1 Aug 2017
There’s a danger in what Jesus says today. Or, rather, the danger is in how we hear him. When he talks about the “fiery furnace” in contrast to “the righteous shining like the sun,” it’s easy to hear that in black-and-white terms. You know, like: there’s “heaven or hell;” or there are “the evil doers, and then the righteous ones;” or there are “bad people” and then there are “good people.” And the danger in hearing it that way is that it doesn’t reflect reality.
The reality is that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God, and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. But the reality, too, is that we’re also sinners; we gossip and murmur, we can be selfish and puffed up with pride, or we can just get lazy and apathetic in our faith and stop trusting God. We’re fundamentally good in the eyes of God, and yet, we’re also tinged with the stain of sin—more or less. The reality is that we’re a mix of sin and virtue.
But it’s God mission to free us from sin; it’s his desire to clean us up; to make us not a mix of sin and virtue, but to make us entirely virtuous. And, in that, “the Lord is kind and merciful.” He pays more attention to our desires to be good, rather than our tendencies to sin. But, at the same time, he wants to get rid of whatever causes us to sin. Happily, though, we want the same thing.
The “fiery furnace” is there to help get rid of our sinfulness. It’s like God’s version of 20-Muleteam Borax. It can be a little harsh, but it serves a good purpose, that “fiery furnace.” And we know it serves a good purpose because God is kind and merciful. Our God is not a vengeful God; he is Jesus, who is loving toward those who desire to love him.
And so, that “fiery furnace” is a punishment only for those who want to go there; whose basic desire in life is to sin. But, for the rest of us—God’s beloveds who desire the good, but still fall and stumble sometimes—for the rest of us, the “fiery furnace” is a tremendous help. It “burns off” all the crud and stuff we don’t want hanging on our souls. And that eternal fire is the Holy Spirit of God.
Come, Holy Spirit, fire of God. Take from us our tendencies to sin; burn off all that weighs us down. Make us purer of heart, Lord, in your kindness and mercy.