Nothing's more inviting than the lovely glow of a roaring fire. Fire can warm up a room, it can provide light in darkness, and it's the perfect place to roast marshmallows.
Oh, it can also kill you.
Trial by Fire
Some passages in the Bible use fire as a symbol of love and passion for God. John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize folks "with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16). The apostles see "tongues of fire" float above their heads (Acts 2:3). Even Bruce Springsteen was on fire.
But James, Peter, and Jude have a different take on burning stuff. As you might imagine, being on fire is a difficult thing to endure:
- "Your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire." (1 Peter 1:7)
- "Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you." (1 Peter 4:12)
It's also the perfect way to punish people:
- "Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire." (James 5:3)
- "Sodom and Gomorrah […] serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." (Jude 1:7)
- "Save others by snatching them out of the fire." (Jude 1:23)
Yup. Death by fire is not recommended.
Some Say the World Will End in Fire
Peter is especially big on the idea that God is going to bring this whole show to a close by using firepower:
The present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless[…] The elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed[…] The heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire. (2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12)
We're not so sure we hold with those who favor fire. Sorry, Robert Frost.
What exactly is going on here? In these instances, fire has an almost cleansing quality. It's sort of like a wildfire. Sure, it's dangerous, and if you find yourself caught up in it you're gonna get burned, but it also has a purpose. Once the old stuff is burnt away, new things can spring up in its place. When God destroys the world, he'll bring about a new order that'll be much better.
Second time's a charm.