Out of all the coverage I saw yesterday of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire there was one quote that really stuck out.
Shepherd Smith was interviewing a witness to the blaze. The woman was distraught. By the time the interview was over, she was in tears – too emotional to talk. But when she was talking she said something that I found very troubling.
“It’s like watching a person burn.”
The Cathedral at Notre Dame was a beautiful building. It was an important building. But it was not the church. And it was not like watching a person burn.
Christians know that the true church is a body, not a building (Colossians 1:18). That is, Christ’s church is made up of the people of God, not bricks, wooden beams, and stained glass windows. I say that, not to be disrespectful to the architectural masterpiece that was destroyed yesterday or to agitate those for whom that building carries a measure of significance. Rather, I write these words to highlight the power and the permanence of Christ’s church.
Buildings, even the best and most historic, come and go. But Christ’s church stands forever. Throughout the history of Christianity, many church buildings have burned for a variety of reasons. Some have been the result of accidents and others have burned at the hands of hateful people. Regardless of the event, no harm was done to the actual church. Only the building was destroyed.
We must be careful when assigning significance to inanimate objects that trumps the dignity of human beings. Watching a building burn is not like watching a person burn. Not all people belong to Christ’s church but all people are made in the image of God. That means that they have value and dignity. They are infinitely more important than buildings. So too is Christ’s church.
I can understand the sadness that many felt yesterday as they watched the destruction of that beautiful building. But that sadness makes no sense if it is not eclipsed by a sadness over the destruction we see on a daily basis to those who have been created in God’s image.
The destruction of the unborn, and now even the just born, should sadden us.
The harm done to people based on their ethnicity should sadden us.
It should sadden us to watch drug abuse ravage our neighbors.
Our hearts should be heavy for the lonely, the depressed, and the anxious.
It is significant that this fire occurred on the week that we specifically celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ did not die for a building. He died for his people – the church. And he actively works on the behalf of his people, not necessarily the buildings that they gather in.
A fantastic building was destroyed yesterday and that is a terrible thing. But the church was not destroyed. It will last forever. As history has shown us, flames consume buildings but they only make the church stronger.