Many of us this past week watched coverage of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on fire. We were shocked and even horrified by the images. Even though we’re not Catholic we felt pain over the thought of losing such a majestic building. We know that Catholicism is full of error and false teachings and that genuine Christianity is not in any way tied to a building, no matter how magnificent. So why did this tragedy have such a powerful effect on us Protestant Gospel-minded folks?
I suspect there are at least a couple of reasons that we mourn the destruction and even rejoice that the building was not completely destroyed. The first is our longing for beauty. Catholic or not, we must all admit the Cathedral of Notre-Dame was a stunningly beautiful work of art. The image of God in us seeks and appreciates this beauty. In my evangelism work I’m discovering that many are using tattoos to introduce beauty into what they would consider an ugly world. Architecture is certainly a means of lifting our hearts and eyes upward towards majesty, transcendence, and glory. Yes, again, we know the church isn’t necessarily linked to a building, but if something is beautiful it speaks of a Creator who made all things good.
The second reason for our sorrow regarding this fire is the sense of loss. Deep down we all want permanence, we want things to last, we’re weary of feeling that life is so transitory. This cathedral was dedicated in 1345, so for nearly 700 years this building has been in place and, in some ways, has helped define Western culture. And even though it wasn’t a complete loss and will surely be repaired to some degree, it will never again be what it was. We would feel the same way if an Egyptian pyramid was leveled, if the Taj Mahal burned down, or if the Great Wall of China was bulldozed. This is why we fight even in our local communities to see historic buildings protected and preserved. We want things to last!
Please don’t think I’m trying to use this event as an object lesson … that nothing is permanent except for God and the Bible. I appreciate the words of Christian architect David Gruesel, “Only a true Philistine could say of the fire, ‘Ah, it was just a bunch of wood and shingles and some pointy spire.’” It’s truly nothing less than a tragedy.
Yet as those who do trust in Christ, we have, in Him, the two things for which we long - beauty and permanence. Especially this week of remembering Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection we behold once again the beauty of His perfect life of obedience and atoning death on the cross. We’re comforted that our lives are given permanence, even unto eternity, because of His death and resurrection. So because we already truly possess what our hearts long for, let us mourn well the destruction of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Let us pray that this beautiful work of art may be restored and once again speak of God’s beauty in a dark and broken world.