Our God is a Consuming Fire
By Guest Blogger Subdeacon Matthew
[the following was borrowed heavily from “River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros]
In the icon of the Last Judgment we see Our Lord Jesus Christ seated on a throne. On His right we see His friends, the blessed men and women who lived by His love. On His left we see His enemies, all those who passed their life hating Him, even if they appeared to be pious and reverent. And there, in the midst of the two, springing from Christ’s throne, we see a river of fire coming toward us. What is this river of fire? Is it an instrument of torture? Is it an energy of vengeance coming out from God in order to vanquish His enemies?
This icon is a pictorial representation based on the the prophecy of Daniel which is fulfilled in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
Read Daniel 7: 9-12
I want you consider another view on this fire coming from the judgement seat of Christ and all such fire which we see again and again in scripture.
Read: Heb. 12:29; 1Cor.3:12-15. What is the fire that refines us? Is it not God’s Word? God’s grace poured out on us and received by us.
God many times appeared as fire: To Abraham, to Moses in the burning bush, to the people of Israel showing them the way in the desert as a column of fire by night and as a shining cloud by day when He covered the tabernacle with His glory (Exod. 40:28, 32), and when He rained fire on the summit of Mount Sinai. God was revealed as fire on the mountain of Transfiguration, and He said that He came “to put fire upon the earth” (Luke 12:49), that is to say, love, because as Saint John of the Ladder says, “Love is the source of fire” (Step 30, 18). And what of the Chariot of Fire? (2Kings2:11). Is this not God’s presence par excellence? There we encounter Elijah, the holy man of God, being consumed by God’s fire. And in Daniel within the fiery furnace? Where is God but in the fire? His three holy ones were saved by fire, His fire.
The Greek writer, Fotis Kontoglou said somewhere that “Faith is fire, and gives warmth to the heart. The Holy Spirit came down upon the heads of the apostles in the form of tongues of fire. The two disciples, when the Lord was revealed to them, said ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us in the way?’ Christ compares faith to a ‘burning candle.’ Saint John the Forerunner said in his sermons that Christ will baptize men ‘in the Holy Spirit and fire.’ And truly, the Lord said, ‘I am come to send fire on the earth and what will I if (or “how I wish”) it be already kindled? (Luke 12:49) The most tangible characteristic of faith is warmth; this is why they speak about ‘warm faith,’ or ‘faith provoking warmth.’ And even as the distinctive mark of faith is warmth, the sure mark of unbelief is coldness. (Kalomiros)
And how was the Pentecostal miracle received? The same miracle, the same fiery tongues, but two different reactions? Who “makes His ministers a flame of fire”? The psalmist tells us that it is God Himself.
Saint Peter the Damascene writes: “We all receive God’s blessings equally. But some of us, receiving God’s fire, that is, His word, become soft like beeswax, while the others like clay become hard as stone. And if we do not want Him, He does not force any of us, but like the sun He sends His rays and illuminates the whole world, and he who wants to see Him, sees Him, whereas the one who does not want to see Him, is not forced by Him. And no one is responsible for this privation of light except the one who does not want to have it. God created the sun and the eye. Man is free to receive the sun’s light or not. The same is true here. God sends the light of knowledge like rays to all, but He also gave us faith like an eye. The one who wants to receive knowledge through faith, keeps it by his works, and so God gives him more willingness, knowledge, and power” (Philokalia, vol. 3, p. 8).
God is Love. God is a loving fire, and He is a loving fire for all: good or bad, believing and unbelieving. There is, however, a great difference in the way people receive this loving fire of God.
Consider these two scenes: Luke 9: 28-26 and Luke 22: 55-62. This is the same Christ. This is the same man, Peter. At the Transfiguration: What is Peter’s reaction to the exceedingly intense glory of God shining through Christ? His light? His fire? Peter says “It is good for us to be here Lord.” He embraces this intense fiery love. Then after his denial: What is his reaction to the Love of Christ when he looks right at Peter? The fire of love burned in that moment. He hid his face, he fled, he wept, he gnashed his teeth.
If your paradigm concerning heaven and hell are that they are two very different “places” created by God, I urge you to reconsider this. Kalomiros in his essay puts it this way:
Now, read the following: 2 Thes.1:6-10. Here we have “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” yet at the same time, this same fiery Christ who sits at the judgment seat will be “glorified in His saints” and “admired among those who believe”. His eyes are like a “flame of fire.” (Rev. 1:14)
Fire is a purifying element; it burns sins. Woe to a man if sin has become a part of his nature: then the fire will burn the man himself. This fire will be kindled within a man; seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, but others will fall into confusion, terror, and despair. Thus will men be divided instantly. The very state of a man’s soul casts him to one side or the other, to right or to left.
These are sobering thoughts which should drive us to confession and communion, prayer and worship, love and kindness, service to others. These are the elements of fire. This is our communion with Christ God. This is how we become fire. In becoming fire, we will receive His loving fire as Peter received Christ at the Transfiguration: it is good for us to be here Lord. Otherwise, this same fire of Christ’s love will burn, as it ignites the dross of our self love, infatuation with our material possessions, self gratification, bitterness, anger, and love of gossip, etc. Fire loves fire. Let us run to our Heavenly Father and receive his warm embrace and allow Him to ignite or reignite the fire of Christ within us.
Sub Deacon Matthew
Mathew Nasrallah serves as Sub-Deacon at Saint Basil’s Orthodox Mission in Marietta, Georgia. He is also an attorney in the same town.