Lessons From Notre Dame

Some say the Notre Dame Cathedral is the symbol of Christianity in France, and even Europe. Maybe, maybe not. The name is French for “Our lady”. The church was named after Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was built for almost two centuries between 1163 and 1345. It’s an architectural icon for its pioneering use of rib vault, flying buttress, and those huge colourful windows. Her two spires were the tallest structures in Paris until completion of Eiffel tower in 1889. During the French revolution it was desecrated and much of her religious imagery was destroyed. Interestingly Napoleon Bonaparte was coronated at the Notre Dame. That was in 1804. Two hundred years later, on April 15, 2019 the cathedral caught fire.

There are speculations as to the cause of the fire. Some opine it was an electrical short circuit. But by the time the fire was over the spire and the roof were destroyed. Multiple French billionaires took up the gauntlet in the drive for donation to restore the cathedral. The first major donation came from Francois-Henri Pinault. He controls the group that owns Gucci and Saint Laurent. He pledged 100 million euros. Hours after, his rival Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man and owner of Louis Vuitton announced he would donate 200 million euros. One-upmanship? The Bettencourt-Meyer family, largest shareholder in L’Oreal pledged a combined 200 million euros too, alongside the global cosmetics group. It’s a wise brand and reputation management move by those three families. The Notre Dame is a national symbol.
Design proposals were invited from architects for the damaged roof and spire, and reputable architectural firms sent in proposals. For instance Forster + Partners, the award winning architectural firm sent in a glass roof proposal. The firm designed the famed Apple Park as well as Wembley Stadium. But soon designs that have been rightly described by Dezeen, an online architecture magazine as “outrageous” and “ridiculous” began to emerge online. The Stockholm studio, Ulf Mejergren Architects for example wants the roof converted into a swimming pool, with “unmatched views over Paris.” The pool will be surrounded by the 12 statues of the apostles. Those statues had earlier been removed before the fire. This pool, the studio said would be a space for self-reflection. Obviously, that’s a double entendre. The Brazilian studio Entrequadra Vovas Midias in their proposal envisioned a cathedral emblazoned with Louis Vuitton logo because of the donation from Bernard Arnault. The Louis Vuitton motif will be spread across the roof but the logo will be placed over those famous rose windows and on flags flying from the towers of the cathedral. An unknown designer proposed a multi storey car park above the roof. Another designer envisioned the cathedral as a McDonald’s outlet, with the brand’s yellow arches installed on the roof. And yet another designer proposed the whole cathedral be turned into a big circus.
These outrageous design proposals raise a number of questions. Are the designers disrespectful of God? Are they disdainful of religion? Are the proposals allegories of the state of the church in Europe? Is the church in that region a giant circus? Is the proposal to convert the cathedral into a McDonald outlet a progression of the conversion of church buildings into entertainment centres in Europe? Should we take the proposal to convert the roof of the cathedral into a reflecting pool a call for self-reflection by Christians in Europe? Does the West even need God? We can make a case for the need for God in Africa. Africa is poor. When you’re poor you need God. The “Give us this day our daily bread” line in the Lord’s Prayer becomes real! Might the death of faith in Europe have been caused by prosperity? In other words, has the church in Europe gone Laodicean? Jesus famously said this of the Laodicean church: “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Revelation 3:17 NLT. And isn’t it ironic that Africa now sends missionaries to Europe. Europe used to send missionaries to Africa. David Livingstone, Mary Slessor, Henry Townsend… These were notable missionaries to Africa. They are legendary for the work they did for God. What happened to the offspring of those who brought Christianity to Africa?
The truth however is, God is not overly hung up on physical temple. Once the heart of the people depart from him he cares less if it’s razed to the ground, no matter the cost. God is too rich to care about the cost of construction of a temple. Don’t forget gold to God is mere chemistry, an item on the Periodic Table.
The most expensive temple in Bible times was Solomon’s temple. Must have cost billions to build in today’s money. God gave Solomon some personal guarantees on that temple: “For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy – a place where my name will be honoured forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” 2 Chronicles 7:16 NLT. But then God gave a warning: “If you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honour my name. I will make it an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ “And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why he has brought all these disasters on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:19‭-‬22 NLT. ‬‬‬
That is not saying this is the case with the Notre Dame but at least it gives us insight into how God thinks. In 587 BC that prophecy came to pass. The Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar after the siege on Jerusalem. It was subsequently replaced by a second temple, but in AD 70 the Roman army led by future Emperor Titus laid a four-month siege on Jerusalem and destroyed both the city and the Temple. ‬
God is even less hung up on temples in the New Testament. In this dispensation he has relocated into human vessels. Humans are now God’s temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 2:22. Note that this is not saying we shouldn’t build beautiful churches and cathedrals to God’s honour and glory. We may but we should know God’s mind-set concerning such. They are useless without true worship.
As per all those mocking architectural ideas for the Notre Dame, God cannot be mocked. He is too powerful. The joke is on us. He will always have the last laugh. Time is on his side. Every mocker expires. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers (ridiculers).” Psalm 1:1 AMP. Don’t scoff at the things of God. You ought to be wary about mocking someone who describes himself as El Shaddai. That’s Hebraic for “God Almighty.” “God Almighty” as a phraseology is actually an overkill. The very essence of God is might. To then refer to God as Almighty is kind of like writing a text in caps, making it bold, underlining it, italising it and highlighting it. The point should not be lost on us: God is power-defined. Even his soft side is a power construct. The word “mercy” will have no meaning without correspondent might. The mercy of God is him stepping down his power, or deploying his power to effectuate kindness to someone in a weak position or situation. It’s the power of God that makes him sovereign. It’s why he can do and undo. Who will question him? “Who could ever have told God what to do or taught him his business? What expert would he have gone to for advice, what school would he attend to learn justice? What god do you suppose might have taught him what he knows, showed him how things work?” Isaiah 40:12‭-‬17 MSG.‬ ‬Sovereignty is an expression of might.‬‬‬
Salvation is founded on God’s sovereignty. God chose to save humans rather than angels. It was a radical choice and a very costly decision. To accomplish salvation God took on humanity: “Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Saviour took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death. It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself – all the pain, all the testing – and would be able to help where help was needed.” Hebrews 2:14‭-‬18 MSG‬. ‬‬‬‬
Bottom line, Jesus knows about your situation, and that’s what makes him the perfect saviour.
Meanwhile Europe continues to unfold according to Bible prophecy.
If you’ll like to know God, please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
© Leke Alder | talk2me@lekealder.com.