consuming fire

The Consuming Fire of Love

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by Linda Rex

At our group discussion last Wednesday night we were talking about how misdirected anger can ruin relationships. On the one hand, we dump our anger in violent and hurtful ways, and on the other, we stuff and deny our anger in many ways which are ultimately self-destructive. Neither use of our anger is healthy, nor do they serve the real purpose for us experiencing anger in the first place.

We misdirect our anger. We may be angry at one person, and tell others all about it, but never deal directly with the person who is the cause of our anger. Some of us deny our anger and bury it, but the anger which demands expression manifests itself in psychosomatic illnesses, passive-aggressive behavior, and/or depression. Sometimes we are angry about something someone has done to us or said to us, and we begin to behave in ways which are painful and destructive toward people we love and value.

I’ve heard so many stories in recent times about people expressing a deep-seated anger through violence. For example, when some people are frustrated about their inter-racial issues, they express that anger by destroying and looting businesses. I’m always nervous about having ticked someone off in traffic, because I don’t know if they will pull out a gun and shoot me! These expressions of anger are nonproductive and destructive—they don’t solve anything. They only create more problems and more misery.

So much of our anger is retributive. In other words, our anger is a response to a violation of some kind in which we judge that person worthy of punishment or destruction. We seek vengeance—to give them what we believe they deserve. We condemn them and pour out our anger on them in destructive ways.

Some of us realize this is a wrong response, but we still feel in our heart of hearts we want them to “get what they deserve”—to reap what they have sown. We might even be angry with God when he doesn’t bring down the wrath of heaven on this person who so deserves to be punished with eternal fire.

Whether we realize it or not, it is this way of thinking and this belief system which influences how we read what is written in God’s word. We assume God is just like us—that he’s just hanging out in heaven looking for opportunities to crush anyone who misbehaves. When we read “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), we think we are being told this very thing—that God’s anger is going to consume anyone who violates God’s holy standards.

But the reality is, if God’s anger were going to consume any and every person who violates God’s holy standards, we would all have been wiped off the face of the earth millennia ago. This isn’t who God is. He’s not that type of Being. God’s anger doesn’t annihilate and destroy—it refines, renews, and restores. The truest expression of God’s wrath is not against human beings, but against the evil which infests their souls and twists their lives, and expresses itself in so many hurtful ways in our world.

The truest expression God’s wrath against sin and evil was in the Person and Presence of his Son Jesus Christ. First of all, the Son of God the Word took on our human flesh—he entered our darkness. Jesus encountered evil face-to-face within himself and forged for us a humanity unbound by sin and evil. He willingly limited himself to living as a human being, dependent fully upon his Father and the Spirit, and allowed himself to be rejected, tormented, and crucified.

Secondly, he permitted us as human beings to pour out on him all of our fear of a Punishing God, and all of our anger against this God, and all of our refusal to repent of our determination to be God in God’s place. Humanity’s response to whatever God they have worshipped so often has been a fearful “expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire.” We realize even turning our back on Jesus and what he has done for us means we deserve an even greater punishment and destruction. But no matter what we may believe about God and his feelings about our sin and sinful rejection of him, the truth is manifest in our Lord Jesus Christ: we are forgiven, accepted, and beloved. And we can’t seem to get our minds around that.

God’s wrath, his anger, is not so much aroused against each of us as it is against the evil and sin which consume us. His judgment of you and me and every other person who lives is that we are worthy of love, and we need to be rescued from sin, evil, and death. He has done a major part of the work by coming himself in Jesus, taking on our humanity, and allowing himself to be crucifed, and by wonderfully rising from the dead after sharing our death. He is busily working out the other part by his Holy Spirit as we embrace his presence in our world and in our hearts and lives.

Quite honestly, falling into the hands of the living God may be a terrifying thing to us, but it is the best possible thing which could happen. Being judged by the Lord means he goes to work to remove anything which is holding us captive, or causing us and others pain. It means we allow God to begin to transform our hearts and lives as we surrender to his will and his ways. We begin to acknowledge and live within the truth of the reality we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into his kingdom of light.

But this is so hard for us. When God goes to work, we abdicate our insistence we are the lord of the universe. We surrender to his lordship and begin to do things his way rather than our way. He becomes the purpose for our lives rather than our selfish desires or opinions. And this is why we resist the Spirit and his work in our hearts and lives. Submitting to the living Lord who submitted himself to us and our rejection of him over two thousand years ago doesn’t come naturally.

Considering the reality of how God deals with our sin and our anger against him, it is worth reflecting on how we respond to evil and how we deal with the anger we feel when we are violated in some way. Jesus took all evil and anger upon himself centuries ago, and what is left is our need to forgive, accept and love. Jesus is the truest expression of grace and truth—and this is what we need in our relationships with one another: grace and truth.

If and when we feel angry, we look with the eyes of Jesus. We start with, in what way have I or others been violated? This is a place of truth and truth-telling. We need to face ourselves and others with integrity—who am I angry with? And why?

If we are angry with God, that’s okay. He can take it. We just need to be honest about it and engage him in face-to-face ongoing conversation about our anger against him. It is not a sin to be angry with God—sin arises when we try to deny or suppress or misdirect our anger.

Another question we need to ask ourselves is, what about this situation am I able to change? And how to I go about changing it? Once we have our answer, we need to go do it, or get help doing it. We need to go have that difficult conversation with that difficult person and quit putting it off or triangulating to others. We need to place and enforce those healthy boundaries which have been missing in our relationship with someone, or we need to end an unhealthy, destructive relationship which is causing us harm. We need to use our anger as a springboard to change, healing and wholeness.

And we also ask ourselves, what about this situation must be surrendered to the grace of God in Christ? And how to I go about forgiving and accepting this wrong which has been done? And we begin to do the hard work of forgiveness and acceptance. This doesn’t let the person who has hurt us off the hook so much as it releases them to God’s work of transformation in their lives, and relieves us of the twisting of our soul which comes through resentment and bitterness.

These are all positive, healing ways of dealing with our anger which reflect the inner life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit. Living in this way better reflects the truth of Who God is and who we are in him. It creates a healthier, more joyful society in which to live. This is what God is, in his wrath against sin and in his judgment, preparing us for. This is God’s heart for us as his beloved children, and it is what we were destined to enjoy forever in God’s presence through his Son Jesus and by his Spirit.

Abba, thank you for loving and forgiving us. Thank you for judging us worthy of love and grace rather than destruction and rejection. Finish what you have begun in us through Jesus by your Holy Spirit. You are an awesome, amazing God, and we love you. Amen.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Heb 10:26–31 NASB

Dread, or Anticipation?

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By Linda Rex

Have you ever had one of those situations that come up in life where you know you have to go do something, maybe go to a meeting, or see the doctor or dentist, or go visit a friend, and you don’t know whether to be excited about it or to absolutely dread it? It seems like I’ve had a few things I really wanted to do this week, but the thought of doing them has not given me any sense of anticipation, but only a dread of what might happen and how difficult they were going to be to get done.

The irony has been that this week, the weather has been such that a couple of the meetings I had to go to were cancelled. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to them—it’s more that my health is such right now that I cannot handle very much stress or exercise without having more fluttering or pressure in my chest from my heart acting up. I anticipate going to have the tests done on my heart next week, but I also dread what that is going to involve since I don’t really care that much for having medical procedures done on me.

It’s hard to know exactly how something is going to turn out. We, as far as I am aware, do not have the capacity to predict these type of life events with much accuracy. So we plan ahead the best that we are able to, and then we are in a position of needing to trust God the rest of the way. We walk by faith, not by sight.

I think we have to keep this faith perspective in front of us when we begin to talk about what happens after death. I believe this is especially true when it comes to dealing with issues of judgment. By that I mean that we have certain people we or others have encountered in life who seem to be just evil at their very core. In our minds, we believe that at the least they deserve to be punished for all the harm they have done in their lives. And we form this idea in our minds that becomes our apocalyptic end time, or our concept of hell.

But if we take seriously our belief that Jesus became sin for us, meaning all humanity, and he lived our life and died our death because he shares in our humanity, and arose carrying all humanity with him into the presence of the Father, then we need to rethink some things. Because our concepts of judgment and condemnation may need to be adjusted.

We can face death with either dread or anticipation. I’ve watched people mourn and grieve because a loved one did not know Christ before they died—and they are convinced that they have gone straight to hell—which for them means painful agonizing suffering forever. Surely we need to reconsider what hell may be, because even though the Scripture talks about the fire that is not quenched, I’m not convinced that the fire is a literal thing that burns people forever.

Let me explain. What if we consider the situation of someone who everyone believes was horribly evil and did awful things in his life—let’s say—Hitler. Here is a man who orchestrated genocide and the twisting of the German church and state into a horror not yet forgotten. We still have people among us who bear the imprint of the numbers of their incarceration. He was a scary, twisted human being. Of all people who deserve to “go to hell”, he is one.

The first concern I have is the issue of judgment. Who is Hitler’s judge? It is not me or you but Christ. And ironically, the One who is the Judge is the One who paid the price for all that Hitler thought and did while he was alive. Hmmm…that can’t be right—Hitler has the ultimate “Get Out of Jail Free” card—Jesus Christ!

So what about all the things he did while he was alive? Doesn’t he deserve to be punished? Shouldn’t he have to suffer the way he caused so many others to suffer? How can God be a just God if he just lets him off the hook? Doesn’t he deserve to be condemned?

That’s a really good question. If indeed, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and we are all “in Christ” because in him “we live and move and have our being” and we live, die and rise in Christ’s humanity, then he is not condemned. That can’t be right, can it?

But the real thing we need to consider is the overwhelming majesty and passion (or fire) of God’s love, which never ends, and in the end will burn away all that is not of God and his grace and love. God’s love for such a man is greater than anything we can think of or even imagine.

God’s heart for Hitler is the same as his heart for you and me—that he share in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit for all eternity. And the only way he can share in that love and life is to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit within and without, through grace by faith. Just because he died and is now in the presence of God, does that mean that God is going to stop loving him into the person he created him to be?

What if the fire of God’s love continues to rage against the evil that has control of Hitler’s mind and heart? For example, what if Hitler has to come face to face with each and every person he ever harmed or betrayed, and in doing so, has to experience not only the horror of what he did to people, but also the guilt and shame that goes with it? And what if those people and Christ himself, offers him grace over and over? And what if he doesn’t want any of it, but just wants to escape it all or not have to face up to anything he did?

When it comes to the place that all evil is cast away and all that is left is what is good, and holy, and right—will there be a place for him? In that place where the evil one has no control or influence any longer, he cannot blame anyone but himself for what he did. He comes face to face with who he really is—both his broken humanity and the new life offered him in Christ.

This is God’s love for him in the midst of eternity. And this for him can be heaven—a joining in the celebration and joy of communion with all others in the life and love of God, or hell—a refusal to accept or acknowledge the reality of the grace and love being offered to him in and through Christ by the Spirit. This refusal of God’s grace and love means a life lived in isolation and alienation, one of self-condemnation he has chosen to live in for all eternity.

The fire of God’s love never ceases to burn away all that is not what we were meant to be as humans made in God’s image. For someone who refuses to repent and believe, that is hell, because it goes against the grain, and it forces them to face spiritual realities they do not want to face. It means all they depended upon and believed in is of no value and no longer exists. They have nothing left, but the truth. And that can be excruciating, especially if they don’t want to believe or accept it.

God is not ungracious and mean. He is not a horrible monster. He loves people enough that he gave them eternal life even when they didn’t deserve it. But the quality of the life they enjoy has fundamentally to do with what they believe about God and who he is, and what they believe about themselves and who they are.

The future after death can be anticipated or dreaded—either way it will be an expression of God’s love for humanity and his firm belief that we will be the adopted children he created in the first place to bear his very image in our being. But as C.S. Lewis wrote, heaven’s door is open on the outside, and we can enter in if we so choose, or stand outside and feel sorry for ourselves.

Some of us may decide when we get there that we don’t have any interest in the celebration whatsoever. But the fire of God’s love will not cease drawing us to himself and purifying us forever. How we will experience that fire, as a consuming fire that can’t be quenched or a transforming flame that warms our souls, will be determined by our response to God’s love and grace. May we anticipate and not dread the day we come face to face with the living Christ.

Loving Father, thank you for giving us a promise of eternity in your Son and in the gift of your Spirit. Grant us the grace to receive your gift of life today so that we may experience your love even today in every way in our lives. May we also rejoice with you in the eternal celebration of life forever through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit. Amen.


“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
1 Peter 4:17–18 NIV