The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the Church is famishing for want of His Presence. The instant cure of most of our religious ills would be to enter the Presence in spiritual experience, to become suddenly aware that we are in God and that God is in us. This would lift us out of our pitiful narrowness and cause our hearts to be enlarged. This would burn away the impurities from our lives as the bugs and fungi were burned away by the fire that dwelt in the bush. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit Of God
A simple thought today. Not one to change a belief system, or alter the course of one’s destiny (Calvinists should be happy with that line since I said destiny, and Arminians should be happy since I mentioned altering it).
This is a thought I have been pondering since a phone call with a friend a few weeks ago. He and I had been reading A.W. Tozers “Pursuing God” (one of the best books in the universe, by the way). He called me as I was sitting in the drive through of our bank and asked, “Why does this guy compare God to fire? I thought that was the symbol for the devil.”
The question really caused me to think and admit, that our culture really does associate fire/flames with evil and satanic (I don’t capitalize that name on purpose, just so you know).
I’m sure its because of our Holoywood-esque images of hell.
In comedies, they always portray satan as some suave looking devil, appearing out of a cloud of smoke, with flames dancing in his eyes. He’s always clever and endearing. He’s never as bad as you thought he was…
In the horror films a gruesome, horned, snarling beast claws at you from under the bed, catching you after you fall down (of course you fall down, it’s a horror movie). This devil is terrifying and nightmarish as he claws your soul to a fiery and explosive hell! This one is always worse than you ever imagined…
I’ve never really questioned that imagery because it’s been ingrained in me since I was a child. However, the reality is that our descriptions of heaven and hell (streets of gold vs. eternal burning) are metaphorical/illustrative. Don’t get me wrong! I think they are accurate, but they lack the punch that is needed to truly convey reality. Even the giver of many of those Biblical descriptions says that his words are just substitutes for things that are inexpressible (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
There is no doubt, these words mean what they say. But, the question I am asking is what are they saying?
For example, because we learned that fire equals the devil via pop culture, it’s hard for us to see how much biblical imagery there is for fire to portray God.
If you start going through the Bible, you will see you again and again and again that fire is used to describe the power and presence of the Almighty.
- It was displayed as the tongue of God consuming offerings burnt as a sacrifice (1 Kings 18:36-39).
- It was the presence of God Himself burning above the Ark of the Covenant, upon the Cherubims wings within the Holy of Holies in the Temple (Ezekiel 10:1-2).
- It came in the form of the burning bush, that spoke to Moses as the very voice of God (Exodus 3:1-3).
- It defended the exodusing Hebrew children as a pillar of fire at night and smoke in the day. The presence of God guiding and protecting his children (Exodus 14:19-20).
- The prophets and psalmists referred to God as an all consuming fire, destroying and purifying (Isaiah 10:16-18, Psalm 106:18).
- And even in the New Testament, when God’s Holy Spirit rested on the early disciples it manifested itself as a tongue the fire above each of their heads (Acts 2:1-3).
There is no denying the reality, the Bible definitely portrays God through the very physical image of fire.
So, where does all this fiery imagery come from when we are thinking about satan and his minions? Well, obviously it comes from our depictions of hell.
And, I’m not going to cop out on you and say it’s all metaphorical. I believe the lake of fire really is a lake of fire. A horrible place to be.
But, what if the suffering is not what we think? What if the burning of the lake of fire is not the actual source of pain?
I remember reading some CS Lewis in my early faith walk. One of my favorite writings of his was called The Great Divorce (another of the greatest books in the universe). It’s a symbolic look at what hell is like through Lewis’ personal understanding. There are no flames in his story, but the essence of hell was a complete and utter separation from God.
In his story the deeper levels of hell were actually places further and further from the presence of the living God.
If this is what the essence of hell really is, separation from God, then what greater reminder of what you have lost than the eternal image of the presence of God as fire being all around you for eternity, and yet him being far, far away.
Yes, this truly would be hell.
Our association of flames with the devil is about as accurate as the satan worshipers belief that he would rather party in hell than serve in heaven.
This assumes that hell is the devil’s home, but it is not. It’s his prison, his punishment. The flames are not his comfort or environment, they are a reminder of a holy and awesome God that he is completely removed from.
I think we need to steal back the imagery.
A flame is hot (obviously), too hot to handle.
It’s consuming, taking everything in its path.
It is a source of strength, a source of heat for those in the cold, and a light for those in the darkness.
A fire will draw your attention, and draw you in. Being near it is comforting, healing and protective. But if you step inside and try to become the fire… it will burn you.
Again, this is not some life-changing teaching to go viral on the web, but I think it’s still one worth a good mind flossing
My hope is that the next time you gaze into a fire place, the next time you sit around an open campfire, or the next time you simply see the open flame flicker atop your kitchen range; you would be moved to remember.
God is a consuming fire.
God is a refining fire.
God is a light giving, warmth providing fire.
God is an uncontrollable, raging fire.
God is… fire.