Lets talk about fire.
Just so everyone knows, I think that the preachers who have sermons on fire and revival and God coming like a fire and this is the glory are completely polluting the Church. To say that God’s glory is likened to fire is a complete abomination. Teaching people to pray that they would be filled with fire is absolutely killing the Spirit. Why do I say such things?
Fire is a topic in the Scriptures. It doesn’t need to be ignored. It is misrepresented. When the Hebrews would think of fire, they would think of fire. When most charismatic preachers and laymen hear the word “fire,” they think of some sort of emotional-hype-ooey-gooey-amazing-fall-over-because-of-the-immense-tangible-glory-of-God-OH-MY-GOD-I-CAN’T-EVEN-BREATH-BECAUSE-I’M-LAUGHING-SO-HARD-shaking-my-head-like-a-fish-flopping-out-of-water-no-self-control-over-my-muscles-but-don’t-let-it-stop-because-it-feels-sssoooo-goooood kind of manifestation.
Since when has being set on fire meant a delight? Since when has burning alive meant that we are going to just smile and put our hands up and have that “holy posture” while we praise Jesus silently? Since when has fire meant that our bodies jerk backwards uncontrollably?
I hate the “fire” movement.
Now that I’ve got that out in the open, lets talk about fire.
What are some of the purposes of fire? It keeps a person warm. It purifies. It can be harnessed for landscaping purposes (like a controlled burning of a field that it might grow back more abundantly). It gives light. You can use it to cook food. You can steam bend wood over a fire. It softens tar and pitch. It repels predators and pesky insects. We’ve even developed smoke signals for communication.
These are the kinds of things that the Hebrews would have been thinking when they use fire as a symbol. When it says that God is an all-consuming fire, it has this kind of connotation. He is light. He warms the soul in the cold and harsh dark world. He is pure and purifies. This is what we need to think of. Everywhere that I can see the word fire in the Scriptures, it seems to have these kinds of contexts.
I have never seen in the Scripture where fire (by itself) is used as a symbol of emotion or spirituality. There are idioms. One of them is “his nose is on fire.” This saying is found in the Hebrew. It means that someone is angry. But notice that the emphasis isn’t the fire, it is the nose. When fire is emphasized, it can mean passion, but always means purity. When God comes, He purifies and purges. When the Messiah comes, He will purify and purge (according to Malachi 3). Well, Jesus did speak of this purifying. He did come like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. He will come again in the same way – this time to purge the world of sin once and for all by killing the antichrist and throwing Satan into the “lake of fire.”
Which is another reference, right? What about all of the symbols that we instantly think of with fire? We think of passion, yes. But we also think of fire and brimstone. What about hell? Is hell just a place where we get purified and then go to heaven?
Here is where fire can (and probably should) be used as a symbol. Even if it is literal, does it indicate something like purgatory?
Well lets address this intellectually.
The body will die. We all know that. What about the soul? Well, the Hebrew ideology of soul is the whole being of someone. There is obviously this carcass that is dead without the “soul” of the man, but that really isn’t the Hebrew concept of a soul. A soul deals with the whole of a person. We would look at it as body, soul, and spirit – all of it. The whole person is the nephesh (soul).
But there is the idea that there is something beyond our body. We do have a spirit. We do have some sort of a link to the spiritual realm that doesn’t “die.” Our New Testaments record that Jesus spoke of fearing the One who can “kill body and soul in Hell.”
All of this to point out that the body might die, but then the soul goes on. What happens after death? This life seems to be a dressing room for eternity. What we do in this life – the things we sow onto our souls – will form and shape the people we will be in the next life. If you live this life full of hatred and racism, what will happen when you come into contact with the One who is love? If you live this life full of deception and manipulation and lying to people, what will happen when you come in contact with the One who is Truth? Just think about it.
Is Gandhi in hell?
What would happen if Gandhi met Jesus?
If Gandhi said that famous line, “I enjoy you, Jesus, I just didn’t like you Christians,” do you think that Jesus will reply kindly? Do you think that Jesus would be like, “Yeah, my wife is a whore.” Do you really think that if Gandhi faces Jesus in eternity that he will be able to bear it? Or is it more likely that even Gandhi, with all of his hope for peace and his religious devotion, will shrink back in everlasting shame that he would profess that he liked “our Christ,” and yet refused to follow Him?
Is this making sense?
Hell isn’t simply a place where there is fire. Fire isn’t a passion. Fire isn’t hype. Fire isn’t emotion. Fire describes a purification. But how do we get purified? We bear our own shame. We confess to a brother our weaknesses. We humble ourselves and open ourselves to admitting our shortcomings. We also embrace others knowing that the weaknesses they struggle with are nothing that we aren’t capable of committing. We embrace them, and we love them, and we struggle with them to overcome together.
That is going through the fire. Fire purifies, because fire shows the dross. All of the impurities are exposed. Nothing is hidden. Silver can look pure until it is melted down. Suddenly all of the dirt and dross that we couldn’t see rises to the surface. This is painful. It is exposing. We must bear this.
If we do not bear our shame here in this life, then we will bear it for eternity. If we do not open our lives for others to see our imperfections, then we will enter into the next age with the same defects. What will you do then? Will you repent when you’re at the judgement seat? By that point it is too late.
There is a real sense in which Zechariah 2:5 can be interpreted as “we must pass through the flames of heaven to enter into the glory of heaven.” There must be a suffering before there is a glory. If we are unwilling to bear our suffering, and bear the shame of our sin before our brothers and sisters, then we will never find freedom. I have a hard time in viewing people as people. That is something that I need others to know so that when I start speaking or acting in a way that displays that, they can come along side of me and lovingly point it out.
I need community. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, we see that the glory of God is beheld in each other’s faces. This is what moves us from image to image, glory to glory. I need community where the fire of God can be reflected in the face of my brother or sister, and they can purify my soul.
This is what fire is all about. If we pray for the fire of God, we are praying for exposure. We are praying for purity – but purity of what kind? Maybe a better way to ask is: purity as a result of what? We must bear the shame and the suffering. Otherwise we are weak Christians. This is not a good weakness where we can say, “Where I am weak, He is strong.” This kind of weakness can result in hellfire that will not be put out. This kind of weakness can result in harming the image of God. This kind of weakness can result in harming others’ lives. We need to be very careful.
So, ultimately fire isn’t a synonym or symbol of glory. But it is often used as a synonym and symbol of glory. I felt the need to divest myself in this to expose the faulty foundation that some are standing on. You don’t need to stop teaching on fire – you don’t need to stop praying for fire. What needs to change is our attitudes and our mindsets about what fire is.