Friday, February 15, 2008


Back when I lived in North Carolina, I used to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway at least a couple of times a month. My memory is a little foggy from that time, but my recollection is that there is an overlook on the parkway called the Black Mountain overlook, which is pictured here.

According to the plaque that is at the overlook, the forest around the Black Mountains was in very poor health in the late 1800's. Many non-native species had invaded the forest, fungal diseases and insect infestations had run rampant, and the soil was eroding at a startling rate. The government agency taking care of the forest didn't know what to do. Nothing they tried seem to work. So, one day in the early 1900's they set the whole thing on fire and let it burn to the ground. Then, in a bold move, they decided to leave it alone for 30 years to see what happens.

Their gutsy move payed off, because it is now, as you can see, it is a beautiful, healthy forest.

Sometimes I think about this story of the forest on the Black Mountains when I read the Old Testament, and God is spoken of as a wrathful and jealous fire that consumes everything in His path, leaving behind something better. Sometimes this fire is spoken of in more positive terms, as being a "refiners fire", but it still seems to conjure up images of things being forcefully burned away. This stream of thought is quite prominent in the Old Testament - consummation means burning away bad things.

But as I've pondered Luke 9:51-56, I've become less convinced we think about consummation the right way. In this passage, Jesus was headed towards Jerusalem, and visiting villages along the way. One village - a Samaritan one - refused to let him enter. In response, James and John said,
"Lord, do you want us to command fire down from heaven and consume them?"
to which Jesus scolded them and replied,
"You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

Starting with the Old Testament prophets and continuing into the New Testament, the subtle theme of mother-child or, more prominently, husband-wife relationship has started to dominate over the "fire" images used to describe our relationship to God. This theme gets slipped quietly into the prophets, slowly rising in crescendo through the New Testament until the final image is of the Church as the bride of Christ. (Feel free to inject "eewws" here as you realize that Christ is also your brother.)

Here is my point. Perhaps consummation and fire are not so much about "burning" things away, as if we can enter heaven by burning away all the bad things in us. Perhaps instead consummation and fire are about intensification in relationship.

People who fall in love don't just force themselves to love the other person. Instead, they become infatuated with each other, which leads to stages of intensification. Flirting becomes dating. Holding hands ensures. Private stories are shared. Kissing happens. A conversation occurs to determine "where this relationship is going". Somewhere in there a major fight happens, but you don't leave each other because your life just isn't the same without the other. Love blossoms. Blah, blah, blah. And, if we follow this story to its normal end, a true act of consummation occurs. Not because the parts that didn't love you were burned away - that would be more like rape. But, in the ideal case, because one was consumed with the other to the point they wanted to share intimate things.

That's not to say that things are always rosy - sometimes intensification is more like a crucible than a joy-ride. I could go on for pages and pages about what it means to intensify in relationship, but, at least for me, the story of God's consuming action is so much more about the silver than about the dross.

1 comment:

Tracy P. said...

I had never actually thought of the connection between consume and consummation before. Should be a no-brainer, I suppose, but it's quite thought-provoking.