September 25, 2023 A Religious and Political Commentary

The Mean Streets of the City

Nearly ¼ of the world’s population lives in squatters’ settlements in major cities. And for the first time in my life, many of those settlements are in American cities. There are over 100 million urban street children around the world. In 1900, our planet was 14% urbanized. It’s predicted that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities.

We watched helplessly throughout 2020 as riots became commonplace, and cities across our nation burned. We watch helplessly as crime rates continue to skyrocket. And we ask, “Is there any hope for our cities?”

When Cain killed his brother Abel in chapter 4 of the book of Genesis, he was cast from the presence of God. He lived, for a time, in the land of Nod (the Hebrew word for “wandering”) until we read, “Then Cain became the builder of a city.” (Gen. 4:17)

Genesis is the book of firsts (the name means “origin”). The first man and woman. The first sin. The first act of violence. Now, the first city. And in that first city, we see the same “genetic structure” of our cities today.

Cities are places of judgment. Cain was a farmer, but the curse he brought upon himself ended that: “If you work the ground, it will never again give you its yield.” So, he had to find some other means of survival. He created a city founded on trade. The city was a place to run from his past and eke out a living.

Cities are places of loneliness. Cain had been “marked” by God, so no one would kill him. But rather than roam the countryside, he settled a city. Surrounded by people, but he was all alone.

Cities are places of lostness. Cain, the city’s founder, had known God, defied God, and left God. Now, in the city, he wandered about with no direction in life.

Cities are places of vanity and sensuality. Cain’s ancestors were named Adah and Zillah. In the Hebrew world, children were often named for deeply held priorities or values. What did these city-dwellers think important enough to name their children? Adah means to adorn in an ostentatious way and Zillah means sensuality and delight.

Cities are places of violence. Cain’s progeny, Lamech, sings what we call, “The Song of the Sword,” in the next few lines. It is essentially Lamech bragging about all the people he’d killed.

That first city mirrors our modern metropolises. Our cities are filled with lost and lonely people, trying to survive a tough economy. They are filled with the most egregious forms of vanity, sexuality, and idolatry of self. It’s no wonder we saw such violence during 2020’s “summer of love.”

At this point, we might ask, “Is there any hope? Is there an answer?” There is!

When Israel was exiled to the ghettos of Babylon, here’s what God told them: “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.” (Jer. 29:7) Israel was a witness to Babylon of the goodness of God. When Nineveh seemed beyond hope, God sent a witness named Jonah.

Today God’s gift to the city is the church. A quick glance at a New Testament table of contents shows God’s heart for cities. You’ll see letters to the church in Rome, the church in Corinth, the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica as well as others.

God sent His church to Ephesus, a city known for its idol worship. Corinth was known for drunkenness and perversion. Rome was known for violence. These were places of judgment, loneliness, lostness, vanity, sensuality, and violence. But the church was a witness of God’s goodness and brought His grace to the city.

These cities were places God loved, filled with the people God loved. And because of His great love, He’s given the church to these cities, so they might share the good news. The same is true today. So, join the church. Seek the welfare of your city. Pray to the Lord on its behalf. Reach out to your city in serving love and be a witness of the goodness of God.

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