For our God is a consuming fire.’ (Hebrews 12:29)
Dear sisters and brothers
I sit here tonight with a heavy heart. Behind me, on the television, scenes of the fire at Grenfell Tower, London, are being played out before a shocked audience. Up to this point the true scale of the tragedy is yet to be revealed, but the signs are not good. By the time of publication the true horror will have been revealed.
There have been many tragedies involving fire in the UK through the ages, from the Great Fire of London in 1666, to the Bradford City Stadium fire in 1985, to name but two. This latest tragedy will now unfortunately be remembered in the same vain as all those that have gone before.
As Christians we have a great respect for fire, not just because of its properties to heat and bring warmth, but because its theological representation throughout the Bible. Fire is a necessary part of life, it does – as said – bring heat and warmth, but it also has other uses for everyday life such as lighting, protection, cooking and purifying. Sadly it also brings destruction in the most devastating of ways.
‘And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.’ (Exodus 13:21). Fire has always played a pivotal role in God’s Kingdom, from the animal sacrifices of the Israelites in worship, to the Almighty’s lighting of the way with a pillar of light as the Israelites travelled the desert searching for a new home.
‘John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’’… .’ (Luke 3:16). Fire becomes less practical, but more symbolical in the New Testament, as shown in this passage from the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist tells of the coming of the Messiah who will not only cleanse us, but also purify us through the fire of the Holy Spirit. As we know, fire can both destroy and bring about new life; this is often witnessed after a forest fire, where new and abundant life springs forth from the ash of the forest floor.
And then we have the Book of James Chapter 3 verse 5: ‘So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!’ This passage talks about the spoken word, and how language can be both healing and destructive, resembling a wild fire that burns everything in its path if it not kept in check.
Fire is a powerful tool that can bring life or take it. It has many practical uses, but is seen by Christians as a powerful representation of the Lord, the Holy Spirit. However it can also be very damaging, both physically and spiritually if not respected and contained, as we have so heartbreakingly witnessed in London today. Like the Holy Spirit that brings life to all and does not discriminate, so too does fire not discriminate, it doesn’t care who you are or what you are, it will consume you and devastate you without a second thought.
So in a paradoxical way we see fire as both bringing eternal life, but also taking life in the most horrific of circumstances. Our thoughts and prayers are always with those who have so tragically been affected by fire.