Re: ring of death

A further discussion on Duncan’s post ring of death (it would be better if you read his piece first before mine).

Cities do pose a theological problem as they are prosperous by outsourcing their waste/costs, whether it is to other countries, rural areas within its own country, or even within the city itself. Bad cities display it publicly with slums (Jakarta and Manila come to mind), and cunning cities, like Singapore, manage to hide the cost neatly. We never realize that we are prosperous at the expense of foreign workers who bear the cost of our Singaporean dream (and of ourselves, sometimes, who perhaps become less human in our struggle to stay within the system). On the other hand, because of the abundance and concentration of resources in the city, people are attracted to migrate to the city. Access to resources translates to wealth in itself. Hence the ring of death in another sense: the endless spiral of migration and exploitation.

Interestingly, a quick survey (and, admittedly, a flat reading) throughout the Scriptures also indicates that cities are pregnant with problems. Duncan has mentioned about Enoch, the first city, which was built by Cain. And hence you could argue (with an exercise of imagination) that the first city was built on the blood of Abel. That civilization is built on human blood is not rocket science. Then you also read the damnations that were directed to Babel and its tower, Sodom and Gomorrah, Pithom and Raamses of Egypt, Jerusalem in the time of Solomon, Babylon, Herodian Jerusalem, and Rome. So, it’s not that the prophets and apostles were not aware with the inherent ambiguity with cities.

Nevertheless, on the other hand, it does not mean that cities are necessarily evil and hence irredeemable. Because, at the very end of our Scriptures, the seer witnessed a garden-city, Jerusalem, coming down from heaven to earth. It might be puzzling, as the more usual response to the problem is to return to the pristine nature. We dream of an uninterrupted life in the countryside. We dream of retiring in farms and greeneries. We would like to return to the Old Eden. But, God is larger than our vision. The end of the Scriptures is not Genesis; it’s Revelation. He does not simply turn the clock back to Adam and Eve; he embraces the feeble human attempts of civilization. He does not canonize them per se, but certainly he appreciates the cities as he restored them into their appropriate forms and purposes. I don’t know how the hell on earth he is going to do it, but he is going to do it. God is really serious when he is on to something. He never does something half-heartedly;  he will go to the very end of things. When he redeems, he redeems all, all, all.

Moreover, it does not mean that now we can live in the cities in an ignorant bliss then. It actually accentuates the problem. The New Eden-Jerusalem is, of course, still an eschatological reality. Nevertheless, we also believe that the future has broken in the present in Jesus Christ. Thus, a Christological reading of the city must be exercised by the church — which, unfortunately, is yet another “already-and-not-yet” reality.

Hence, I guess we should be content with partiality and one-sidedness for now, as we could not possibly cover the enormous complexity posed by the problem. Not for one-sidedness in itself, but one-sidedness with dialectical partners, as each participant, who will emphasize only one side of the whole story, will try to contribute to the common good. For example, I would start by noting that how, in the cross, Jesus gives himself for others. He actually becomes the waste whom the city needs as sacrifice. Indeed, for what’s worth, Jesus died just outside the city wall.


4 thoughts on “Re: ring of death

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