I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven…and the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
The poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said, “That only which we have within, can we see without.” If we see hope, love and beauty “out there” it’s because we have those same gifts at play “in here.” If we see the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven it’s because it’s rising up in our souls. If we see all things being made new its because we are being made new.
When we see through the eyes of Jesus the whole world is a burning bush ablaze with God’s glory, and our cities are playgrounds of God’s grace. This is not pie-in-the-sky optimism or denial of the brokenness and suffering. It is Gospel hope, and Gospel hope is always experienced as a divine break-in. In Christ, the future breaks into our present reality transforming it from the inside out. The city of our dreams is coming down out of heaven, NOW! It harbors in our heart so we can see it at work in the streets.
The final vision in Scripture of the Heavenly City is Good News, given that more than half the world now lives in cities. The urbanization of the world mirrors the narrative arc of Scripture. It begins in a garden and ends in a city. The words “city” and “Jesus” each appear exactly 953 times in Scripture. God loves cities and so do we; we must, because we keep building them. Whatever else cities represent, they also represent our impulse to be together, in community, which is the very nature of the triune God. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream religion is still steeped in “garden theology” where the garden is idealized and the city is demonized.
The movement from garden to city is not a contest between rural and urban. It’s not as if God changed his mind somewhere along the way and started loving cities more than gardens. The city develops when we “tend the garden” of creation. As co-creators in Christ, we are vested partners in the ongoing act of creation, and cities are the fruit of this partnership. When the partnership is going well the biblical metaphor is Jerusalem — the city of life. When it’s going badly, it’s Babylon — the city of death.
Here’s the rub. For as long as I can remember, I have desired to see things whole. I want to see the big picture, connect the dots and work towards completeness. Unfortunately, my desire to see things whole also makes it easy for me to see what’s missing. I can easily get stuck and fixate on deficits. Instead of looking through the eyes of love and seeing the New Jerusalem, I look through the eyes of fear and become overwhelmed with Babylon. The deficits I see “out there” have more to do with my own brokenness, “in here.”
I am grateful for the spiritual genius of Ms. Jones. At 68 years old she was the president of the tenants association in the projects of Newark, the very place where her son was murdered. She said these words to a young Cory Booker (future mayor of Newark) who moved into the projects intent on rebuilding the community.
The world outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. If all you see is
problems, darkness and despair, then that is all there is ever going to be. But if you are one of those stubborn people who every time you open your eyes you see hope, you see opportunity, possibility, you see love or the face of God, then you can be someone who helps me
(and my city).
“See, I am making all things new.” Can you see it?