Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Am Not the City of God

One thrust of emerging conversations in Western Christianity has been a lament of a particular kind of neglect. We, it's confessed, have made the gospel of Jesus Christ a solitary affair. We've emphasized that Jesus would have died on the cross even if we were the only person for him to die for; that's how much he loves each of us, to the near-annihilation of everyone else.

Now, ask pretty much any parent and they will say that there's enough love in their heart for each of their children to consume them entirely, but somehow, mystically, that consuming love effectively spreads evenly over all the kids. I don't discount that--love is a many-splendored thing, after all. But the problem that's been identified enough that it's not worth going into great detail here is that the object of that love--each of us--doesn't necessarily have adequate vision to grasp that it doesn't make them the center of the universe.

In light of such a strong emphasis of God's intense love for the individual, God's intense love for the world is often shoved to the background. I come to appreciate this problem again and again as my own self-absorption comes into view. Most recently, I was led in this rediscovery by Walter Bruegemann, writing on Psalm 46.

"All great cities brag. . . . No great city ever did a better job of bragging than that ancient city of Jerusalem."


So far so good, except that as he makes the case for Jerusalem, the beloved braggart of God, he quotes Psalm 46:

"God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved."


Psalm 46, it turns out, is about Jerusalem. It's not, it turns out, about me. Neither, it turns out, is Psalm 87:

"Glorious things of thee are spoken, O city of God."

It turns out that every so often, quite unconsciously, I think of myself as the city of God. When I do, all other people are left outside my gates.

Brueggemann confronts this hubris, this city-sized self-absorption, with three cautions from Jeremiah:

Do not let the wise boast of their wisdom.
Do not let the mighty boast of their might.
Do not let the wealthy boast of their wealth.


Rather,

Let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord. (Jer 9:24)


It's worth noting that Jeremiah was writing about the city too; and that I'm still appropriating God's word to the city as God's word to myself. In reality I am not the city of God; God's city is his own business, and if I'm lucky I'll get to live in it--forever and ever, Amen.

Meanwhile, God--Psalm 46 reminds us--isn't a city either; he's a fortress. Go figure.

No comments: