If you’ve ever doubted the importance of knowing how to make fire, just ask Tom Hank’s character, Chuck Noland, in the movie Cast Away. It’s essential for cooking, heating, lighting, and fabricating just about everything (like steel which makes up all of our skyscrapers). What exactly is fire and how do we create it? More importantly, what does it tell us about God’s nature?
Fire is the heat and light produced when fuel combusts in the presence of oxygen. It takes a trinity of elements to start a fire – fuel, heat, and oxygen. Any combustible material has a flash point, a temperature above which it will ignite, like the paper in some books which has a flash point of 451 degrees Fahrenheit (read Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451). Next, gravity sustains a chain reaction by facilitating convection which removes spent fuel and introduces new oxygen. The circular motion of convection brings the hot air back to the fire providing the necessary feedback for a chain reaction. Without gravity (more on gravity here), the fire will go out. So, we need a trinity of elements under the influence of gravity to have a good fire, and fire is essentially heat and light.
The flame is a mixture of gases including vaporized fuel, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and carbon monoxide which result from the oxidation reactions of oxygen. Oxidation occurs when something chemically combines with oxygen, and oxidation during combustion is similar to the rusting process in iron (more on rust here) or the decay of dead wood. Fire and rust are both oxidation reactions, but fire is much more rapid. Rust is like fire in slow motion. Look at a thoroughly rusted piece of iron and it resembles something burned in a fire!
In the Bible, God is a consuming fire. Fire symbolizes God’s glory and holiness, and it’s through a burning bush that God spoke to Moses. Fire can destroy or it can warm and comfort us; it’s mesmerizing to look at, being beautiful yet dangerous at the same time. Fire purges – when something passes through fire it is purified. To purify gold, you melt it down with fire and remove the dross that rises to the surface. In the crucible of this Christian life, we are purified by the Refiner’s fire so that the dross (our sinful character) may be skimmed away.
Jesus is the Light (more on light here) of the world and gravity represents the omnipresent Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always supports and points to the Son. The Light is preeminent. We don’t sit around a fire staring transfixed at gravity, no, we gaze at the mesmerizing flame! It’s the light and heat that captivate us. Even the heat is still light, but its wavelength is in the infrared, not optical, so we can’t see it. The light we see assures us the heat we cannot see is there, but we only feel it when we’re up close and personal with the light. Without gravity, there’s no flame, and with the flame we feel heat. These components are all inextricably tied such that without any one of them, there is no fire. The more essential something is to our existence, the easier it is to see God’s nature on display. Water, light, fire…they are all mirrors of God’s nature.
Fire is wonderful, but don’t touch it. It is mesmerizing, but don’t get too close because it isn’t safe. Do you want to be tested by fire? Allowing your dross to the surface is painful and you will feel the heat. But then you will be refined. You will be pure.