Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Consuming Fire of Divine Love


The Scriptures teach us that God is love and that God is a consuming fire. That is not saying two different things but saying the same thing in two different ways. For God is simple, not a being of parts that must be held in tension or played off one against the another.

To speak of God as love and as consuming fire is to say that the love of God is the consuming fire of God, and the consuming fire of God is the love of God. So, however the consuming fire of God is manifest, it has everything to do with the love of God, and has no expression apart from that love.

The consuming fire of God’s love is a refiner’s fire, purging away the dross and purifying the precious elements. It may be like the doctor’s laser burning away a cancer in the patient’s body. The doctor’s purpose is not to harm but to heal. Likewise, the purpose of the consuming fire of God’s love is not to harm but heal and restore.

Christ is the perfect expression of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3), which is to say that God is exactly like the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, any interpretation of the Scriptures that portrays God in any way that is contrary to the revelation of God we have in Jesus Christ is an interpretation we must reject as being unworthy of Christ and the Scriptures.

In the New Testament, we learn the gospel-shaped truth that God is love. Love is not a possession, an item in God’s divine toolbox to be brought out as the occasion arises. Nor is love a choice God makes, extending it to some while withholding it from others. Nor is it an attribute that must be held in tension with or balanced out by other divine attributes. No, it is much deeper than all that: God is love (1 John 4:8). It is the nature of God to love — always. So, any interpretation of Scripture that portrays God as in any way contrary to Christ’s self-giving, other-centered love, or the New Testament teaching about love, is an interpretation we must reject as unworthy of Christ, of the gospel and of love.

God has always been the way he is revealed in Christ. He has not changed from the Old Testament to the New; he has always been the way Christ has revealed him in the New Testament. The understanding the Old Testament writers and prophets had about God was not full and complete. But Christ has now come, and he is the full and complete revelation of God, the perfect expression of God’s being.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
That really is a night and day difference, but it does not mean we ought to dismiss the Old Testament Scriptures, as if the revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ has done away with them. Quite the opposite, for Christ said that the Scriptures are about him:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me. (John 5:39)
We ought to read the Scriptures, then, but we ought to read them through Christ and the gospel, with a Christ-centered, cross-shaped understanding. Otherwise, we are liable to end up with ideas about God that are simply unworthy of Christ and therefore unworthy of God.

The idea, then, that God should ever act in any way that is retributive or intends harm to anyone is thoroughly unworthy of Christ, and ought to be rejected — love simply does not act that way. Rather, we ought to see the consuming fire of God as the expression of God’s love, intended not for harm but for healing, not to destroy but to restore.

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