Fires and wires
Fire has long fascinated and enchanted. We love the magic and romance of candlelight, the homely warmth of an open fire, and the raw power of a raging, crackling bonfire. Fire also features prominently in our calendars. The unfortunate Guy Fawkes will once again be commemorated this month with a customary incineration, and the season will be marked with gunpowder in the skies as we ‘ahh’ and ‘ooh’ at firework displays.
But fire can of course be scary and destructive.
A few minutes of research on the BBC website revealed the following fire-related stories reported in the space of just 24 hours. Fires in a woodpile in Essex, straw bales in Lincolnshire, a hotel in Yorkshire, a car in Dartford, a church in Shetland, a laboratory in East Anglia, and a flat and an industrial estate in Wales. And of course there was our local claim to fame: the fire at Didcot B power station.
I have a vivid and abiding memory of a man being brought into A&E screaming in agony. He had extensive burns that resulted from throwing petrol onto his garden bonfire. Whilst terrible accidents still happen, as a result of building regulations, fire retardant materials, smoke alarms, and improved education, fatal fires are mercifully less common than they once were.
Preventing fires is always better than trying to extinguish them.
The Bible speaks often of fire. Fire is used to represent the presence of God, in all his awesome holiness. Think of Moses and the burning bush, the pillar of fire going before the Israelites, or the tongues of fire on the Day of Pentecost. Fire is used to represent the destroying fire of judgement. Fire is also used to refer to the power of the tongue.
“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
The tongue also is a fire…” James 3:5-6.
Our words are powerful things and can be used both for great good or terrible evil. We don’t just have to be ‘preachers of hate’ to set a fire going. Passing on gossip about a neighbour or colleague, putting someone down with a stinging rebuke, or letting someone have both barrels of our unrighteous anger, can cause terrible harm.
But the cure is not simply to keep a tight rein on our tongues. The problem needs to be traced to and stopped at its source.
It has been suggested that the Didcot power station fire was caused by faulty wiring. What is the source of the ‘fire in our tongues’? The human heart. As Jesus said, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). In other words, to prevent the destructive fires started by our words, we need new hearts. And that is just what God promises to his people, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Preventing fires is always better than trying to extinguish them. A faulty junction box should be replaced or re-wired before any harm is done. God, in his grace and wisdom, offers divine re-wiring of hearts to all who turn to him.
Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey
Rector of Harwell with Chilton