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God’s bias for the City

Photo by Diez

Just as God has a clear bias towards the poor, the scriptures also reveal that God’s heart leans towards the city.

From Genesis God calls for humanity to be fruitful and multiply. Not simply to reproduce (otherwise Jesus would’ve done a terrible job with this mandate), but to cultivate life in the widest sense – to create culture, to steward over creation, to develop civilizations, and ultimately cities.

Even the ‘garden of eden’ carries with it the idea of a lush park by a palace. A place dense with life near a kingly residence. Seeds of a future city.

God doesn’t allow his people to remain agrarian, and calls for ‘cities of refuge‘ to be made. Cities with leadership, government, jurisdiction, so that people might find safety and progress could continue without ongoing tribal warfare.

In Jeremiah 29 God calls for his people to seek the good of the city. Not to necessarily conform to the city, or to leech off the city, but to be rooted in the city. We are to be city builders.

The Apostle Paul planted churches from city to city because he knew that if he captured the heart of the city, the gospel would flow out from the city centers into the surrounding regions. It’s interesting to note that it seems the smallest unit of the church was referred to as an entire city – ie. the church of Ephesus, Philipi, etc.

God reveals his ultimate vision for humanity in Revelation as ‘a holy city’ descending from heaven. Pieces of Eden like the tree of life and rivers are still there, but it’s wrapped up in a city filled with life. Heaven’s like an urban jungle.

I’ve always loved this quote by Ray Bakke – “If you don’t like the city, you won’t like heaven”

These are just a few snapshot thoughts that could be unpacked a lot more.
Your thoughts?

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • joeie January 27, 2010, 1:02 am

    Amazing photo!

    But Lon, isn’t a “city” really just… formalized community with infrastructure?

    I mean, I live in a suburb, and so I may be biased in thinking “city” brings with it so much baggage. But you think “city” and you think of that photo: lights, technology, crowds etc (haha, think Tokyo, Japan!).

    What if we looked at the basic nature of what “city” really is?

    It’s not just an urban metropolis brimming with people and high-tech transportation. This is not encapsulating everything, but a less ‘baggaged’ definition of ‘city’ can be the convenient meeting place where people’s lives intersect (both strangers and friends alike). Infrastructure is then built around this (i.e. city hall, transportation, libraries, community centres and then more private institutions such as banks, gas stations etc). But the most raw basis of a ‘city’ is a place where people meet.

    A formalized community with infrastructure?

    So how is this different from any other type of community?
    Maybe in the way that information is spread?

    Maybe a city is fundamentally different by the way it communicates/distributes information. (?!)

    Or maybe I’m just talking to myself on your blog and am slightly crazy.

    • Lon January 28, 2010, 10:30 am

      Hey Joeie! There’s all sorts of definitions for cities… some go by population, some by a level of governance – for me they’re just hubs with mixed use – ie. a farm with a single family sustaining themselves may not qualify.. or a suburb in the strictest sense where it’s purely residential may not either…

      so i’m totally with your definition of a city as well – i think i’ve written about suburban inferiority complex before, and i really wish people on the edges of the city would also see themselves as future urban centres themselves.

      All cities don’t have to be like Tokyo – i just think there’s a story line in the bible towards progress, specialization of skillsets and crafts, diversity, etc…

  • bradley grinnen January 27, 2010, 12:06 pm

    i agree with you here lon.

    however, i believe an equal argument can be found in the scriptures… “God loves Nature”. i won’t lay that argument out here, nor do you really need me to.

    i believe its a ‘both/and’ situation. God loves the city. God loves nature.

    • Lon January 28, 2010, 10:34 am

      Hey Brad – agreed – God loves both city, nature, country side, all creation. I just think there’s maybe a strategic emphasis towards the city. Just like God tends to lean towards the side of the poor and oppressed – in many ways to reveal his character – cities (which also are where many poor and oppressed are) reveals His emphasis for the development and diversity you typically find in cities.

      I don’t think that means concrete highways or billboards everywhere – I’m sure there’s a way of being much more urban (dense with life, diverse, progressive, etc.) while being green and creation honoring…

      • joeie January 28, 2010, 5:23 pm

        Hello 🙂

        Not much more to add to this post, but was thinking about it these past few days. I think the key word that differentiates “city” above everything else and why there may be a “bias” for God towards city is because of its strategic-ness .

        Not going to flesh this idea out here, but strategic in the sense of:
        – concentrated poverty because of concentration of people
        – therefore, the opportunity to serve/build community and show love and kindness
        – rapid spread of information and idea sharing
        etc etc

      • Jake Ladd February 1, 2010, 10:47 am

        I agree with brad. The calm and quiet of nature is beautiful.
        I dont agree with this paragraph.
        “God doesn’t allow his people to remain agrarian, and calls for ‘cities of refuge‘ to be made. Cities with leadership, government, jurisdiction, so that people might find safety and progress could continue without ongoing tribal warfare.”

        Does that mean you think people who live in “agararian” farming communities are not doing what God wants them to? That somehow the people who grow the food for people in cities to eat are less valued? I also disagree that we need Government for safety and progress, and to say that without it we would be like warring tribes is almost offensive. I think our government and its division could be compared to “warring tribes.” I also think that Native Americans (or “warring tribes”) progressed way more in ideas of community living and family structures than america and its cities/government ever have.

        Despite all this I love you, It takes bravery to state facts about God and the way he/she works. Keep searching for truth.

        • Lon February 1, 2010, 2:47 pm

          Awesome Jake – love the feedback!

          I’m a near-treehugger myself – I’d totally live in a commune farming my own food if I wasn’t called elsewhere. I should’ve clarified the statement with ‘solely’ agrarian.

          in terms of the government – i’m also as down-with-the-man as it gets as well. And yes – many governments to do don’t reflect nations of peace or justice. sadly. but these cities of refuge in the specific passages were to be places of peace overseen by leaders.

          I think what i was trying to allude to was that progress requires some form of structure/formality/institution (i’m personally not fond of any of this), but it’s often these boundaries, rules, that allow creativity to flourish – ie. the fact that we’re communicating right now in english over a standardized set of internet protocols allows for ‘progress’ and other things to happen.

          tribes are beautiful in that they’re rooted in the heart/ideas/values rather than structuring the peripherals of a culture – the challenge with them is when completely different values/cultures collide… and i get a sense that’s where the idea of structures/cities come in.

          anyhow, i’m totally speaking off the cuff here – but really glad you commented – it takes huge guts to lovingly disagree!

      • brad grinnen February 7, 2010, 11:20 am

        lon, i agree with you on the strategic bent. i think i might tend to emphasize God’s bent toward community and how the city forces this to happen. love the post.

        • Lon February 9, 2010, 11:19 am

          Thanks Brad – right on.

  • John Azoni February 9, 2010, 12:00 pm

    Interesting challenge. I appreciate you leading God’s people towards the need.

    I think though that you’ve skewed the scriptures to fit your message, which is a little misleading.

    I don’t interpret those verses to mean that God prefers people to live in today’s view of “the city”, though an argument can be made that we should live amongst the poor. Keep in mind there are poor people everywhere, in the suburbs as well as the city. Many times the downtown areas that you seem to be referencing here are in fact where much of the privileged reside… the poor being gentrified to the outskirts of downtown areas.

    We have to be careful with making the argument you are making here because those who live in the suburbs should not feel like they are sub-par followers of Christ because they have chosen not to live in an urban setting. Even the rich are indeed spiritually poor, and Jesus was not exclusive to those in physical poverty. It should be our default to move where there is a need for reconciliation – economic, racial, and spiritual – but I don’t believe that God necessarily “prefers” we live in the “city” do his reconciling work.

    • Lon February 9, 2010, 3:09 pm

      Hey John, thanks for reading and chiming in, really appreciate it. I absolutely agree that the poor are everywhere. I never mentioned anything about downtown, but I realize that’s what people typically imagine when ‘the city is mentioned’.

      the sub-urban poor is definitely a growing movement in my city as well.

      I definitely don’t want to make suburbanites feel sub-part in anyway – and i’ve posted in the past about how the suburbs if taken seriously can hold the keys to the future.

      I think people are probably having a problem with the word ‘bias’ that I stated. I don’t think this means any less love or need in any other areas. Just as God has a bias for the poor, or for the lost (leaving the 99 for the 1), there is a trend towards cities both in scripture and in history that God seems to have a hand in.

      I also agree with you reconciliation of every type is needed. Jesus reached out to the rich tax collectors, blue color fishermen, and others on the fringes. I didn’t really do any of that today. Do I think that I wasted my day or God prefers I was elsewhere? I don’t think so.. I think I can still bring honor to God, but it doesn’t negate his desire or bias or tendencies towards those on the margins… or in this case dense and diverse regions we call cities.

      And yes, ‘today’s view of the city’ is far from what it can be… but i don’t think that’s the city’s fault itself. And back to my reason for bringing up the post, churches have been fleeing the cities for decades, and we do need to make an effort to return to the city (of course not all of us, i’ve been preaching through nehemiah verse by verse for the year, and we just passed chapter 10 where they tithed 10% of the people back to the city of Jerusalem from the surrounding regions, not a whole lot, but the city still needs people who seek its good).

      Those of us who say we follow Christ but didn’t follow him into the city as well need to take some ownership of the mess some of our cities are in. Anyhow, I think we’re along the same lines, and maybe it’s the semantics or we’ve got a tiny different bent on things, either way, thanks for raising the discussion John!

  • Jeremy February 9, 2010, 3:43 pm

    I really like Tim Keller’s definition of City, “a mixed use walkable human settlement”. Subarbs tend to be single zoned, and so do rural communities. Certianly God loves these areas, but the cultivation of human progression occurs in areas where the rich, poor, educated, wise, street savvy, consumer, producer, capitalist, socialist, … are forced (by proximity) to interact and participate in the same economy.

    These are great points. Thanks for this discussion Lon. On a side note, these thoughts come from discussions friends and I have had about planting a church in the urban core of Salt Lake City. I’d be open to any thoughts, comments, or questions.

  • Agnes Davids October 15, 2011, 6:13 am

    Loved your insights as very helpful with the Urban Ministry studies I am doing.

  • Doug January 13, 2013, 12:34 pm

    For me, God’s heart for the city is set in opposition to the ideas of the day when the scriptures were being written. Throughout much of the Bible, the city was seen as the source of evil. Beginning with Cain who left the nomadic life to farm, it is those who settle that cause the trouble. The first place of worship was a tent because God did not settle down. The source of problems in Canaan in the Abram were the cities of the plain. Even in Jesus ministry the City was where he was arrested and crucified.
    And yet, God longs for the city. The prophet speaks of the residents of the city living long, experiencing health and knowing peace. That does not mean God has turned his back on rural life, but because we often see the city as the source of our problems, God defends the city and city dwellers.

    Just some thoughts as the church I serve begins to seek God’s heart for the community in which we live.

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