God’s Goodness: In the Theme of Fire in Scripture
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god’s goodness: in the theme of fire in scripture
Messages and Essays on the Theme of Fire in Scripture
Hell as the Love of God (and ppt) (short ppt) This is a full exploration of how hell is the love of God because (1) the united church taught that for over a thousand years; (2) God's Triune nature requires all other activity of God to flow out of His love; (3) literary exegesis of fire shows that it is God's call to purification
Hell as Fire and Darkness: Remembrance of Sinai as Covenant Rejection in Matthew's Gospel This is a long essay exploring how Jesus' use of the phrase "fire and darkness" is a motif that comes from the story of God at Mount Sinai, where Israel rejects the covenant, and resists being purified by God. I consider Old Testament intertextuality, and virtually all the New Testament texts dealing with "fire" as a motif.
The Theme of Fire in the Pentateuch Small group leader discussion notes
The Theme of Fire in Isaiah Small group leader discussion notes
The Theme of Fire in Malachi Small group leader discussion notes
The Theme of Fire in the Psalms Small group leader discussion notes (in progress)
The Theme of Fire and Darkness in Matthew's Gospel Small group leader discussion notes
The Theme of Fire in Luke - Acts Small group leader discussion notes
The Theme of Fire in Hebrews Small group leader discussion notes
The Theme of Fire in 2 Peter Small group leader discussion notes
The Theme of Fire in Revelation Small group leader discussion notes
Divine Fire and Justice in 2 Thessalonians 1 An exploration of what fire and justice mean in 2 Thessalonians 1:9
C.S. Lewis' Theology of Atonement This paper explores Lewis' The Great Divorce and The Last Battle as depictions of hell. Lewis was consistent in his theology, and was informed by the early and medieval church, in saying that hell is the attempt to eternally lock God out.
The Theology of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings part 1 and part 2 and part 3 and part 4 Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, portrayed evil as self-defeating, which is how the Scriptures portray it.
The Theology of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter part 1 and part 2 Rowling, following Tolkien and Lewis, portrayed evil as self-defeating, which is how the Scriptures portray it.
Timothy Keller on Hell: A Response to Keller's The Reason for God This short essay points out the inconsistencies in Keller's presentation. He holds to penal substitution on the one hand, yet on the other, resorts to a C.S. Lewis-inspired self-imprisonment for hell.
The Early Church on Divine Fire as Purifying, and Hell as the Love of God
Martyrdom of Polycarp, chapter 15 says that the fire into which Polycarp was thrown functioned like divine fire: “And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour [coming from the pile], as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there.”
Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies book 4, chapter 29, paragraph 1 uses the image of the sun for God, where human free will determines how we experience the sun; judgment will be more in the New Testament than in the Old
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor book 1, chapter 6 speaks of the death and resurrection of Christ as a divine fire, having a similar effect upon his body that earthly fire has on dough, making it rise as bread. “Here is to be noted the mystery of the bread, inasmuch as He speaks of it as flesh, and as flesh, consequently, that has risen through fire, as the wheat springs up from decay and germination; and, in truth, it has risen through fire for the joy of the Church”
Origen of Alexandria, On First Principles book 3, paragraph 11 says that God is the sun, and we become either like softened wax or hardened clay by our choices
Antony of Egypt, Philokalia volume 1, On the Character of Men and On the Virtuous Life 150 says, 'God is good, dispassionate, and immutable…Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind' (in the link to the Philokalia, see page 246)
Aphrahat the Assyrian, Demonstration 1, paragraph 12 says that the righteous will be like precious metals, the wicked like straw
Aphrahat the Assyrian, Demonstration 6, paragraph 14 says that God entrusts the Holy Spirit to us, for us to keep uncontaminated by impurity, in order to present the Spirit and ourselves back to God - the emphasis on purity fits into the theme of fire
Athanasius of Alexandria, Festal Letter #3, paragraphs 3 - 4 explains the expression that God is a consuming fire, traces the theme of fire through Scripture
Athanasius of Alexandria, Life of Antony paragraphs 24 speaks of the fiery appearance of demons as God's judgment on sin which is already unfolding
Ambrose of Milan, On the Holy Spirit book 1, chapter 14 explains how the biblical motif of fire is used to describe God
Ambrose of Milan, On the Psalms chapter 18, paragraphs 103 - 105 says, "spiritual grace burns out our sins through fire… for sin is burnt away… but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire… This fire is hidden in the time of captivity, during which sin reigns, but in the time of liberty it is brought forth."
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 6, paragraph 29 refers to God being like a sun, whose nature is not to blind, but a person's eyes can be diseased and hurt, and thus blinded
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 15, paragraph 2 comments on Malachi 3 and God being a refining fire
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 17, paragraph 15 comments on the fire of the Spirit at Pentecost reopening the garden
Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity describes the Son of God as divine fire: 'Fire entered the womb, put on a body, and came forth.' (14:22) And: 'Fire [of incense] commended Your Birth, which drew away worship from it.— The magi used to worship it: they who have worshipped before You.— They left it and worshipped its Lord; they exchanged fire for the Fire. Blessed is He Who has bathed us in His light! In place of the senseless fire that eats up its own body of itself — the magi adored the Fire Who gave His Body to be eaten.— The live coal drew near and sanctified, the lips that were unclean. Blessed is He Who has mixed His Fire in us!' (15:13 - 14) And: 'O Woman, you whom no man knew — how can we behold the Son you have borne?— For no eyes suffice to stand — before the transfigurations of the glory, that is on Him.— For tongues of fire abide in Him — Who sent tongues by His Ascension. — Be every tongue warned — that our questioning is as stubble, and as fire our scrutiny.' (18:15)
Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on the Epiphany describes the Son of God as divine fire: 'the fire of grace has come down, has consumed utterly your offenses, and cleansed and hallowed your bodies.' (3:10) And: 'He is the fire that secretly, seals also His flock' (5:2). And: 'That visible fire that triumphed outwardly — pointed to the fire of the Holy Ghost — which is mingled, lo! And hidden in the water.— In the flame Baptism is figured — in that blaze of the furnace. — Come, enter, be baptized, my brethren — for lo! It looses the bonds;— for in it there dwells and is hidden — the Daysman of God — Who in the furnace was the fourth. Two words again our Lord spoke — which in one voice agree in unison:— He said, I have come to send fire,— and again, I have a baptism to be baptized with.— By the fire of Baptism is quenched the fire — that which the Evil One had kindled:— and the water of Baptism has overcome — those waters of contention — by which he had made trial — of Joseph who conquered and was crowned. Lo! The pure fire of our Redeemer — which he kindled in mankind of His mercy!— Through His fire He quenched that fire — which had been kindled in the defiled and sinful. — This is the fire wherein the thorns — are burnt up and the tares.— But happy are your bodies — that have been baptized in the fire — which has consumed your thickets — and by it your seeds have sprung up to heaven!' (8:6 - 8) And: 'The Prophets have called the Most High a fire —a devouring fire, and who can dwell with it?' (8:22) And: 'How can one openly grasp — in his hands the fire that burns?— O You that are fire have mercy on me — and bid me not come near You, for it is hard for me!' (14:11) And: 'The waters in My Baptism are sanctified, — and fire and the Spirit from Me shall they receive — and if I be not baptized they are not made perfect — to be fruitful of children that shall not die. Fire, if to Your fire it draw near — shall be burnt up of it as stubble.— The mountains of Sinai endured You not — and I that am weak, wherein shall I baptize You? I am the flaming fire — yet for man's sake I became a babe — in the virgin womb of the maiden. — And now I am to be baptized in Jordan.' (14:32 - 34)
Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord, paragraph 27 'For I saw a light from heaven that excelled the sun, and its light shone upon me [Acts 26:13]. So then mighty rays streamed forth without moderation, and were poured upon feeble eyes, which moderate rays refresh. For, lo! The sun also in measure assists the eyes, but beyond measure and out of measure it injures the eyes. And it is not by way of vengeance in wrath that it smites them. For lo! It is the friend of the eyes and beloved of the eyeballs. And this is a marvel; while with its gentle lustre it befriends and assists the eyes; yet by its vehement rays it is hostile to and injures the eyeballs. But if the sun which is here below, and of kindred nature with the eyes that are here below, yet injures them, in vehemence and not in anger, in its proper force and not in wrath; how much more should the light that is from above, akin to the things that are above, by its vehemence injure a man here below who has suddenly gazed upon that which is not akin to his nature? For since Paul might have been injured by the vehemence of this sun to which he was accustomed, if he gazed upon it not according to custom, how much more should he be injured by the glory of that light to which his eyes never had been accustomed? For behold, Daniel also [Daniel 10:5-6] was melted and poured out on every side before the glory of the angel, whose vehement brightness suddenly shone upon him! And it was not because of the angel's wrath that his human weakness was melted, just as it is not on account of the wrath or hostility of fire that wax is melted before it; but on account of the weakness of the wax it cannot keep firm and stand in presence of fire. When then the two approach one another, the power of the fire by its quality prevails; but the weakness of the wax on the other hand is brought lower even than its former weakness.'
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 28, paragraph 31 explains the presence of God in the sanctuary as fire, purifying in nature
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 30, paragraphs 6 and 18 explains the incarnation of Jesus as fire burning sin away (6), and comments on the etymology of the name-title "God" itself as related to burning away evil (18)
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 37, paragraph 4 explains why God is called fire, because He burns away worthless matter
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 40, paragraph 36 explains the motif of fire in hell
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45, paragraph 16 deploys passages about God as fire for the purpose of purifying us
Basil of Caesarea, Hexaemeron, Homily 6, chapter 3 refers to divine fire as both purifying and then destroying, based on our response to God
Basil of Caesarea, Letter 46 to a Fallen Virgin, paragraphs 5 - 6 applies healing atonement, and restoration from sin, in contrast to hell as an exposure and revelation of sin stored up in the soul
Gregory of Nyssa, On Infants' Early Deaths refers to death and/or the afterlife as involving being purged with fire
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and Resurrection says, 'it is not punishment chiefly and principally that the Deity, as Judge, afflicts sinners with; but He operates... only to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness'
Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, book 2, paragraphs 87 says, 'What we are describing is like some destructive and bilious humor which arises in the intestines because of a dissipated life. When the physician induces vomiting by his medicines, he does not become the cause of the sickness in the body, but on the contrary it is disorderly eating habits which bring it about; medical knowledge only brought it into the open. In the same way, even if one says that painful retribution comes directly from God upon those who abuse their free will, it would only be reasonable to note that such sufferings have their origin and cause in ourselves.'
Pseudo-Macarius of Egypt, Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 4, paragraphs 8 - 27 comments on how the choice to be hardened or softened by divine fire is ours
Pseudo-Macarius of Egypt, Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 11 discusses how divine fire is purifying; also says the serpent in the wilderness (Num.21:4 - 8; Jn.3:14 - 15) represents Jesus first healing the wound in his own humanity so he can heal the wound in ours
Pseudo-Macarius of Egypt, Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 16, paragraphs 1 - 6 discusses the relation between God and evil; how God contains all things but evil is a disorder in the human soul; God contains even hell and Satan, because He is everywhere, but is not injured by them
Pseudo-Macarius of Egypt, Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 25, paragraph 8 - 9 comments on the theme of divine fire throughout Scripture and how God cleanses and purifies us
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew's Gospel, Homily 16 writes, 'In order then that we also may extinguish all the furnace of disordered pleasure here, and so escape the hell that is there, let these each day be our counsels, our cares, and our practice, drawing towards us the favor of God, both by our full purpose concerning good works, and by our frequent prayers. For thus even those things which appear insupportable now, will be most easy, and light, and lovely. Because, so long as we are in our passions, we think virtue rugged and morose and arduous, vice desirable and most pleasing; but if we would stand off from these but a little, then both vice will appear abominable and unsightly, and virtue easy, mild, and much to be desired.'
John Chrysostom, Homilies in Praise of Paul, Homily 3, paragraph 9 says, 'Paul was so great in love, the chief of the virtues, that he was more fervently ardent than any flame. And just as iron when it lands in fire becomes completely fire, so also Paul, ignited with the fire of love, has become completely love.' (found in Margaret M. Mitchell, The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom and the Art of Pauline Interpretation (Amazon book, 2002), p.456
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions book 1, chapter 12 writes, 'every inordinate affection should bring its own punishment'
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions book 5, chapter 4 speaks of God as a consuming fire and the impact of human choices upon our human nature
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions book 11, chapter 29 writes, 'until I flow together unto You, purged and molten in the fire of Your love'
Jacob of Serug, Homily on Habib the Martyr speaks of fire in Scripture and contemporary martyrdom as purifying or not, based on one's choices, which is consistent with medical substitutionary atonement and the rest of the patristic interpretation of divine fire in Scripture
Maximus the Confessor, Chapters on Knowledge, paragraph 12 says, 'God is the sun of justice, as it is written, who shines rays of goodness on simply everyone. The soul develops according to its free will into either wax because of its love for God or into mud because of its love for matter.'
Maximus the Confessor, Ad Thalassios, Question 59.8 says, 'I mean the divine and incomprehensible pleasure of God, which God inherently brings about by nature when He unites Himself according to grace to those who are worthy. When, on the other hand... I mean the privation of grace producing unspeakable pain and suffering, which God is accustomed to bring about by nature when He unites Himself contrary to grace to those who are unworthy. For God, in a manner known only to Himself, by uniting Himself to all in accordance with the quality of the disposition that underlies each...'
John of Damascus, Exposition on the Orthodox Faith book 1, chapter 9 repeats Gregory of Nazianzus' etymology of the title 'God' as linked to the verbs 'to run' (as in courses through all things) and 'to burn' (as in consuming all evil)
John of Damascus, Exposition on the Orthodox Faith book 3, chapters 8, 11, 15, 17, 19 explains the Son of God taking human nature as fire inhabiting a coal or iron, co-existing in it and purifying it
Isaac the Syrian, Mystic Treatises 84 writes, 'The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love, is more piercing than any other pain. It is not right to say that the sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God…But love acts in two different ways, as suffering in the reproved, and as joy in the blessed'
Peter of Damascus, A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, Book 1, ‘We do not all receive blessings in the same way. Some, on receiving the fire of the Lord, that is, His word, put it into practice and so become softer of heart, like wax, while others through laziness become harder than clay and altogether stone-like. And no one compels us to receive these blessings in different ways. It is as with the sun whose rays illumine all the world: the person who wants to see it can do so, while the pereson who does not want to see it is not forced to, so that he alone is the blame for his lightless condition. For God made both the sun and man’s eyes, but how man uses them depends on himself. Similarly, then, God irradiates knowledge to all and at the same time He gives us faith as an eye through which we can perceive it.’
Modern Resources on Hell as the Love of God
Dr. Steve McVey, What Is God's Wrath (GCI You're Included) is a helpful commentary on Romans 1:18 and other passages
"Judgment" from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IV Press, 1993) and Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IV Press, 1992; pdf file)
"Wrath" from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IV Press, 1993; pdf file) identifies God's wrath as an activity, not an attribute
"Expiation, Propitiation, Mercy Seat" from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IV Press, 1993; pdf file) interprets "hilasterion" as "mercy seat" and not as "propitiation"
"Righteousness" from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IV Press, 1993; pdf file)
Fr. Lawrence Farley, David Bentley Hart’s "The New Testament: a Translation" (No Other Foundation blog, Oct 9, 2017) has important comments about the Greek word aionion critiquing the Origenist theory of universalism
Super Carlin Brothers, Dumbledore is a Phoenix | Harry Potter Theory (Super Carlin Brothers, Aug 13, 2019) fun, close reading of Rowling’s Harry Potter books exploring the motif of fire connecting Fawkes the phoenix and Albus Dumbledore; see also their video Fawkes’ Original Owner (Super Carlin Brothers, Mar 1, 2018) tying the phoenix vs. basilisk to the Griffindore vs. Slytherin and Voldemort vs. Harry Potter battles
Vinson Cunningham, How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think (New Yorker Magazine, Jan 21, 2019) is a helpful cultural commentary
David Bradshaw, Is There No Repentance After Death? (Another City, Aug 16, 2019) helpful remarks by a patristics scholar, drawing especially from Maximus the Confessor