ANALYSIS: God Still Finds His Home in This Rapidly-Changing City; Leaders from across Britain's Religious Communities Will Be Gathering at Birmingham University Next Week to Discuss 'What Makes a Good City?' Today, in the First in a Series of Articles for the the Birmingham Post, Dr Toby Howarth Considers the Christian Perspective

The Birmingham Post (England), September 3, 2007 | Go to article overview

ANALYSIS: God Still Finds His Home in This Rapidly-Changing City; Leaders from across Britain's Religious Communities Will Be Gathering at Birmingham University Next Week to Discuss 'What Makes a Good City?' Today, in the First in a Series of Articles for the the Birmingham Post, Dr Toby Howarth Considers the Christian Perspective


Byline: Dr Toby Howarth

The Christian Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God, with one another and with their distinctly rural environment. But that harmony didn't last for long; disobedience led to broken trust. As Adam and Eve left the garden, behind them an angelic guard with a flashing sword made certain that there was no way back. Instead, the only way was forward, towards the city.

Whatever else a city might be, it is not naive. Cities, as we find them in the Bible, are concentrated humanity. They are made up of the best and the worst that people are capable of, and much in between. The biblical movement towards the vision of a city, the "new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God" in the last two chapters of the Bible, is a movement in which selfishness and broken trust are healed and restored. There is no pretence that this selfishness hasn't happened, or that it doesn't really matter. Rather, the account is of God's costly engagement with us to bring all the nations of the earth to a city about which is said: "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them." (Revelations 21:3) What, then, is the 'Good City' from a Christian perspective? While we cannot simply read off from the pages of the Bible a political, social, economic or cultural manifesto for Birmingham at the start of the 21st century, the Bible does have important things to say to this question. For instance, we read in Psalm 48, Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!

This is a song of praise to God who is present in the city and gives the city its name.

The psalm affirms that 'God talk' is not just something private that believers must keep in their homes and worship spaces. Rather, those who pray the psalms rejoice that God knows the city from the inside and cares about what goes on here. This is part of a much wider affirmation throughout the Bible and is most clearly seen for Christians in Jesus Christ, the human face of God, who has entered into our world and shared our experience of it.

Christians want to affirm God's deep involvement in the city and God's ultimate authority over it, while at the same time stressing that God's power is exercised in a radically different way from human rule.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem hailed by the crowds as Messiah, the city's rightful king, he came humbly, riding on a donkey, not on a war-horse. Within a few days, Jesus had been arrested and taken before Pilate, the Roman military ruler of the city. When Pilate asked this strange prisoner if he was a king, Jesus' reply was telling: "My kingdom", he said, "is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight..." Pilate was at a loss to know what to make of this kind of king or this kind of power.

The Psalms both celebrate and lament the complexity of the human city. They celebrate the joy and order of the city, while being acutely conscious of the darker side of the human city: "I see violence and strife in the city. …

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ANALYSIS: God Still Finds His Home in This Rapidly-Changing City; Leaders from across Britain's Religious Communities Will Be Gathering at Birmingham University Next Week to Discuss 'What Makes a Good City?' Today, in the First in a Series of Articles for the the Birmingham Post, Dr Toby Howarth Considers the Christian Perspective
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