In an increasingly virtual and globalizing world, place appears to matter less. You can get everything from a master’s degree to groceries without ever setting foot on a sidewalk. But place is a part of who we are. Place is where we make our homes and live our lives together. Doing justice requires us to be placemakers: creating equitable and sustainable spaces where communities can flourish. Christian theology is deeply rooted in geography, pointing to the importance of place through the metanarrative of Scripture. From creation to New Jerusalem, place matters for the Kingdom of God.
God, the Original Placemaker
In the beginning, the earth was formless and empty, void of shape and life. As God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, He created place, the framework for human life to flourish. He is the original placemaker, the visionary and architect of the planet we call home. God has tasked humanity with tilling and keeping creation by stewarding our resources, caring for our communities, and cultivating flourishing. Humans are co-creators and placemakers with God, responsible for designing spaces and places that reflect God’s image. The purpose of our places should be in harmony with the Garden of Eden, places of shalom in which humanity and God meet within the context of creation.
Are the places we’ve created worthy of the Kingdom of God? Does the built environment of our communities support the natural environment of creation? Do our streets unite rather than divide? As we consider the places we have made for ourselves on earth, we must consider the Creator’s design for our world and seek to build the Kingdom of God on every sidewalk and street corner.
Broken Relationships, Broken Places
Sin corrupted Eden’s shalom, breaking humanity’s relationships with God, with each other, and with creation. Paradise was lost, but place was not. Place remains a constant variable underlying human life, providing the backdrop of our daily lives and shaping our interactions. But the wholeness of creation has been fractured by sin, poisoning the places in which we live with exploitation and injustice. Humanity’s broken relationships taint everyplace we touch, from our forests to our cities.
Banished from Eden, humans labor to produce the resources needed to flourish, exercising dominion over the earth. But human dominion of creation has too often turned into exploitation and abuse of the land. Rising sea levels, polluted air, and contaminated waters indicate the unsustainable human pursuit of dominance over the natural world, reflecting a broken relationship with creation. Human flourishing depends on the ecosystems that give life not only to people but also to the bees that pollinate our produce and the trees that clean our air. Exploitation of the environment distances us from both creation and the Creator. A theology rooted in geography reminds us of our call to steward the places we share with all creatures of our God and King.
Social inequalities are spatial as well as racial and economic. The injustices of poverty can be seen in the disparate access low-income and minority neighborhoods have to the institutions and resources needed for quality of life and socioeconomic mobility. Where you live matters: school districts, social networks, and food access vary between places, disadvantaging lower-income communities. Racial and economic segregation continues to divide our communities, reflecting broken relationships with our neighbors. The intense disparity between our communities is far removed Eden’s shalom.
Peace on Earth
On a holy night two thousand years ago, God reached down to touch the earth with His love in the form of Jesus Christ, showing us how to live in the places He created. Place matters so much to God that He sent Jesus to physically dwell among us, teaching us to heal and love each other in the earthly places He prepared for us. As Jesus walked with us, He showed us the possibility of peace on earth. And in His sacrificial death for our sins, He redeemed our brokenness, setting the renewal of creation in motion by empowering us to be placemakers of the Kingdom, filled with the Holy Spirit to reconcile all things with the love of Christ.
Peace on earth, in the places we call home, requires spatial awareness. As we partner with God to redeem our relationships and our world, we must have eyes to geographically see injustice and human suffering. Jesus went to the places no one else wanted to go and talked with the people no one else wanted to talk to. An incarnational model of ministry requires us to bring love and hope to restore the places and people that have been marginalized, exploited, and forgotten. As Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” Every neighborhood and every ecosystem matters to the Kingdom of God, and no place is outside of the reach of redemption. Placemaking to bring peace on earth redeems our streets, our land, and our souls with God’s grace.
Until New Jerusalem
At the end of time, the original placemaker will return to eternally live with us in the holy city of the new heavens and new earth. The earthly places we’ve made will be redeemed when Christ returns, and New Jerusalem will eternally declare the glory of God. We wait for Jesus to take us to the heavenly places He has prepared for us, but God has not called us to live in earthly places simply to wait. Until Christ returns, we partner with Him to build the Kingdom here, stewarding and creating places in every square inch of earth that give glory to God. We build beautiful buildings that honor the Creator and creation. We create shared spaces that bring neighbors of all walks of life together in peace and understanding. We design equitable communities that care for the poor, the disabled, the immigrants, and the elderly. And we look to New Jerusalem for our inspiration. Place matters eternally because it’s our shared home, now and forevermore. Blessed are the placemakers, for they create just and loving homes for the children of God.
Photo Credit: New York Times