Living Stones and Love Stories
A glory that once was and a Kingdom that never ends.
There is no greater symbol of the ancient majesty of the country of India than that of the Taj Mahal. Its grandeur and magnificence have made it one of the most visited attractions in all the world. Catching the rays of the sun by day or the reflective moonbeams at night, there is none other like it.
The building in its story is a story of romance. Inside it is a story of death. You see, its haunting architecture is only one part of what makes this edifice an interesting study in history, because the story behind this magnificent design is even more intriguing. The Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, had many wives as was the custom in that time (1628) and in his faith. But he only truly cared for one of his wives, Mumtaz Mahal. They were betrothed to marriage when she was only 14 and he only 15 years old. Arranged marriages for the Mughal Kings didn’t often blossom into true love, but their union was the exception. She became his constant companion and he consulted with her in both private matters and in affairs of the state. She was his closest confidant and trusted adviser. At her intercession, he forgave enemies or commuted death sentences. His trust in her was so great that he gave her the highest honor of the land–his imperial seal, the Mehr Uzaz, which validated imperial decrees. But Mumtaz Mahal died fairly young and unexpectedly, while giving birth to their fourteenth child. His grief for her was overwhelming.
To memorialize his love for her, the Taj Mahal was commissioned by Shah Jahan to be built as a mausoleum for his beloved Mumtaz. It is seen till this day as an embodiment of undying love, poetry in stone of their marital devotion. English poet Sir Edwin Arnold describes it as “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.”
“Living stones” is what Arnold used to describe the marble adornment with their bodies side by side. As you enter into the lowest level, you can just about catch the aroma of death and know that is all that’s left of the “ruler of the world,” which is what “Shah Jahan” literally meant. The family history continued a short while and the wealthy Mughal empire lasted only 200 years. The stones and tombs across India speak of a glory that once was—a love and power that now lies beneath cold marble.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is also a love story. A love story from before the foundation of the world that defines all of history, that speaks of an undying love in which you and I are the object of the greatest story ever told. About a love so deep that a Father was willing to give His only son to save an undeserving world. The surprise ending to this story has an empty grave, and the risen Christ becoming the foundation on which the real living stones of the church have been building an eternal kingdom. Stones uncut by human hands but shaped by an eternal sacrifice in the perfect plan of God.
The overtones of the story are so eastern, but the message so global.
This kingdom of God’s love for us will withstand all the assaults of time and the passage of earthly kingdoms. The greatest builder has left this as a testimonial to His love for His creation.
G.K. Chesterton penned these powerful words as a prayer and then put to a hymn,
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.
The living God is building a living church against which even the gates of Hell will never prevail. God is the ultimate “Shah Jahan.” He left behind no bones or building. He is love. His story is eternal.
It is an honor for me to team up with Abdu Murray and hark back to such stories from history in our co-authored book, Seeing Jesus from the East, soon to be released by Zondervan (April 28, 2020).