The Joy of Decreasing: Architecture and the Gospel
The shimmering light reflecting gracefully off of the sheer glass structure causes you to squint, although dusk is setting in. The cold is nipping at your cheeks, but your senses are dulled for the moment to the harsh conditions surrounding you. You are consumed with awe that leaves you spellbound. Timidly, you lift your gaze to the pinnacle of the skyscraper. Panic overcomes you for an instant; you feel as if you will be swallowed up in the vastness. The next moment, you are overcome with peace. You’re safe. Small, yet safe.
Why is the human heart thrilled with such grandeur? Why do people pay thousands of dollars to fly to the Grand Canyon, just for the rush of feeling miniscule at its edge? Why do people brave fierce elements merely to reach a mountain’s peak and feel lost in the sheer hugeness of their surroundings? Why do people write stories about worldwide disasters that are far bigger than themselves, that seems humanly impossible to solve?
John Piper says it like this:
Do people go to the Grand Canyon to increase their self-esteem? Probably not. This is, at least, a hint that the deepest joys in life come not from savoring the self, but from seeing splendor. And in the end even the Grand Canyon will not do. We were made to enjoy God.
As some friends and I were driving through the skyscrapers of Minneapolis a few evenings ago, I began to consider this idea: that people were created to feel small. That is, if the human heart was created to enjoy the splendor of God, then it was necessarily created to feel insignificant as it beholds and worships YHWH. And this must be so.
Imagine a world in which the only glory that could be realized was human glory. So then, it would be right for humans to be hedonists, because there would be no higher glory to pursue than our own.
Think about everything that you have ever owned, or that you hope to own someday. What lasts? Nothing. Earthly possessions rust, mold, chip, snap, and fade. The prophet Isaiah spoke such truth when he said “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass (Isaiah 40.6).” We came into this world with nothing, and we’re going to leave this world with nothing.
Think about your heart. Who do you care about most? Whose needs do you seek to meet first? To what depths will you stoop to realize your hearts desire, even at the expense of friends and family?
Imagine a world like that. That’s our lot if there is no bigger purpose in this thing called “life.” But God has programmed our hearts to be full of Him and to pursue His glory (Isaiah 43.6-7). Just as a frisbee was not created to keep rain out of one’s eyes, so people were not created to live for themselves. Our greatest happiness will only be found when we are swallowed up in a purpose beyond our own.
That’s why architects build giant buildings. That’s why mountain climbers climb the glorious Mt. Everest. That’s why authors write catastrophic epics. Innate in every human heart is the necessity to feel small. To know that there is a purpose beyond our own. To know that there is a rule that triumphs over the darkness that is our hearts. We must know that there is a God, and we are not Him.
Every heart, whether on fire for Jesus or dull with agnostic apathy, whether acknowledging or suppressing its desire, throbs with this longing. We MUST decrease, Christ MUST increase (John 3.30).
Because godless hedonism would be hell on earth.