Were you struck by Wednesday’s headlines about the awful fires in Greece? The flames were described as Biblical and apocalyptic – but why would newspaper editors immediately associate deadly fire with the Bible?
In many ways such associations may seem to be appropriate. The Bible contains several stories about fire – we may think, for example, of the burning bush (Exodus 3), the pillar of fire (Exodus 13) and the fire of the Lord burning up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil and licking up the water in the trench in response to Elijah’s prayer (1 Kings 18). But newspaper editors perhaps had more in mind allusions to hell as a lake of fire in Revelation; Jesus, of course, also often referred to eternal fire in connection with judgment and warned of those who will be thrown into “the fiery furnace” (Matthew 13v42).
A truly awesome Bible reference – and we should particularly take note that this is in the New Testament – is Hebrews 12v29: “our God is a consuming fire”.
However, in at least two ways the Greek fires were not ‘Biblical’:
- Jesus actually describes hell in terms of fire that never goes out – eternal torment. Horrible though the Greek fires were, they were actually nothing in comparison with such Biblical flames. Surely we must seek (and warn others) to avoid such flames at all costs; and
- God graciously promises His people that “when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43v2). I accept that the primary application of this promise is spiritual – and indeed there may well have been Christians who died in the Greek fires. The key point here relates to God’s protection, taking us safely through the ‘fires’ of this life and keeping us from the fires of hell, with a wonderful Biblical picture of this being Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking with God through the flames in Daniel 3. We can, then, face any ‘flames’ with faith, not fear.
Peace and Grace