By Joel A. Hess –
Gloriosissimam ciuitatem Dei siue in hoc temporum cursu – Augustine, City of God
I love Chicago, but it’s not for everyone. Masses of people are walking, driving, running, yelling, pushing, and crying 24/7. It’s busy and cramped. A large city is humanity on steroids or under a microscope. Everything good and bad stuffed into a small box, so that’s all we see.
So needless to say, when a lot of people think of eternity, they don’t really like to imagine living forever in a city. Certainly my friends from northern Michigan would agree. A city is smelly, congested, and loud. We all sort of default to an imagination of heaven as being wide open spaces. For some reason, when someone dies, we often like to say, “He’s probably out fishing.”
By the way, if you want your kids to reject God, tell them that in heaven they will be “singing in the heavenly choir” or “it’s one long worship service.” I digress.
When I think of the new heaven and earth, I imagine those Elysian fields, those rolling green hills, blue skies, clear waters (or maybe that’s that old Hamm’s commercial.) You know what I mean.
So imagine my surprise as I read the Revelation given to John, chapter 21.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
A city! Not a meadow. Not a ranch, an island, a suburb, or even a quaint New England town—a city! Filled with people and God in their midst.
Now don’t start joining some other cult that promises a cute cottage on Neptune. There will be something very different about this city of God. There will be no sin, death, or Satan. There will be no crime, no murder, no stealing. There will be no poverty, racism, jealousy, or lust. There will be no disease, pollution, mental illness, broken families, broken minds, or broken bodies. There will be no insane desires or tempter to lure us inward. You will love your neighbor, and it won’t be hard! More importantly, they will love you and it will be easy, unlike today. You won’t be a jerk.
This city is coming. It will not be the result of politicians’ plans or a general’s order. In fact, it seems like any time we try to build a utopia people die. Watch out for smiling power brokers who promise to make the world a better place. Like Thanos in the Avengers, when men pursue utopias a lot of people die. Getting rid of poverty, disease, and despair usually means getting rid of people. How can broken people make a world that doesn’t break after all?
This city is coming down from heaven. It was made by heaven’s King, built by the Son of the King with His own sweat and blood. The one who has endured all our violent utopias allowed himself to be broken in order to bring us into His city.
His city is coming, yet it is also here. It hides among sinners trusting that they are saints. It is present here in Chicago. Just like the Word made flesh, the Holy City hides in flesh. You see glimpses of it with every helping hand, warm hug, and the sharing of the Good News that sins have been paid for, death has been conquered. Man’s city needs Jesus’ city right near it. Today I believe in this holy city. Soon I will see it with my own resurrected eyes!