89 God As A Consuming Fire Part One
Updated: Mar 26
The Bible refers to God as a consuming fire. How is that to be understood in light of a nonviolent God? Is it true that in the end God is as a consuming fire literally consumes the wicked with His presence. Join us in discovering what this means in light of what Jesus knew about God.
God as a Consuming Fire.
Fire or heat radiation is caused by most frequencies of the Electro Magnetic Spectrum. To say that God is literally a consuming fire is implying that God is a high energy being or a spirit being rather than a material being. Is this what Ezekiel was reporting about the King of Tyre and Lucifer?
Ezekiel 28:14 NLT I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire.
Is the idea of God being fire literal or symbolic? God may have this intense radiation around him but this does not mean he cannot veil it. When Moses asks to see God’s glory or his being God has to veil it by hiding him in a rock fissure (Exodus 33, 34).
The Case for God being a Literal Fire
In thinking about God being a literal high energy being there is a parallel with radiation. We use radiation to generate X-rays and power, to treat disease and preserve foods. These are small, controlled uses of this energy. A nuclear bomb is an example of an uncontrolled radiation. Another example is the tragic Chernobyl disaster. Pierre and Marie Curie both died of exposure to radiation. Dentists know the danger of prolonged exposure to X-rays and use distance and lead line aprons as protection. This means that there are benefits from God being perceived as the original source of energy in the universe. This concept of God is also a threat.
The metaphor of God being a “consuming fire” fits well with traditional views on God’s terrifying wrath and an ever, burning hell (Revelation 14:10-11). One can only conjecture that this concept of a violent, fiery God easily led to burning heretics at the stake and prolonging their death as long as possible. If God can treat sinners cruelly, as in an ever, burning hell, why can’t “saints” do the same, especially if they are dealing with pestilential heretics. A consuming fire and an ever-burning hell are mutually exclusive. If the fire consumes it must end. An ever- burning hell means that there is no consumption of the material being burned. The sun is a consuming fire. It will eventually expire when its hydrogen and helium fuel is used up.
Three times in Scripture, God is explicitly called a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Isaiah 33:14; Hebrews 12:29). In Deuteronomy Moses is telling younger Israelites what happened at Sinai as they had not been alive or engaged at that time. Deuteronomy is written late in Moses life and those adults who had been at Sinai had all passed away in the desert by then and Israel was about to enter the Promised Land.
Isaiah 33:14 NLT. The sinners in Jerusalem shake with fear. Terror seizes the godless “Who can live with this devouring fire?” they cry. “Who can survive this all-consuming fire?”
Deuteronomy 4:23-24 NLT So be careful not to break the covenant the LORD your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the LORD your God has forbidden this. 24 The LORD your God is a devouring (consuming) fire; he is a jealous God. Moses is reminding them of the regulations and the manifestations of God’s presence at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-20). He is warning them that God’s presence can be lethal if not mitigated by reverence and obedience. At the same time Moses entered the fire and emerged shining like the sun!
The context of this passage is that God declared he was going to put an end to the marauding Assyrian army which had carried the northern Tribes away (vss. 10-13). For this reason, sinners in Jerusalem, who had feared the Assyrians, will now fear God even more. If they had been willing to repent, they would have been delivered from fear (verse 15).
Hebrews 12:28-29 NLT Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a devouring (consuming) fire.
The Kingdom of Heaven has come and it will last forever because it is protected by the “fire” of the blazing love of God. We are thus happy to reverence him in every possible way. This relationship is apparently based more on awe than on love. God always hopes we will move from obligation to fascination in our relationship with him.
To Elijah, the god who answers by fire is the true God (1 Kings 18:24). The traditional understanding of God as a literal “consuming fire” leads to God being the cause of the death of Jesus once he took our sin on him. Deconstructing the following popular paragraph on the web substantiates this claim.
“Fortunately, God has provided the righteousness we need by sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the sins of all who would ever believe in Him. In that one act, Christ mitigates God’s wrath, exchanging His perfect righteousness for our sin. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). All the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus, so that those who belong to Him would not have to suffer the same fate as the Assyrians. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), but we need not fear the consuming fire of God’s wrath if we are covered by the purifying blood of Christ.” https://www.gotquestions.org/consuming fire.html
Notice the following implications of this paragraph.
1. Christ “mitigates” or reduces God’s wrath by his death on the cross. This means that Jesus changed God’s attitude towards sinners with his sacrificial death. This is what a sacrifice is, it is the presentation of something that changes the mind of the one who receives the presentation. The writer does not understand that Christ’s sacrifice was to change sinner’s minds, not God’s mind.
2. “All the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus” thus delivering believers from death. This means death is a punishment, not a consequence of sin. As a punishment, death, can then be moved to a substitute. However, death is the consequence of sin as much as emphysema is a consequence of smoking. I can’t take your emphysema into my lungs so you can breathe. I need to help you stop smoking to be of any help to someone short of breath caused by smoking. 3. The consuming fire is equated with God’s wrath. This is comparing apples with oranges. The consuming fire may be seen as purifying us of straw and hay and reveal the gold and silver. God’s wrath is a way of describing God’s emotion when he is forced away and must leave sinners to the consequences of their bad choices. Sinners then become subject to the thief who steals, kills, and destroys (John 10:10). The consequence of sin, spiritual, emotional, and physical death also play their deadly role.
The concept of God as a “consuming fire” is a simile or metaphor for the bad consequences of sin or God’s protection of his people.
The following 18 examples demonstrate this claim and suggest that the “consuming fire” of God is not literal but symbolic. 1. When God finds Adam and Eve hiding in the garden there is no mention of God coming as a “consuming fire.” They hid long before God showed up which indicates that the problem was in them and not in God (Genesis 3).
2. Satan is not destroyed by fire when he comes to the Heavenly Council and challenges the LORD (Job 1:6- 11; 2:1-5).
3. To Abraham, God comes as a smoking oven and a burning torch (Genesis 15:17) to bless him.
4. When Moses comes close to the burning bush and talks to the LORD, he is not consumed (Exodus 3:1-6).
5. When Moses comes down off the Mountain of God his face was shining to the point where the Israelites asked him to wear a veil (2 Corinthians 3:7). They preferred their darkness to the light of God reflecting off Moses face. This was because many of the Israelites were worshiping their own gods—not the God who had delivered them from Egypt. They were worshiping Sakkuth, the king god and Kaiwan, the star god (Amos 5:26). They will later worship the bronze serpent (2 Kings 18:4). To Moses, the Burning Bush became Mt Sinai burning with fire. Moses enters the fire (Exodus 19:16-20) and comes out unscathed. It was a blessing to him and to those who wanted to be close to God. “To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the LORD appeared at the summit like a consuming fire” (Exodus 24:17 NLT).
6. When Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, use common fire to burn incense the fire of the LORD blazed forth and they died. Their clothes were not burned, so this was not a literal fire (Leviticus 10:1-5).
7. When Joshua is about to enter the Promised Land, the LORD promises to be a “consuming fire” to their enemies. Deuteronomy 9:1-3 NLT “Listen, O Israel! Today you are about to cross the Jordan
River to take over the land belonging to nations much greater and more powerful than
you. They live in cities with walls that reach to the sky! 2 The people are strong and tall
descendants of the famous Anakite giants. You’ve heard the saying, ‘Who can stand up
to the Anakites?’ 3 But recognize today that the LORD your God is the one who will
cross over ahead of you like a devouring (consuming) fire to destroy them. He will
subdue them so that you will quickly conquer them and drive them out, just as the
LORD has promised. We have no record of Israel’s enemies being destroyed by literal fire. Rather the LORD promised to send “terror” to defeat them (Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20).
8. When Isaiah sees the LORD, high and lifted up he is not consumed (Isaiah 6:1-5).