Some things in the Bible make no sense whatsoever. Take this bit from the very end of the Bible, Revelation 21:18, describing the new place which Jesus will make for those who love Him when He returns.
The City was pure gold, as clear as glass.
Perhaps we should assume, that therefore John, the writer of Revelation, didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. If he’d understood the chemical and physical properties of gold and glass more accurately, he would have recognised how silly his statement was. More than that, logically, if his description is so obviously flawed scientifically, then we might surmise that the glorious city of God which he describes in this way, cannot logically exist.
So left with a Bible that hopes for such a silly City, with gold so pure it becomes clear as glass, what should we do? Some people have at times suggested that John obviously didn’t see anything of the kind, but that instead he’s using a metaphor. The clarity of the glass represents authenticity and cleanliness, since nothing dirty hides within the transparency of the glass. Gold represents something precious – the city is one filled with great value and wealth.
But logically, practically, the value of gold is hard to see. It’s a relatively soft metal, not like good hard iron. It’s a poor electrical conductor, compared to copper. What tangible, rational function does it perform, that justifies its value? It seems one of the main values is its rarity, but there are plenty of other metals that are just as rare that don’t get people quite so excited (oh, and by the way, John’s city in Revelation makes gold rather commonplace, which logically would undercut its rarity, and thus its value – another fine reason why the passage is ridiculous).
Some might suggest that the reason gold has been valued so highly is because it’s pretty. It sparkles and shines, it doesn’t tarnish, and thus it stimulates our eyes in a way that makes us feel nice. But, since that’s such an arbitrary, irrational and impractical thing, the only thing sillier than saying that there’s a city with gold as clear as glass, is to say that gold is more valuable than plain old glass in the first place.
No, if the city was really going to be so special, it should be made practical. Made of strong steel wrapped in strong concrete, with copper wires running all the way through. Gold, and the beauty it supposedly provides, thus has no purpose here.
I’ve met people who think like that. Rationalists whose imaginations seemed as grey as a steel and concrete wall.
I’ve been to cities like that.
They felt like hell.
Maybe the reason John wrote about a city made of gold so pure it was clear as glass, wasn’t because he was using a metaphor. Maybe what he saw was so utterly, incomprehensibly beautiful, that these were the closest words he could find to convey the vision. Maybe God’s infinite power-for-beauty and creativity means that He can transcend the rules of our existence, and in that glorious future, He can make gold that shines with all that yellow lustre and yet is transparent and pure and clear and wonderful as well.
Such a city has no place for atheistic rationalism, slathering concrete over its shining gold walls. Fortunately, I suspect less and less of us have a place for that either. Rationalism has its place in our society, but when it denies beauty, we instinctively rebel. Because we are made by a beautiful Creator to be beautiful creations that see and appreciate beauty, and who long deep within us to experience His beauty ever more deeply. Then, we hear of that City made of gold so pure it is as clear as glass, and our instinct is not cynicism and dismissal.
Instead, our instinct is a pleasant ache, an anticipation, a hope. Our imaginations try to catch a glimpse, all the while knowing we have to wait. The City of God is the home of the imaginers, the visionaries, the artists, and the hopeful. Blessed are all those who will enter its gates.