Like many young kids, I too singed my eyebrows playing with a lighter and my mom’s hairspray (that happened to everyone, right?). There is something about fire that draws you to it, captivates you, makes you want to get close to it (even make a homemade blow-torch with it!).
“Fire” is also a potent theme in the Bible. Hebrews 12:29 says, “…because our God really is a consuming fire” (CEB). The idea of God as a fire can provoke many different feelings in us. For some, it may sound comforting to think of the power of God in this way. Others may withdraw a bit when considering God as fire. I imagine for many of us, it is sort of confusing.
This week at Providence UMC in The Net (watch the whole service here), we thought about what God as fire, a “consuming fire,” might mean for us.
As we considered “fire” from the safety of Charlotte, I couldn’t help but think of the folks out west who are struggling through another incredible season of wildfires. Yesterday during worship there were 85 fires and already today there are 112 total wildfires burning across the U.S.¹ The metaphor of “fire” for God, at least right now, is a tough one.
But then that is sort of the point. I am not one that subscribes to a theology of, “God needs to burn away all of us all the time…” While I believe that is certainly part of Faith, I often find myself focusing on grace and love and peace and joy. Some might call it a “hippie faith,” but I really do believe that is the core of Jesus’ message. I think he would have fit in wonderfully at an Asheville drum circle (it really is worth 3 minutes to watch a clip of it: click here).
That being said, sometimes life is like a wildfire. Sometimes our culture, individual circumstances, personal choices or pure bad luck puts us in a place where we feel like our world is ablaze. And that is hard. I mean really hard.
I know what it is like to see a loved one get sick, maybe even get sick ourselves. I have felt the pain of family passing away. I can relate to praying the same prayer, day-after-day-after-day… I have seen the devastation a literal or figurative storm can cause in our lives. Life can be absolutely brutal. It can feel like a wildfire is sweeping across the landscape of our heart, minds and bodies.
Even this God uses. I wish I had something more profound or helpful to say, but I can attest to the truth that even the broken, painful, burnt parts of our lives God can make holy.
While wildfires can have tremendously horrible repercussions, “CALFire” reports that there are also some benefits too. In the wildlands, fire can: clean the forest floor, provide new habitat, kill diseases and even prompt certain plants/trees to release seeds for new growth.²
I wonder where God — “a consuming fire” — is looking to clean the floors of our lives? Where is God going to take our brokenness and make something new? What sort of “disease” in our lives is God going to wipe out?
“Fire” is beautiful and hard, captivating and potentially destructive, life-giving and dangerous. So is God.
I truly wish there were a softer way to talk about this, but I also truly believe that God can use all things to show us grace and love. So if your world feels on fire right now, I am praying for you. I pray that when the flames die down (and I hope that is soon), that you will begin to see new life. I pray that when the blaze simmers and the ground beneath you cools, you will find the mercy of God all around you in ways you never have.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Cole
1. USDA, Forest Services, 13 August, 2018, https://fsapps.nwcg.gov.
2. California Department of Forestry and Protection, CALFire, 13 August, 2018, https://www.fire.ca.gov/communications/downloads/fact_sheets/TheBenefitsofFire.pdf.