The value of the Scriptural testimony engraved on Canada’s Peace Tower
This is the transcript of a speech given at a leadership seminar organized by the National Prayer Breakfast following their main event, the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast. The leadership seminar included four guest speakers and a Q&A period.
The value of the Scriptural testimony engraved on Canada’s Peace Tower
By Tim Bloedow
I’m here today to speak to you for a few minutes in relation to the booklet gift you received at the breakfast this morning – The Biblical Legacy of Canada’s Parliament Buildings.
I don’t know if everybody here attended the breakfast and received a copy of the booklet. If you didn’t, perhaps you can talk to an organizer of the event or myself afterwards. I believe there are a few additional copies available.
ChristianGovernance, a worldview and apologetics organization I co-founded a few years ago, published it as we were grappling with the Christian context of the founding of Canada, and as we discovered Bible verses on the Parliament Buildings that nobody else had documented.
On that point, we have to acknowledge the help we received from modern technology in the discovery of at least two of the Scripture passages noted in the booklet. How many of you have visited the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower? You know, then, how steep the angle is as you look up to enjoy the beauty of the stained glass windows as they rise up above you. It’s difficult to see the details near the top of the window, and often due to cloudy skies or the sun shining through at particular angles, it can be even more difficult.
Well, as I recall, we had already prepared what we thought was the final draft of the booklet, when my wife started examining on her computer some pictures we had taken of the stained glass windows, zooming in to review the pictures from top to bottom. By doing this, she noticed some words that we hadn’t seen before.
And then we jumped onto Google to search for the phrases to see what we would find. As it turned out, one statement – “He shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” – was from Jeremiah – chapter 23, verse 5. The other – “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble” – was from – well, does anybody who has not read the booklet know where that is found in the Bible? It’s Nahum, chapter 1, verse 7.
I have to confess that my knowledge of the Old Testament prophets is probably no better than most Christians today. That’s why I had to jump onto Google.
I was really struck by the fact that of all the passages that somebody decided to have engraved and incorporated into the artwork for the Memorial Chamber, they would have chosen two verses from the Old Testament prophets – and one of them a Minor Prophet; two verses that most of us today would probably label as obscure passages. It’s a testimony to a biblical literacy much greater than is possessed by so many of us Christians today. Every time you see a picture of the Peace Tower now – or walk by it, if you live or work near here – let it be a challenge to you to pursue greater biblical literacy in a life of faithfulness to God.
I want to draw your attention to 3 other points about the Bible verses that we discuss in this booklet:
First, several facts about their existence on the Parliament Buildings;
Second, to note that some of them are being used out of context;
Third, that, nevertheless, they speak very relevant messages to us today, messages to exhort and encourage, to rebuke and confront – especially those of us who work in and around Parliament Hill.
First, several facts about their existence on the Parliament Buildings…
1. I think it’s wonderful to see these sections of God’s Word engraved so beautifully on this public building – but it does not necessarily say anything about the spiritual condition of the government, the politicians or the law and public policy of the day – back then in the 1920s. It might – but not necessarily. I don’t have time in these few minutes to explore that complex realm of discussion, and it’s probably safer that I don’t, but I think it’s a point that should be made.
2. We actually haven’t found out yet whose inspiration led to these Scriptures being here. Our best guess at this time is that the architects, led by John Pearson, were responsible for these kind of details in the design of the Parliament Buildings and the Peace Tower. A Parliamentary Committee existed to provide oversight, but I’m not clear how much oversight they gave at this level of design detail.
Near the end of the booklet, I document brief portions of Parliamentary proceedings which indicate a lack of political knowledge of who authorized the more visible stone engravings around the outside of three sides of the Peace Tower, and these comments by MPs of the day even indicate support for REMOVING them, both because they were BIBLE passages and because they were only in English.
Our research to this point, then, suggests that the Scriptures were included at the architect’s discretion, not by the will of the politicians.
For me, this is a good reminder for our day that we need to appreciate more the cultural leadership and influence of non-politicians as well as our political leaders, instead of putting most of our hope in public policy and our political actors.
So much energy and effort by Christians today is targeted towards the political process even though politics FOLLOWS culture rather than leading it. We NEED Christian politicians, and they need support in their work. But we also need Christian leadership throughout society, the kind that’s no doubt represented by many of you in this room: in business and education, in law and the non-profit sector. By the clergy. And from architects! The Christian politicians I know appreciate this vision. I don’t think any of them like the idea that some people think the weight of the world – or even just the future of Canada – rests on their shoulders.
So the Scriptures on the Peace Tower seem to have been the vision of an architect. And it is an architect – an Ottawa-area Christian firm – that made it possible for these booklets to be distributed at the National Prayer Breakfast this year. You will find them identified at the bottom of the back cover of the booklet, Vandenberg & Wildeboer Architects.
3. It should also be noted that 14 of the 15 verses we have found are on or within the Peace Tower. Only a single verse is found elsewhere – in a meeting room on the 4th floor of the Centre Block.
In light of this, it’s perhaps important to note the true nature of the Peace Tower.
Its official name is the Tower of Peace and Victory. And it was not designed specifically to be part of the “Parliament Buildings”. It is first and foremost a war memorial (or even more specifically, it houses the war memorial which is the Memorial Chamber on the 3rd level). It was built as a memorial to those Canadians who died fighting World War I – but it is now also a memorial for all subsequent wars in which Canadians have fought.
It was designed as a free-standing tower, though it has, of course, been attached to the Parliament Buildings – right from the beginning, as far as I know. For some reason, the architects chose to focus the Scriptural testimony on the War Memorial, not throughout the Parliament Buildings.
Now my second point: that some of these Scriptures HAVE been taken out of context.
It is pretty evident that the warfare and peace passages engraved on the Peace Tower pertain to spiritual warfare, and have been co-opted for a context of military conflict and peace in the physical, material realm.
An excerpt from Ephesians 6, for example, is beautifully engraved around the edge of the cover of the altar in the centre of the Memorial Chamber. Around the top of the stone altar is an excerpt from Pilgrim’s Progress, but on the ribbon that is engraved onto the brass cover which holds the Book of Remembrance is Ephesians 6:13 – “Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Then representing the next 4 verses, listing the pieces of armor, are 6 blue shields, each with an image of a piece of armour – a breastplate, a helmet – and the Latin descriptor. So, with the breastplate, you see Justitia, the Latin for Justice or Righteousness. With the belt you read Veritas, the Latin for Truth. For some time now, my Facebook image has been the blue shield with the sword and the word Spiritus – the Sword of the Spirit.
Third, despite the fact that some of the Scriptures that we are considering have been used here out of context, they are still God’s living and active Word, and they carry with them messages of life and truth for us and for those around us, including the movers and shakers who pass by them – and who work and live amongst them.
In the booklet, we highlight some of the Scriptural truths that I think we can draw from the Bible verses on the Peace Tower.
I want to make two points today in this respect.
First, note that among the Scriptures are Bible passages that cover the key aspects of the life and work of Jesus Christ:
- Luke 2:14 – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men. This is engraved on the largest of the 53 bells that make up the carillon, or bell tower, component of the Peace Tower. It cannot be seen by the public today, but we are assured that it’s there. That passage, of course, is from an account that heralds the birth of Christ.
- Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory is from 1 Corinthians 15:57) and can be found on the East window of the stained glass windows. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is that well-known apologetic about the necessity and truth of the resurrection of Christ in victory over sin and death to bring salvation to His people.
- Judgment shall return unto righteousness from Psalm 94 (verse 15) is on the West window of the stained glass windows. It is from a passage which speaks to God’s preserving, saving grace in the lives of His people, and the fact that God fights for them, executing justice on their behalf.
- Psalm 72 is a Messianic Psalm, which speaks of Christ’s reign in history as the victorious Messiah, with the extension of his kingdom throughout the world. Two verses from that Psalm are engraved on the outside of the Peace Tower – verses 1 and 8. Verse 8, of course, is Canada’s motto: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea.” It is engraved on the East side of the Tower, in the arch over the stained glass window. Verse 1, in the version found on the Peace Tower, reads: “Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son.” This verse can probably be found in millions of tourist photographs across this country because it’s engraved on the south side of the Tower, looking over the lawn in front of the Parliament Buildings.
My second point this morning regarding the Scriptural truths from the Peace Tower is that we can point people to these very public Scriptures, using them to exhort and challenge others to action, to reflection and to obedience.
We can challenge the politicians who walk and work under these Scriptures to consider them with the seriousness they deserve, and to consider how they might be held accountable to respect them: “Give the king thy judgments, O God, and they righteousness unto the king’s son.” And God’s warning in Jeremiah, which we just considered: “He shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” God’s justice and judgment cannot ultimately be thwarted.
What you find engraved in the wood above the doorways of that committee room in the Centre Block is “Fear God; honour the king.” From First Peter 2:17. I first saw that when the room was being used for Caucus meetings by the Official Opposition which, in those days, was the Reform Party. You can see it for yourself now with the Google Streetview tour of the inside of the Parliament Buildings. You’ll find a link to this online tour from Member of Parliament David Anderson’s website.
Such passages are also an ENCOURAGEMENT to our Christian politicians who receive these reminders that despite the thwarting of justice in a troubled age like ours, their labour for the Lord is not in vain because God knows all things, and the day is coming when he will settle all accounts with perfect wisdom and justice.
Many Christians already exhort each other with Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” That is found engraved on the outside of the Peace Tower, on the arch over the stained glass windows on the West side of the Tower. The Hebrew here translated “vision” is sometimes more accurately translated “revelation”. It points to the fact that human life depends on revelation – on a God who speaks. And this message is heralded to us from the political centre of Canada. The stones indeed do cry out, and they remind us that the Word of God is of far greater import than the words of any politician, judge or monarch.
We don’t need to be bashful in our efforts to preserve and advance a public witness to the Christian faith in Canada. Doing so puts us in line with:
- a strong tradition that has existed from the founding of this country,
- a tradition which is much broader than civil government, but which includes it, and
- a tradition that wound its way through the very architecture of one of Canada’s most iconic symbols, our most respected war memorial, the Tower of Peace and Victory.