Notre Dame and Christian Faith in Europe

The very first day I arrived on the mission field, I went to see Notre Dame. In Paris to study French, I couldn’t wait to experience everything Paris had to offer, but Notre Dame called to me first.

Walking in, I felt small.

Cathedrals are designed to draw your gaze towards the heavens. The vaulted ceiling of the nave demands your attention, and your face is automatically lifted up. Notre Dame perfected this idea. It drew my thoughts towards things above, in sharp contrast to how I often live my life with my thoughts on earthly things.

Photo from the IMB Photo Library.

Fear and Comfort

By design, I was supposed to feel small in Notre Dame. The grandeur and glory of the stones were intended to reflect the divine nature and put my frail humanity into context. The sensation was frightening. But when I saw the kaleidoscopic light dance through the southern rose window, I was comforted.

That rose window is now covered in soot.

Journalist Shiv Malik tweeted as the news began to break: “Notre Dame, Paris, is on fire and it feels like the end of the world.” As we watched the centuries-old spire fall, consumed by the flames, it did somehow feel like the end of the world. People around the world felt gut-punched by the sight.

“Perhaps a cynic would comment on the death of Christendom in Western culture. I’m praying for something else. I’m hopeful that, perhaps, this event could mark the beginning of a renewal of Christianity in Europe.”

A Renewal of Christianity

As a church planter in Western Europe, it’s hard not to feel like this all means something. Perhaps a cynic would comment on the death of Christendom in Western culture. I’m praying for something else. I’m hopeful that, perhaps, this event could mark the beginning of a renewal of Christianity in Europe.

Suddenly, Europeans have been stunned into realizing how deeply they care for an old cathedral. God may use the shock—and subsequent wonder—caused by this tragedy to set many on a spiritual journey culminating in their salvation. To most Europeans, God is nonexistent—irrelevant, at best. The work of rekindling vibrant faith here will take a long view of the church. But that is exactly how Notre Dame was built.

A Long View of Work

Construction on Notre Dame began in 1163. The church was completed ninety-seven years later. This meant that every person originally involved in the project—architects, builders, masons, even the pope himself—never lived to see its completion. They began the work in faith that future generations would continue it. They began the work not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of future generations. They had a long view of the work they were doing.

Photo from IMB Photo Library.

Remembering back to that first day on the mission field as I sat in one of Notre Dame’s pews, I committed then to beginning a work in Europe from which I might never see any fruit. I saw it simply as part of the job description of a missionary—to embrace the same long view of the church that the builders of Notre Dame did so many centuries ago.

The redemptive work that God is doing spans farther than a human lifetime. And our call is to faithfully engage in the missionary task year after year—working for that redemption whether we get to see it with our own eyes or not.

Beauty and Truth Embodied

Notre Dame once stood as a physical symbol of how beautiful the church can be. It was a tangible reminder of God’s glorious vision for his church. Notre Dame will be rebuilt, its beauty restored, even though it rests in ash at this moment. As heartbroken as I am over the loss of history and art, this tragedy has served to renew my hope that the church will be beautiful in Europe once again.

The truth of the gospel still stands. God continues to build his church into something more beautiful than our minds can comprehend. And Jesus Christ is still the cornerstone, as he forever will be.

Thomas Sieberhagen is a church planter with the IMB in Belgium. He has written in the past at You can find him on Twitter.