Atlanta has always been home. At least in the greater metropolitan sense. Even when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, home was southward. I love and hate this city all at the same time in a confused teenager kind of way that is strangely happy to hold both emotions together. It is, if anything, an awkward and embarrassed love that would rather disguise as disdain simply out of fear of disappointment.
Atlanta has long lived at the crossroads of despair and hope—something new attempting to rise above the lingering clouds of a devastating and shameful past.
So when the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl, the first major championship game or series or anything of the sort the city had seen in nearly two decades, it seemed obvious that this was the moment to put down the masquerade and to unashamedly embrace the city. Atlanta was in the spotlight of the national media, adorned with the long languishing hopes of all those who call her home. Like my sheepish affection for her, Atlanta has long lived at the crossroads of despair and hope—something new attempting to rise above the lingering clouds of a devastating and shameful past (and in many ways still, present). The Super Bowl provided opportunity for the city to rally to the cause of hope—to forget all the troubles and disappointments of the past and dare to dream of just a taste of glory.
Yet instead of glory, it was the familiar bitterness of disappointment. There was no rise out of the ashes. Instead, it seemed a return to the ashes. Indeed, this is the fate of all the world and those who dwell there in. “For you are dust and to dust you shall return” are the ominous words of God spoken to Adam after his fall from glory—a return that has become our own. We, too, like Adam try to fashion our own glory—whether in Super Bowl arenas or office cubicles—and are forced to reckon with the hopelessness of our efforts. Even if the Falcons emerged the victor, disappointment would remain in the nagging question, “Is this really all there is?” Disappointment proves again an inescapable reality. And it hangs heavy in a city that banked the hope of a few decades in vain.
There is hope because Christ, who like all men returned to the ashes but who unlike any man rose out of the ashes, stands as the King of a new city “whose designer and builder is God.”
Yet there is hope. Amid all of the frustrations and failures that fuel our disappointment, there is hope because Christ, who like all men returned to the ashes but who unlike any man rose out of the ashes, stands as the King of a new city “whose designer and builder is God.” Therefore, our hope can be anchored in something far more secure than the outcome of a football game and our joy can be far more enduring than the passing showers of confetti. To reframe a quote by C.S. Lewis, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this city can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another city.” In The Last Battle, Lewis writes:
Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among the mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the glass there may have been a looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different—deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked like it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.
It was the unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried, ”I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia so much is because it sometimes looked a little like this. Come further up, come further in!”
For all that I love about Atlanta, I will love the new Jerusalem all the more. It is the home for which I truly long. No more must desire be tempered for every longing will find its fulfillment on the day when, as a bride adorned for her husband, the holy city from heaven falls into the eager, hope-filled embrace of this present world to unleash a flood of renewal and restoration. No more will there be disappointment of any kind for the former things so pervasive in this present world will be banished and undone. No more should there be hope placed in worldly things for the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ will appear, and he will dwell with us. And so it shall be forever and ever, world without end.