The story opens with a garden.
But it ends in a city.
That’s a curious trajectory. When the story of the Bible opens we see God create a garden—a natural paradise—in which humanity is placed and tasked with its care. And you’d think that at the end of the story we’d circle back to that vision – the Garden of Eden restored on earth – but that’s not what you get. What you get is a city.
In many ways it’s a surprise ending, one we still struggle with.
Think about it. Where do most people go to experience God? Most of us, I’m guessing, head out into nature. We experience God beside oceans and on top of mountains. We experience God by rivers and waterfalls. And to get to these sorts of places you have to leave the city to get out into nature.
Which makes sense. When we think of cities we think of crowded buildings and traffic jams. As human creations cities are ugly, cramped, dirty and noisy. So to experience God we want to get to a place that has been untouched and uncontaminated by human hands.
In the end, God is found in the city.
And why is that?
True enough, nature is uncontaminated by human hands. And no doubt God is experienced in places of natural beauty. But the vision of the City of God at the end of the book of Revelation suggests to me that God doesn’t want the New Heaven and the New Earth to be a solo act. God doesn’t want to be a master performer with us passively standing, uninvolved on the sideline, watching the show. Rather, God wants a partnership and a collaboration. God wants us to be active co-creators.
God wants a city.
The shocking thing about the City of God is that cities are human creations. And that seems to be the point, that God will not destroy human culture and our creations to hit the reset button, wiping it all clean to get us back to a pristine state of nature. No, in the City of God human work, effort, industry and creativity have a place and find their fulfillment. We are co-builders with God. We have a part to play.
It’s a fascinating vision. God and humanity standing side by side with hard hats on and pouring over blueprints.
But this isn’t just about the end of time. Every week we pray together, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” And that vision of the City of God in Revelation? It’s a vision of the City coming down to earth.
The City of God isn’t something we are waiting for. It’s a city we are building right here and right now. Here in Abilene.
Our town is the City of God.
If we only had the eyes to see it.
Which is why I think our summer in the city is such a great opportunity. It’s an opportunity to discover and recover the biblical shape of our calling. The story starts in a garden, yes, but it ends in a city.
True, this summer many of us will be leaving the city on a vacation to find God by the ocean or in the mountains. And we’ll be sending our students out of the city on various mission trips.
But could this also be the season where we come to understand that we will best find God by going deeper and deeper into our own city? That our primary mission field is the one right across the street? That we’ll have a better chance of encountering God on an Abilene sidewalk than on a beach in Florida?
This summer, dear brothers and sisters, look up and around you. Look at our city.
This is Abilene.
This is the City of God.