St Andrew’s Croydon
6th June 2004
A Consuming Fire
Every good teacher explaining something unfamiliar to his pupils, compares it with something they already know..
For instance, in teaching children about the Earth, he might say ‘it’s round and slightly flat at the top and bottom, rather like an orange’. During the War, when oranges were unobtainable, one teacher was heard to say to her class ‘an orange is round and slightly flat at the top and bottom, rather like the world.’
The method is the same – use something well-known to help people understand something less well-known. Of course the teacher has to point out that it’s only in its shape that the world resembles an orange – otherwise some bright child will ask ‘but where are the pips?’. Even so the child who’s learnt that the world is round, already know more than one who thinks it’s flat because that’s the way looks in his eyes.
Using the known to explain the unknown is the only way we can learn about the Nature of God, the Holy Trinity.
The traditional image of Father, Son and Holy Spirit has stood the test of time; Jesus often used it when he talked about ‘My Father’ and ‘Your Heavenly Father’, and most people know what the words ‘father and son’ mean in human terms.
However, in today’s world of fatherless families, there are more and more people who have never experienced fatherhood satisfactorily, and as a result they find the image of ‘God the Father’ puzzling or off-putting. So just because Jesus used it on many occasions, we must remember he used other images to describe his Heavenly Father: Shepherd, King, Master to name but three.
Here, then, is an alternative which may help. If it doesn’t, then by all means go back to the Father/Son/Holy Spirit model.
"In the beginning, God created". He made this and he made that and the other, and behold it was very good. This morning let us think of God being like a human creator – an architect, an artist, an engineer, but especially an author or a playwright..
Now, anything that humans "create" begins with an Idea. Whether it’s a bridge, a painting, a play or a novel, its real beginning is not the material from which it is eventually made – bricks and mortar, or paint and canvas, or words on paper – but from an Idea in the creator’s mind. So we can picture God in the beginning ‘having the Idea’ (or Plan) of his creation, and the act of creation itself bringing it into being.
Of course we mustn’t think of Creation as something which suddenly ‘came into God’s head’ in the way an author might wake up with an idea for a new play or novel. That would be like asking "where can we find the orange-pips in the world?" God’s ‘ideas’, like his nature, are eternal and everlasting. They are part of himself so to speak, in a way which the idea for a novel or a play can never be for its human author. But, with that in mind, God creating the world and the human race is like Shakespeare writing Hamlet, not only by creating something that didn’t exist before (Creation, or the play Hamlet), but because it involves the ‘creation’ of a whole supporting cast of Beings ‘in the image’ of their respective Creator: Horatio, Claudius and Polonius in the case of Shakespeare’s creation; and Man (including you and me) in the case of God. Beings who, up till that moment had never existed.
Any idea, however, will remain nothing but an idea unless it’s put into practice. It may get as far as an outline of the plot if it’s a play, but unless the author puts in the necessary work or energy to put it onto paper, it will remain just an idea: ‘stillborn’, in other words.
The same is true of creation. To produce living beings like you and me, our Creator had not only to bring flesh and blood and bones together; he must also put into them something of His divine Energy of which he is the only and ultimate source.
Christians believe that the way in which such energy is imparted to us is through God the Son, the Word ‘who was in the beginning with God’ and ‘through whom all things were made’. ‘The First-born of all creation’. ‘Begotten of his Father before all worlds’. ‘God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God, of one substance with the Father’. "I was beside him like a master workman, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men", as we heard in the first reading.
God the Son is not only the model on which the Creator based his final and supreme creation, Man, he also serves as the mediator or channel of God’s energy to us his creatures. So when we end our prayers "through Jesus Christ our Lord" we acknowledge the inseparable and eternal relationship between God our Creator and ourselves his Creatures who have become his children through Baptism..
We can understand the role God the Son plays in the drama of our creation and redemption by reading the Gospels. Jesus Christ is the key-player in this drama. He became man, he died on the cross, and was raised from the dead in order to put the Divine Energy to work in the world. It’s at work today amongst anyone who will receive it. "As many as received him, to them he gave power to become the Sons of God, even to them that believe on his name", as St John writes at the beginning of his Gospel.
Power gives us the clue to the role played by God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. ‘You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you’, said Jesus, and his promise was fulfilled at the first Pentecost and has continued amongst his faithful people ever since.
Any Idea on its own is power-less unless it receives energy. But idea + energy on their own will only do damage and harm unless they are properly directed. This is the work of God the Holy Spirit, as the Collect says ‘Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things.
A playwright may have a good idea. He may put a lot of work (or energy) into bringing it to life. But unless he keeps his whole creation moving in the right direction, unless, that is, he uses his judgement to make sure that his created characters are developing properly, he will only succeed in producing a duff, power-less play, which will bore his audience to death. Likewise the Holy Spirit is ceaselessly at work in each one of us, enabling you and me to develop in the way our Creator intends.
So the Holy Trinity is comparable with a playwright creating a drama. But remember the world and the orange-pips: there are two vital differences.
First, unlike Hamlet or Horatio who have to do what Shakespeare makes them do, you and I have a measure of free-will built into us which enables us to do precisely the opposite of what God intends. That’s what’s called Sin.
The second difference is that the Godhead consists of three Persons. – and Persons, mustn’t be confused with Concepts like idea, energy and power. Each has a personality, a nature and a will of His own which nevertheless agree in one.
God isn’t like a kind-hearted Old Grandfather-in-the-Sky who only ‘wants to see his human grandchildren having a good time’. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Our God is a consuming fire’. Fire doesn’t just make us feel warm and comfy; it burns; it destroys, it converts and it purifies as well.
So beware! Let us approach our Creator with the care and reverence due to him from his creatures, or we shall get not just our fingers, but our very selves burnt to cinders the nearer we get to Him.
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