John Stonestreet: As Notre Dame Burned, What Exactly Were We Mourning?

John Stonestreetthe host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.


I’ve learned a lot from Glenn Sunshine, the longest-serving faculty member of the Colson Fellows Program, and a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University. Glenn not only gets history, he also really gets worldview and, even better, how worldview and history are related.

On Monday night, as I was trying to make sense of the tragedy of the burning of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, I learned again from Dr. Sunshine. Part of my sadness was that I’ve never visited this wonder of the world, where Henry VI, King of England, was also crowned King of France in 1431, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804, and Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909. But there was more to my sadness, and the sadness of so many who, like me, were mourning the potential loss of a place they’ve never seen.

Glenn’s comments, posted on Facebook, are worth quoting:

I am a historian. I revere the past. Artefacts that allow us to touch the centuries touch a deep place in my heart. Having lived in Paris, I feel a personal connection to Notre Dame: Not only is it an 850-year-old artifact full of beauty but it is also the site of some very happy memories for me with students and especially with my family. My wife nursed our firstborn in Notre Dame. I have been in shock and mourning all day over the fire. And yet … I have also been thinking about C.S. Lewis’s words from “The Weight of Glory”: “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.” My reason tells me he is right, but my emotions don’t agree. To take it a step further, if the thing that gives human life value is the Image of God, if we are really the crown of God’s creation, isn’t human life more important than the ancient artefacts that I revere? Why then do I get more upset at the loss of things whose longevity is “to ours as the life of a gnat” than I am at the dehumanization of people made in God’s image, at abuse and murder? As horrified as I am by those things, why do I feel the loss of ancient artefacts more? I don’t have a good answer, and I’m not looking for one, but pondering the significance of the fire at Notre Dame has gotten me thinking about these questions.

I think we do well to ponder these questions. I remember, after a fire ravaged the signature building of a college where I once worked, hearing the wise words of our President Bill Brown (now the Dean of the Colson Fellows Program): “We didn’t lose anything important.” He meant, of course, no human lives were lost. Bill went on to lead an incredible recovery and renovation project, and the college went on.

I think Bill’s words were spot on in the context of that fire, but I also sense with Glenn Sunshine that, though the loss of lives would have been infinitely more tragic, we rightly mourn what we witnessed this week in Paris.

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Source: Christian Headlines