Can We Find God in the City?
Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die.
In Psalm 48, Jerusalem is so closely associated with God that it reflects God’s own character. God’s greatness is seen in the height and magnificence of Jerusalem (48:2). God reveals himself as a defender in the towers of this city (48:3). The “fortified walls” and “citadels” of Jerusalem tell present and future generations that God is strong, protective, and permanent (48:12-13).
Does it make any sense in today’s world to think of a city as somehow reflecting the character of God? Many of us, I expect, think of cities as places of commerce, commotion, and crowds. We hear of great cities with declining populations and crumbling school systems. Surely, therefore, if we want to experience God, we must flee from the city to the country, where we can find rest and beauty.
Indeed, times of retreat from the city can quiet our hearts and renew our relationship with God. I do believe that, like Jesus, there are times when we need to steal away from the busyness of the city in order to be renewed in body, mind, and spirit. But retreats are not the purpose of life. Nor should they be the chief context for our relationship with God. Rather, we understand that retreating for a season replenishes us so that we might go back into the world, which often means into literal cities, as God’s ambassadors.
I am encouraged to see more and more Christians embracing cities as places in which God is present and active. We are reclaiming our earliest roots, in which the cities of the Roman Empire were the focus of Christian mission. We are taking seriously for our own day the Lord’s command through the prophet Jeremiah: “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). Churches throughout the world, like Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, are seeing their cities, not as hostile territory to be attacked or avoided, but rather as fertile ground for the seed of the kingdom of God. The compelling vision of Redeemer Pres reads: “To build a great city for all people through a gospel movement that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, to the world.”
Whether you live in a giant metropolis or a small town, you have the opportunity to live out your faith in such a way that God is present in the place you live. Through acts of kindness and demonstrations of love, through speaking and living the truth, and through doing justice according to God’s Word, you can help your city or town be a place that reflects the very character of God.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:
How have you experienced God in the “city” of your ordinary life? How might you live so that God’s presence is revealed through you in your daily life?
Dear Lord, even as you once made your presence known in Jerusalem, we ask you to reveal yourself in the cities of our world. Show your justice and mercy, your grace and truth, to the multiple millions of people who live in cities.
Thank you, O God, for those who have embraced their city as a place of mission. Thank you for lawyers and teachers, for construction workers and city council members, for mothers and pastors, for police officers and bankers, and for all of your people who manifest your kingdom in the places where they work and live.
Thank you also for times of retreat, times that renew us so we can engage this world with deeper faith and broader love.
All praise be to you, God of the universe, God of the city. Amen.
READ THE PASSAGE IN CONTEXT:
Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise,
in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
Beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth,
like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.
God is in her citadels;
he has shown himself to be her fortress.
When the kings joined forces,
when they advanced together,
they saw her and were astounded;
they fled in terror.
Trembling seized them there,
pain like that of a woman in labor.
You destroyed them like ships of Tarshish
shattered by an east wind.
As we have heard,
so we have seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
in the city of our God:
God makes her secure
Within your temple, O God,
we meditate on your unfailing love.
Like your name, O God,
your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
your right hand is filled with righteousness.
Mount Zion rejoices,
the villages of Judah are glad
because of your judgments.
Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,
that you may tell of them
to the next generation.
For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.