One place was the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City, which was completely destroyed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. The other happened just last week when Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris went up in flames.
Fortunately, Notre Dame was not completely destroyed, and the French seem to be optimistic that it can be repaired. However, the live pictures that were transmitted around the world with the well-known Paris landmark on fire are not easily erased from our minds. Nevertheless, whether it was a faulty electrical circuit or something else, it will never be the same.
Those two towering edifices, the Trade Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, were tremendously impressive structures. You could not stand near them without marveling at what humans are capable of building. And yet, as magnificent as both of these buildings were, they, along with all human creations, can come down quite easily.
The truth of the matter is that nothing made by human hands lasts forever. I have a friend who says, “Live life and watch things fall apart.” And they do fall apart.
That does not mean we shouldn’t build things. Indeed we should! God has given us minds and skills to use in crafting things. I like to think of that as being because we are created in the image of God. As God creates things, he endows us with the ability to create things, as well.
My two oldest grandsons love to sketch and draw pictures. They are really quite good at it. But even after a few years of hanging on our refrigerator, the drawings are starting to fade and even the paper they were drawn on is starting to fade. That is just how it is with life. Things wear out and simply do not last forever.
Nor do we last forever. Our bodies wear out as we age and eventually they fall apart. But God meant us for eternity. That is the message of Easter! That is the great Christian hope which has given assurance to so many over the ages. It’s what the old gospel hymn proclaims when it says: “Because he (Christ) lives, I too shall live.” Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
Those two great edifices, the Twin Towers and Notre Dame Cathedral, stood as monuments to two very different allegiances. The former was built to glorify the god of making money and the latter was built to glorify the God of the universe. Their destructions were, without a doubt, terrible tragedies. Both shock us and make us sit up and take notice.
But for me, the horrific fire at Notre Dame Cathedral may have an even deeper human consequence. For in Notre Dame Cathedral we see man reaching up to God, honoring him with the best of human art and architecture. In this day and age, that may not seem all that important to many people.
This 850-year-old cathedral in the heart of a secular Europe had for all practical purposes become an artistic relic of the past. But it is so much more than that! Yes, it was a bygone era that built this church to the glory of God. But perhaps its destruction is a wake-up call to the human race saying that we all need a God to glorify. We all need to look beyond ourselves. Our highest aim in life ought not to be honoring ourselves but in honoring the One who truly deserves honor: the One who is our Creator, Savior and friend.
Life is not just about me and what I can get out of it for myself. Instead, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Notre Dame Cathedral in its own way attempted to do that. The challenge for us is to do the same. Building for the glory of God does not just apply to cathedrals.
About the writer: The Rev. John Koedyker is the pastor or congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.