God did not want us to leave as few footprints as possible, leaving the earth alone as much as we can. He commanded us instead to spread out, over the whole globe, and bring it all under our influence, to subdue it for its own good, to make it even more fruitful, beautiful, and sustainable, under God’s guidance and by the power he invested in it. We dare not be cowed into relinquishing this role out of shame that we have performed it badly heretofore. We must take it up afresh, do the best we can, and look forward to the shalom that our administration will bring, in concert with Christ’s rule, in the world to come.
It is crucial that we see that we are not living as if Jesus were present now in his earthly ministry, but after that: after the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension; after Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit; after the gospels and the Book of Acts, which record the launching of the church’s distinctive era and mission. We live after the Old Testament and after the career of Jesus in a third era of redemption, the age of the church before the return of Christ in the consummation of history. “It is for your benefit that I go away,” Jesus told his disciples (Jn. 16:7), and we must take him at his word. . . .
“What would Jesus do?” therefore is the wrong question for Christian ethics. If we keep asking it, moreover, we will keep making the perennial mistakes many have made, such as prioritizing church work over daily trades (“because Jesus gave up carpentry for preaching the gospel”); valorizing singleness, at least for clergy (“because Jesus didn’t marry”); and denigrating all involvement in the arts, politics, or sports (“because we never read of Jesus painting a picture or participating in political discussions, much less kicking a ball”). Instead, “What would Jesus want me or us to do, here and now?” is the right question—or, if I may, Who are we, for Jesus Christ, today?
[Bonhoeffer] joined the Abwehr (military intelligence) originally in order to assist surreptitiously in the rescue of Jews and also to engage in political and diplomatic work on behalf of his country. . . . Bonhoeffer played this dangerous game fully. In 1940, upon the fall of France, Eberhard Bethge recalls an announcement being made in a café in a small German town. Everyone lept to their feet, began singing, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” and raised their arms in the Nazi salute. To Bethge’s perplexity, Bonhoeffer raised his arm as well, and then whispered to his friend, “Raise your arm! Are you crazy?” Afterward he said, “We shall have to run risks for very different things now, but not for that salute!” This kind of pragmatism, for Bonhoeffer, is what it meant to serve Christ in the real world.
Those who find their work meaningless and who lack significant personal relationships will find much encouragement in a consumer-oriented society to devote themselves to new forms of gadgetry and to establish a firm decorative control over their limited personal environment. These evasions of freedom, along with the forms of indulgence more usually associated with “sensuality,” must be seen as genuine forms of sin.
. . . We must also identify a form of institutional sin that elicits sensuality or sloth from persons by demanding commitments that preclude responsible attention to the range of choices and responsibilities that they ought to be attending to for themselves. The “up or out,” “publish or perish” career trajectories imposed by businesses, law firms, and academic institutions provide familiar examples of this sort of pressure. . . . Those who yield to these pressures are often pictured as ambitious, “fast-track” achievers whose chief temptation would seem to be to emulate the pride of their seniors and superiors. In fact, however, their achievements are often expressions of sensuality and sloth. The rising executive or scholar abandons the difficult balancing of obligations that marks a life of freedom constrained by human finitude, and substitutes a single set of goals defined by outside authorities.
It is interesting . . . to ask what Lewis thought about cities, those symbols of human social life. Wesley Kort avers, “While Lewis affirms the importance of social spaces that accommodate and stimulate the potentials of persons and grant to persons a sense of being a home, he offers no realistic models of social space equivalent to those he gives for personal spaces and open landscapes.” Compare also the testimonial of Helen Gardner, as Meilander introduces it: “Despite the fact that much of his [academic] work concerned the debt of English literature to the literature of the Renaissance, no vision of ‘cities, large and small, with splendid public monuments’ ever played a large role in his imagination. For Lewis, she suggests, the simple loyalties of the comitatus were never replaced by the more complex loyalties of the ‘city.’” . . .
London itself appears in the Narnia chronicles, but always as negative (particularly in The Magician’s Nephew, but it is also war-torn London from which the children must be sent away in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as well). All of the other cities in the Narnia chronicles are evil—from Charn to Calormen. Hell itself is a city in The Great Divorce, but Heaven is a countryside. I shall leave as homework for Lewis aficionados this question: does anything good happen in a city in any of Lewis’s writings? One wonders if C. S. Lewis himself stood in need of some imaginative conversion by the Bible’s own images of the New Jerusalem.