The Consuming Kind of Fire

Earlier this year, a volcano in Hawaii erupted.  This was the kind of eruption where lava just kinds of spreads out and takes over, not the explosive kind where destruction is blasted out over an entire region; however, the results were still pretty disastrous.

During this time, the US Geological Service fielded a question that most of us probably didn’t think to ask:

@USGSVolcanoes Is it safe to roast marshmallows over volcanic vents? Assuming you had a long enough stick, that is? Or would the resulting marshmallows be poisonous? @JimGriffith_SV @DrFunkySpoon
– Jay Furr (@jayfurr) May 29, 2018

Erm…we’re going to have to say no, that’s not safe. (Please don’t try!) If the vent is emitting a lot of SO2 or H2S, they would taste BAD. And if you add sulfuric acid (in vog, for example) to sugar, you get a pretty spectacular reaction.
-USGS Volcanoes🌋 (@USGSVolcanoes) May 29, 2018

As fun as it may be to burn toast marshmallows over a campfire, there are different kinds of fire.  A smoldering fire – the kind that is more suitable for marshmallows – slowly consumes the logs or charcoal that are fueling it.  It gives off heat and light, and benefits those around it, as long as it is in the right place at the right time.

Other fire (not to mention a lava flow) burns out of control, destroying vegetation in the wild – or paper, wood, cloth, and plastic in an urban setting.  This fire consumes and damages things, and (although God designed the wilderness to regrow, and insurance companies can help rebuild) often results in the destruction of things that took a long time to grow or build.  If your kitchen pantry catches on fire, that plastic bag of marshmallows is going to be melted and burnt, and not a very tasty addition to s’mores (if your chocolate and graham crackers somehow survived).

So, why would the Bible talk about God as a “devouring” (or “consuming”) fire?

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.
Hebrews 12:28‭-‬29 NLT

https://bible.com/bible/116/heb.12.28-29.NLT

I think of this as a manifestation of God’s holiness: the central, defining characteristic of God’s nature that causes Him to be good, and to manifest both love and justice in perfect union.  Sin – the rebellious contradictions of good that mankind chooses far too often – is simply incompatible with this holiness, and breaks our relationship with a holy God.  In His love, God made a way (see Romans 3:21-26) for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus; however, His holiness remained intact, since justice was still served in the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus for the penalty of our sins.

For those who have accepted God’s offer of salvation, we would do well to still remember His holiness.  I think that this understanding of God’s holiness, and the process of drawing closer to Him, should burn out (i.e., destroy) the selfishness, pride, and other sins that make us less than we were intended to be.

John the Baptist spoke of Jesus burning the chaff, while keeping the wheat:

“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
Matthew 3:11‭-‬12 NLT

https://bible.com/bible/116/mat.3.11-12.NLT

And Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, talks about how what we build in this life will be proven out, based on whether or not it survives the fire of judgement day.  The faith and good deeds that we – with God’s help – are able to muster in this life have nothing to fear from the fires of holy judgement; however, wasted efforts for goals outside of God’s will aren’t likely to survive the trip to Heaven (beyond God’s ability to make good things happen even from our shortcomings, I suppose).

We are called to encounter a God like that (as close as we can approach Him, this side of Heaven), and not be content with false gods – or a limited impression of God – that just warms our toes in the winter like a fireplace and makes us feel nice.  This may mean going through the metaphorical fires of trials and problems, and then looking around to see what elements of our lives still remain unscathed afterwards.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
1 Peter 1:6‭-‬7 NLT

https://bible.com/bible/116/1pe.1.6-7.NLT

Material things may be consumed during trials, but the challenges in life burn out the junk in our life that isn’t worth saving, and leave only the worthwhile results intact.

I challenge you – as I challenge myself – to consider what in our lives is holy and good, and will survive the test of trials by fire.  Those are the things worth investing in (although a good set of marshmallow roasting sticks might be good to have on-hand, as well).

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