In the 19th century, John Ruskin wrote quite extensively on seeing the connections between truth, beauty, art, architecture, and the Divine. When I read him, lo, these many years ago at university, I was struck by the concept of everyday men worshiping by the works they produced, and the idea that we can see the divine spark within man by seeing what he has done with his hands. Those individual touches evident in hand-crafted buildings speak of the primal liberties of the workmen; their creative spark is not extinguished by mechanization.
One such expression of worship and liberty was created in the Provo Tabernacle, built in the later 19th century. Though it was produced under a master plan, the overall beauty and harmony of the building spoke loudly of individual craftsmen bringing their best to bear, creating something that would stand as a monument. It was lovely.
Tabernacles are used for worship meetings, and sometimes for cultural events; the Provo Tabernacle was no exception. Ruskin might have shuddered at the evolution of the Tabernacle: over the years, it was renovated and remodeled, and renovated and remodeled, and renovated and remodeled again, all in an attempt to keep a 19th century building useful for 20th and 21st century congregational use. From a historian’s viewpoint, the remodels were largely successful, in that they did not cover everything with hideous acoustic tile, or strip out the gorgeous bones of the building… but still, the original vision of the building was degraded, the workman’s handcraft smoothed over.
Sometimes, our man-made creations, no matter how glorious or how good our intentions, fail.
In December 2010, the Tabernacle failed.
In the aftermath of the fire, engineers studied the burnt-out shell extensively, trying to determine if it was still structurally sound. Had the fire weakened the walls? Would it have to be razed? If it was razed, would it be rebuilt, or would another building occupy the space? What might that new building look like? Would it be a modern monstrosity, or a plastic copy of other standardized architectural styles? Would all trace of that original work of worship and love be extinguished along with the smoldering ruin? Many feared it was a total loss; certainly, from any reasonable perspective, it appeared impractical to contemplate much in the way of restoration.
(In the rubble of the Tabernacle, firefighters found this: a painting of Christ. All around it was in ruins… Christ endures.)
It is said that God uses all things for His good purposes. This past weekend, the prophet of my faith announced that yes, the Tabernacle will be rebuilt… but not as a simple tabernacle. It will be rebuilt and dedicated as a holy Temple of God, to be used for sacred worship and conducting eternal ordinances on the face of the earth, to the benefit of all God’s children.
What to others may seem irredeemable, a husk, worthless, overwhelming, or lost, God sees as worthy of full restoration, worthy of full redemption, worthy of sanctification.
And if He sees a simple building worth so much, then how much more does He have planned for us?
In our bodies, we stand as temples of God. He waits, ready to take our brokenness, our burnt-out husk, our rubble, our defilement–and through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, promises that we can be re-made, entirely whole… and not only restored, but redeemed, improved, and sanctified to His Name. No matter our hopeless state, He promises to redeem us.
Christ engraved us in the palms of His hands; we can write Him on the tablets of our hearts. We are His. Our restoration is in the hands of the Eternal Architect. All will be made whole, and holy.
God is good.