Today marks the one-year anniversary of the blaze that consumed the spire and roof of the 850-year-old cathedral. Officials say the fire came within half an hour of burning the building completely to the ground.
The bell will ring at 8 p.m. Paris time, coinciding with the hour when Parisians applaud from their windows and balconies in support of frontline staff risking their lives to treat COVID-19 patients. The pandemic has killed nearly sixteen thousand people in France.
“The restoration of Notre-Dame . . . is a symbol of the resilience of our people, of their capacity to overcome hardships, and to recover,” said President Emmanuel Macron today. He reiterated his promise to rebuild the cathedral within five years.
Work is running months behind schedule, delayed by winter storms and now the pandemic. Nonetheless, as the retired army general leading the restoration project said, “Our objective is to prepare the cathedral for mass on April 16, 2024.”
A coal taken from the fire
More than 2,200 people in America died from the coronavirus outbreak yesterday, which is a one-day record. In the face of such a threat, hope is vital to life.
We are made by God to need help beyond ourselves. Just as babies cannot survive without the protection and provision of their parents, so we cannot do life alone. Even if we could find a way to produce our own food, shelter, protection, and medical care, we need other people psychologically and socially.
This is why social distancing is so difficult for us—not just economically but personally. Psychologists say social isolation poses a significant danger for mortality. It is associated with depression and a lack of meaning in life. And those who have lost their jobs are understandably feeling dangerous physical, emotional, and relational stress.
A coal taken from the fire goes out. A coal in touch with other coals stays lit.
“We will put cedars in their place”
These Special Editions are intended to help us fight our pandemic fears with faith. Today, we’ll discuss our tendency to respond to fear not by turning to God but by trusting in ourselves.
Isaiah foresaw a day when “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). Here would be the source of this “great light”: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v. 6).
Seven centuries later, Matthew was inspired to see Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled in the earthly ministry of Jesus (Matthew 4:14–16). As a result, we can know that Jesus alone can provide the wisdom, strength, compassion, and peace we need so desperately.
But the way into his kingdom is countercultural: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Matthew 4:17). We must repent of depending on our own wisdom, strength, compassion, and peace if we would experience his.
Tragically, it is human nature to depend on human nature. When we face a crisis, we are tempted to try even harder to do even better in our own resources and resolve.
That’s why the Lord warned those “who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: ‘The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place'” (Isaiah 9:9–10). He grieved that “those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up” (v. 16).
Even Almighty God cannot lead those who will not be led or heal those who will not be healed.
Why we should practice “all three virtues”
Name your fear today. Admit that you cannot defeat it yourself. Now turn it over to your Lord, telling him that you are trusting him to be your Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Ask him to give you the wisdom, strength, encouragement, and peace you need.
As you expect him to answer your prayer, know that his response may well come through other people. As the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), we extend the earthly ministry of Jesus today. Be alert to notes and other words of encouragement and support you receive. Look for ways the Holy Spirit is prompting your sisters and brothers to be the presence of Jesus in your life.
And know that, often, the best way to feel encouraged is to be an encourager. Studies show that spending money to benefit others leads to greater happiness than spending it on ourselves. Research also indicates that volunteering and spending money to help others increases our sense that life is meaningful.
Look for ways to help someone with their fears and struggles today. As we “bear one another’s burdens,” we “fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Brother Lawrence noted: “Many things are possible for the person who has hope. Even more is possible to the person who has faith. And still more is possible for the person who knows how to love. But everything is possible for the person who practices all three virtues.”
Let’s practice all three today, to the glory of God.
NOTE: My new website paper, “Life After the Pandemic: What May Happen and How to Prepare Biblically” is now available. I discuss this issue from medical, financial, cultural, and spiritual perspectives. I invite you to download it for free here.