Hope in the ruins
“He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
—Ecclesiastes 3:11b NIV
As my eye doctor entered the examination room, he asked if I heard of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris. That seemed to be the question of the day around the office at work and in the doctor’s office as well. It was a question first asked to me as I finished up my lunch and received a text from a friend who is on vacation with his wife in Paris. News quickly spread across the internet and friends on social media began to mourn as the beautiful building suffered significant damage from the fire. As the conversation with my doctor continued, he began to lament at all the lost history and the building itself which is a beautiful piece of architecture. His stern voice nearly cracked as he shared the story of his visit last year with his son.
On my drive home I began to wonder why we feel the loss of a building on an emotional level. I also had a moment at work after I heard the news. I remembered when I visited Paris and took the time to stop by and observe the outside of the building. The amount of detail was stunning.
The Notre Dame Cathedral started to be built in the 1160s. That’s over 850 years ago! It has withstood the course of history including the French Revolution, World War II, and many years before, in between, and after. However, seeing the flames topple the spire gave me the reality that human monuments do fail—regardless of how valuable they are to us. No matter how precious to the human inventory, the course of time will change the landscape and, unfortunately, form new ruins. We even go to great lengths to artificially preserve history. As the evening concluded in Paris, the president of France vowed in a speech to rebuild the site.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 points us to a reason why we feel the way we do when we see history destroyed. We are reminded that God formed us with eternity in our hearts. It’s something that we long for, and seeing a building that has existed since the Middle Ages go up in flames takes a bit of the world out of us and replaces it with our true desire. It is a painful process especially for me since I love history. At the time of writing people are continuing to speculate the fate of one of the most precious relics housed in the cathedral—the Crown of Thorns. As Holy Week continues and we prepare for Easter, we can lament over the loss of a beautiful cathedral. After all, it is a house of worship. However, in true form, Easter reminds us of a greater hope which is found in Christ. Although the building will be rebuilt, Jesus is still building his church just as he promised to Peter in Matthew 16.
“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.“
—Hebrews 3:6 NIV