.2.
 1 Peter 2.5.
 1 Corinthians 3.16.
 Ephesians 3.17.
 1 Corinthians 3.11.
 Ephesians 2.20.
- 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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