Crumbled Have Spires in Every Land
In case you haven't looked at the news in the past 24 hours, the famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris has suffered a terrible fire. Reactions have been... well... mixed. The Christian satire news site Babylon Bee accurately posted this article, pointing out how quickly we try to read into and interpret the meaning behind disasters. In short, their observation is that we tend to read into such events whatever confirms our existing beliefs.
Scripture doesn't call us to explain the meaning behind disasters - in fact, it seems Christ warned us against such an attitude in Luke 13:1-5. Only God can say for sure why things come to pass, and unless he has clearly revealed it to us, we should not be so presumptuous as to speak for him.
One reaction, however, that we as Christians may struggle with is watching a church building burn. Whether it is Notre Dame, or one of the ten other French churches that recently suffered vandalism and arson, or one of the three Louisiana churches recently burned out of racial hatred, it is distressing to think of a house of worship being destroyed. Years ago I had the sad experiencing of watching on the news as my childhood church burned to the ground due to arson. I had the weighty burden of being scheduled to preach to that church the following Sunday, as we met in a nearby cafeteria. It is hard not to attach emotional and even spiritual significance to architecture. God himself appreciates architecture, so much that entire chapters of Scripture are devoted to prescribing and describing the tabernacle, the temple, and even the New Jerusalem.
But the buildings themselves are not the embodiment of the Kingdom of God. In the recent action comedy "Thor: Ragnarok," the superhero Thor is faced the with prospect of seeing, and perhaps even causing, the destruction of Asgard, his homeland. But his father and friends remind him, until finally he himself understands, "Asgard is not a place. Asgard is a people." If the people persevere, then Asgard continues, regardless of what happens to a specific place.
The church of God is not contained in any building, no matter how historic, beautiful, awe-inspiring, or sentimental. The true building is the body of God's people, the house of living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 2:19-22). We can mourn the damage to or loss of a building, but in the end, it is just a building.
There is an old and unfamiliar hymn that expresses this well. And as the spire of Notre Dame fell in flames yesterday, the words of this hymn came to mind:
Built on the rock the church doth stand, even when steeples are falling;
crumbled have spires in every land, bells still are chiming and calling;
calling the young and old to rest, calling the souls of men distressed,
longing for life everlasting.
Surely in temples made with hands God, the Most High is not dwelling;
high in the heav'ns his temple stands, all earthly temples excelling.
Yet he who dwells in heav'n above deigns to abide with us in love,
making our bodies his temple.
We are God's house of living stones, built for his own habitation;
he fills our hearts, his humble thrones, granting us life and salvation.
Were two or three to seek his face, he is their midst would show his grace,
blessings upon them bestowing.
Yet in this house, an earthly frame, Jesus his children is blessing;
higher we come to praise his name, faith in our Savior confessing.
Jesus to us his Spirit sent, making with us his covenant,
granting his children the kingdom.
Now we may gather with our King, e'en in the lowliest dwelling;
praises to him we there may bring, his wondrous mercy forth-telling.
Jesus his grace to us accords, spirit and life are all his words;
his truth doth hallow the temple.