One of the books I’m reading for my doctoral work is “The Meaning of the City” by Jacques Ellul. He’s was a French sociologist who died in 1994 and is most known for one of his forty books called “The Technological Society.” On one of the pages, after underlining and starring most of the page, I simply wrote the word “HOPE” as big as I could down the margin of the page.
An insight I gained from Ellul is why God chose the city as the description and reality of his completed, whole, shalomic vision.
When the Apostle John envisions the end of the story in Revelation, it is a city coming down out of heaven that he sees. Everything that is broken, every unshalom aspect of God’s cosmic and tiny creation, is made new. It’s not all new things; it’s all made new. Big difference.
And Ellul’s insight aligns squarely with John’s vision. He points out that the city has always been in the hearts and minds of humanity. No matter the time in history or the culture around the globe, human beings end up building cities. When God gave humanity a job description (Gen. 1:28-30), he told them to take what he had made and build on it. It appears the city is not just God’s vision but also the vision of his image-bearers.
But of course, the history of the City of Humanity is the same as the history of humanity – brokenness, death, and evil results from our rebellious desire to dethrone God from his rightful place as Creator and leave him out of the city and our hearts. By his grace and the faithful presence of those united to Christ in cities, humanity’s cities can look more like Shalom City, the New Jerusalem that John saw.
But, every human-made city is Unshalom City.
So Ellul points out that we ought to think of God’s choice of the city as representing the colliding of heaven and earth in Christ (Eph. 1:10) like we think of God’s choice to reveal himself to the world through the Written Word (Scripture) and the Incarnate Word (Jesus Christ).
He doesn’t invent a new method to reveal who he is; he adopts the methods and even the flesh of humanity. Ellul states, “God does not reject this world of revolt and death, he does not annihilate it in the abyss of fire. Rather, he adopts it. That is, he takes charge of it. And the immense vanity that man puts into it, God transforms into a city with gates of pearl.”
He doesn’t destroy our cities; he takes charge of them. He takes our labor in vain and makes it labor that matters. His Shalom City will be the “the fulfillment of all that man expected.” And much more than he expected!
He goes on:
“Gods plan also includes things invented by man, what he laboriously put together piece by piece learning from experience and failure. Both his technical failures and the marvels of his cleverness. In a brilliant transfiguration all of man’s work is gathered together in Christ. What will he preserve? We have no way of telling…[but] this is what will happen with the city.”
Your work and everyone else’ work will be transformed, made more beautiful, perfected, in Shalom City.
The products and services you provide right now through your paid and unpaid work, the work you give to your family and your neighbors and your church—it will be beautified in Christ.
So let us not work to build Unshalom City but rather Shalom City in the city where God has sent each of us.