Paris’s Burning Cathedral Is an Apt Metaphor

Nathanael Winkler

At the beginning of this year’s Holy Week, of all times, a fire broke out in Notre Dame de Paris. The media reacted with dismay. People cried. Many prayed in front of the burning building. French President Emmanuel Macron immediately announced that he would have the Cathedral rebuilt. Announcements of donations to the project came from around the world.

That’s remarkable. When terrorists in Africa murder people made in the image of God, worldwide horror is limited. But when a manmade structure in the West burns, grief seems to know no bounds.

It’s obvious: Notre Dame is more than just a building; it’s a symbol. And it stands for something that is dwindling in our day, and is also burning in a sense: Christianity, which has long dominated the West with its values. In this respect, Paris’s burning cathedral is an apt metaphor. It represents the Christianity of today: a beautiful facade, but without substance and without a message. And that’s why it’s vanishing.

The church was built between 1163 and 1345. Six generations constructed it over roughly 200 years. Its restoration was expected to take five years. Notre Dame is one of the earliest Gothic church buildings in France; it’s also considered a Paris landmark.

The two natural stone towers are 69 meters (about 226 ft) high. The inside of the nave is 130 meters long, 48 meters wide, and 35 meters high (426 x 157 x 115 ft); it can accommodate up to 10,000 people. The cathedral should symbolize the greatness of God. Remarkably, however, Christianity was hardly mentioned as the media mourned the burning of a Western cultural asset. Notre Dame de Paris, the church’s complete name, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Paris. Its name means “Our Lady of Paris.” Notre Dame is thus a church building dedicated to Mary, the so-called “mother of God.”

The building is an architectural masterpiece, second to none in beauty. Nevertheless, all its external splendor is in vain unless God the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth within it. The first temple in Jerusalem was covered in gold worth about 11 billion dollars. And yet God Himself said after the inauguration of that very temple, “But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: Then

I will cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people: And at this house, which is high, everyone that passeth it shall be astonished, and shall hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the LORD done thus unto this land, and to this house? And they shall answer, Because they forsook the LORD their God, who brought forth their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and have taken hold upon other gods, and have worshipped them, and served them: therefore hath the LORD brought upon them all this evil” (1 Kings 9:6-9).

These words make us think when we consider the burning of Notre Dame and the state of Christianity today. About the second temple, Jesus said, “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt 24:2).

Notre Dame may well be rebuilt, but in the end it’s just a relic of the past without any real hope to impart. The Lord said to the church of Sardis in Revelation, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev 3:1). Whoever is dead is without hope, lost and blind from a spiritual perspective. Our faithful God forbid that we prove to be just a beautiful facade without inner life. Maranatha—our Lord, come!

Midnight Call - 06/2019

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