Many years ago, I had the privilege to visit Notre Dame de Paris. It was an awe-inspiring sight, a triumph of Gothic architecture. Beloved by millions, it stood as an icon of France and France’s Catholic heritage. Now ravaged by fire, it will be rebuilt, ostensibly as a sign of France’s resilience and commitment to cultural excellence.
There is a deeper problem here, symbolised by the fire in the cathedral – France’s anti-religious secularism and ethno-political turmoil. France has turned its back on God. The presence of Christians from a variety of denominations in France does not significantly alter the big picture of apostasy and decay.
Lest the reader think my judgment is harsh, I would say that I hold much the same view of the United Kingdom at present and speak as someone with partially French blood. I love France and the UK, but I do not love what they have become. I am concerned about the future of the two nations, but I retain the belief that God, with whom all things are possible, can bring about repentance and transformation within the hearts of the French and the British.
That such a conflagration should happen within Holy Week may be significant. In the Easter narrative, this week marks a time of separation and judgment. Jesus Christ declared to the Judean religious authorities of His day that their rejection of Him would have consequences. The Temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. Vast numbers of Jews were slaughtered, exiled, and enslaved. The Temple, like the cathedral, was destroyed by fire.
Josephus understood the devastation of the First Jewish Revolt as a recapitulation of the fall of Judah to Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BC. God had mercy on His people Israel and stayed faithful to His covenant with them. He brought them back in the days of Cyrus and subsequently. In the light of history, Josephus had hope that God would one day restore Israel.
We see a glimmer of that hope today in the survival of the Jewish people and the re-establishment of the state of Israel in its ancient homeland. The story is not complete, however (see Joel Richardson’s discussion of the “Second Exodus”). The Temple has not been rebuilt; the religious authorities do not recognise Jesus as their Messiah, their God, Priest, Prophet, and King. Jesus has not returned and is not seated upon His throne in Jerusalem.
As He left the Temple, following His denunciation of the religious authorities, Jesus declared that the Temple would be desolate and they would not see Him again until they learned to cry sincerely, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” Just so, France will be desolate until she learns to cry the same. Will she? Veronika West thinks so. I leave it to the reader to watch and pray.