History began in a garden and will end in a city! We are the children of Adam and Eve; the Cultural Mandate given to our first parents (Genesis 1:26-28) remains in force today. We are to have children, form families and communities of families, and do something God-honoring with the garden. We are to transform it into a place of human flourishing. We are to build cities, but not just typical cities; we are to build garden cities.
The Lord of history is purposeful! He created all things for a purpose; this is captured in the term Ontology. And all history moves toward an end purpose; captured in the term Teleology. Teleos – the end for which we were created and toward which we are to work and co-create with God – is the same end that God is working toward (Hebrews 11: 10). It is the New Jerusalem, the Garden City (Revelation 22:1-5).
In God’s economy, cities are places of community …
Yet we have failed to impart this in our institutions of learning. I weep when I see the results of secular education of all levels. Typically, students end their schooling with a collection of meaningless facts – the what, and technical competence – the how. They are prepared to consume, but they do know the why – the purpose for their life; they are not ready to live. The modern world prepares us to wander aimlessly in the wilderness.
The voice of God invites those wandering aimlessly in the wilderness to come into a city.4 Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. 5 They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. 6 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 7 He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. 8 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, 9 for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Ps 107: 4-9
The wilderness is a place of aimless wandering – purposelessness, deprived of the basics of life – food and water. It leaves a void in the soul, a hunger for things that are the provision of the city. So God leads us from the place of languishing to the place of flourishing. The city of God satisfies the hunger and the thirst. It is the place of Isaiah’s vision, no more hunger and thirst, no more death and sorrow, but a place of flourishing:6 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.
In God’s economy, cities are places of community and communion where image-bearers of God gather to ask questions and seek answers, discover what is true, share ideas and new concepts, create culture and whole new worlds of the imagination. Cities are places to create economic vibrancy, to pursue justice and social peace. They are places to follow the circle of knowledge beginning with God’s creation leading to man’s discovery of truth, beauty, and goodness in the created order. Cities are places where the human learns to imitate the Primary Creator and His creation through the creation of godly culture. This godly creativity glorifies God and fills the earth with the knowledge of God.
Mankind is on a journey from the Garden to the Garden-City. God is the Architect and Builder of the city (Hebrews 11: 10). The cities we create are to be a reflection of the Teleos, the City of God. They are not to be as they so often are in our fallen state: places of hunger and thirst, of death, destruction, poverty, chaos. They are not to be characterized by vulgarity – graffiti, trash and decadent consumer culture that relishes mediocrity (or less), celebrates consumption and the objectifying of human beings, or places that celebrate death and destroy the human spirit, dragging it down to the gutter. They are not to be asphalt-and-concrete jungles where all plants, flowers, and animals have been eradicated.
The cities we build should be places for human flourishing, places that celebrate life, edification, order, beauty. They should be communities that develop lofty culture: beautiful music, grand architecture, edifying art, dance, poetry, and theater; art that lifts the spirit to heaven. They are to be places where parks and gardens flourish, birds sings, squirrels store their nuts, ducks parade their ducklings. In short the image is that of the New Jerusalem – the City of God.
The city-state of Singapore (five million people on an island 40 kilometers long) envisions herself as a “city in a garden.” The visitor is amazed at how this flourishing city (though not perfect by any means) is not only flourishing economically and in the arts and architecture, but also in green. It was as if the builders of modern Singapore understood something of the Teleos:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever, Revelation 22: 1-5.
When Abram left Ur of the Chaldees to follow the Voice of God, he did not know where he was going, Genesis 12:1-4! But he knew and trusted the Voice and a new era of human history began, the animistic bands of fatalism and despair were broken for what became the Judeo-Christian life of hope and freedom. While Abraham did not know where he was going, he was looking for The City of God (Hebrew 11: 10), the city of human flourishing.
Such are our cities to be today.
- Darrow Miller