The burning of Notre Dame is tragic, as I noted earlier on my Facebook account: The burning of Notre Dame Cathedral is emblematic of the Church’s pervasive loss of historical Christianity in the main. There is no sense of the transcendent, or the layered reality of historical teaching (sacra doctrina) found within the halls of the ancient Church. All things have been domesticated, and essentially burned to the ground of our own subjective and culturally conditioned desires as Christians.” And it is out of this overly-domesticated sense of the Gospel that I don’t think many evangelical (and other) Christians appreciate just what something like Notre Dame symbolizes.
But why don’t many Christians appreciate what Notre Dame symbolizes? The branch of Christianity I grew up in is shaped by a commitment to a dispensationalist hermeneutic. This hermeneutic, as many of us know, operates from a dualistic (even Platonic) conception of eternity and time. One impact this has is that ‘this world’ is viewed as a shadowy existence that only shadows forth the really real existence back up in eternal form. The ultimate goal for this perspective is to gnostically escape this world, and start the eternal state [cf. Rev. 21–22] (but only after the Great Tribulation and Millennium). So, if this is the case, we can see why some Christians would have an indifference to ‘these worldly’ sorts of concrete realities; such as we have in the architectural masterpiece of something like the Notre Dame Cathedral. If this world, and all it contains, is ‘going to hell-in-a-handbasket,’ then who really cares if a structure like Notre Dame burns to the ground; as long as no souls are lost in the process, that’s all that matters.
But what if that isn’t the biblical view? What if the biblical view, on the analogy of the incarnation, thinks that ‘this world’ is in fact a good? What if the Christian perspective actually maintains that there is a continuity between this creation and the next? I would argue that based upon the analogy of the incarnation, where “eternity” and time are united in the hypostatic union of Divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, that this creation is good and redeemable. I would argue further, based on the analogy of the incarnation, that there is a continuity between this current iteration of creation and the one to come in the consummate re-creation that will be realized in the eschaton of God’s life in Christ. So, I would argue that Christians need to operate with a doctrine of creation that thinks from the eschatological reality it has in Christ. In other words, I would argue that creation’s ultimate purpose has always already been to be redeemed and recreated in the Christ event. The implication of this, one of many, is that there is purposiveness to this creation—inclusive of art, architectural feats, culture, industry so on and so forth—that finds continuous reality in and through the grace of God in Christ. Meaning that even something like the Notre Dame Cathedral carries forth the ingenuity that God has placed in His good and renewed creation as those who constructed it did so from the resources that God gave them to bear witness to His beauty through the artistry they participated in and from as they sought to glorify God in this architectural wonder. In other words, Notre Dame typifies the sort of good that will be carried into the eschaton, precisely because it is a work of artistry that finds its genesis in image-of the image bearers who did what they did from participatio Christi and as they were seeking to please and magnify the living God.
Just to drive this point home further, let me point us to the biblical text itself. Here is what the Revelator thinks about the continuity between this creation and the one to come:
22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
In particular notice verse 24. ‘The kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.’ What do you think that entails? Might the glory of the kings kingdom entail the works of art, architecture, industriousness their respective cultures produced as they participated in and from the glory or weightiness of God’s life for them in Christ? If we were to do a study of just exactly what ‘their glory and honor’ entailed in the Second Temple Judaism that this book was written in, I’d be willing to bet a lot that this honor and glory entailed just exactly what I just noted (indeed, just read the Old Testament, and see what sort of stuff shaped the glory of the various kingdoms therein).
This is what I am getting at. So next time you want to de-emphasize the value of something like Notre Dame Cathedral, and other like realities, think about these things from a genuinely Christian perspective. God in Christ came to redeem not just ghostly souls, but embodied persons who create things as they operate as images of the image of God in Christ. Do people matter more than buildings, ultimately? Yes. But that is a rather weighted and relative scale vis-à-vis God. The ingenuity and work that went into building something like Notre Dame Cathedral didn’t come from empty suits, it came from flesh and blood people working as unto God rather than unto men. As such, it reflects a work of art that magnifies and bears witness to the living God. As such, it has redemptive characteristics that God came to save not destroy. If this is so we ought to ache as God aches when death and destruction rather than life and shalom seem to reign.
There are other ways to look at all of this as well. But this represents one way.
 Revelation 21, NKJV.