As a teenager raised in the lush woodlands of a very small town, I remember the disorientation I felt when the choral group to which I belonged made its first visit to New York City. The constant soundtrack of the metropolis was unnerving, as though my ears had amplifiers in them. My eyes scanned the hot pavement and crowded storefronts for some piece of the leafy green world I much preferred.
I was completely unprepared when the middle-aged sponsor of our singing group took a deep breath of bus diesel exhaust, savored it slowly, and then exclaimed: “Oh, how much I miss city air!” I looked at him as I might eye some exotic predator in a zoo: I wondered if he was completely sane. He, of course, had grown up in these precincts. The wail of police sirens no longer made him flinch, and the wooded paths down which I loved to wander only made him think he had gotten lost in the forest primeval. Each of us assumed that our preferred environment was normative for the world.
There may have been a time when many Adventists could take comfort in the fact that most of those with whom we share this planet lived in rural or suburban regions, but that day is past. Lament it as some do, it will not change the data: millions of people every year, in every region of the world, are moving from lifestyles built on agriculture to try their fortunes in the rapidly growing metropolises of Seoul, Mexico City, Mumbai, Manila, and Johannesburg.
We dare not miss this movement—or this moment. When we join Jesus in weeping over the cities, we weep not primarily because 3 billion people must live in them, but because those persons are, each one, the objects of our Savior’s love and tenderness—and thus, inevitably, of ours. Heaven has no prejudice against cities themselves: in fact, if measured as most Bible scholars indicate the New Jerusalem will dwarf the land area of all of the world’s big cities combined. It has been designed on a grand scale because heaven is still hoping that the unnumbered multitude seen in vision by the apostle John will yet dwell there.
Our task, then, is to invite them to move one more time—from one city to an infinitely better and holy one, in which there will be no more tears.
— Bill Knott