We Didn't Start the Fire
The Aftermath of the Pyromaniac Mashiach
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
It will still burn on, and on
And on, and on
— Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (YT)
In 1989, singer-songwriter Billy Joel released “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” an admittedly catchy song JFK blown away, what else do I have to say? that essentially argues against the theory (yet to be proven fully incorrect) that the Baby Boomers are responsible for the decay of civilization, instead asserting that this fire was “always burning, since the world’s been turning”. I was reminded of this song rock and roller Coca-Cola wars I can’t take it anymore when the Sunday Mass readings recently rolled over to this intoxicating passage from the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus said to his disciples: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
— Luke 12:49-53
The Catholic scholar Dr. Brant Pitre notes that, here, Jesus is actually quoting Micah 7:6. Below, I quote more of Micah above verse 6 for context and appreciation of the lyrical language that could well be a description of the world that lies outside our door in 2022:
The faithful have been swept from the land;
not one upright person remains.
Everyone lies in wait to shed blood;
they hunt each other with nets.
Both hands are skilled in doing evil;
the ruler demands gifts,
the judge accepts bribes,
the powerful dictate what they desire—
they all conspire together.
The best of them is like a brier,
the most upright worse than a thorn hedge.
The day God visits you has come,
the day your watchmen sound the alarm.
Now is the time of your confusion.
Do not trust a neighbor;
put no confidence in a friend.
Even with the woman who lies in your embrace
guard the words of your lips.
For a son dishonors his father,
a daughter rises up against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.
— Micah 7:2-6
This passage of Jesus’ sticks in the craw of many a Christian pastor, because it flies in the face of the traditionally accepted Western orthodoxy that Christianity is a nice religion for nice people. In this framework, Christianity is Hallmark cards, freshly baked casseroles, perfect lipstick smiles, inoffensive language, and lawns mowed for elderly neighbors. Segments of the Christian church like to sell themselves to the yet-unbaptized on their innocuousness and harmlessness, as if the practice of Christianity is akin to being a slightly stoned, tail-wagging Golden Retriever.
So, many Christians struggle with these annoying words of Jesus where He just won’t budge right enough in order for Christians to fit Him in their little round hole of the way in which they have defined Christianity. It is certainly aggravating for them that such words were not spoken by the Apostle Paul, St. Peter, or someone else lower on the totem pole of Heaven whose words they could more easily caveat and discount. No — these are direct, uncomfortable words straight from the Lamb’s Mouth, delivered by the lector at the appointed hour to make all the Christians in their buttoned-up and cleanly pressed shirts shift uncomfortably in the pews.
But we don’t get curious about the Lord’s words. That phenomenon, in and of itself, is telling, but first, let’s take the Lord seriously, on His own terms. Why does the Lord talk about setting the world on fire, as if He were some cardboard-carrying member of Antifa in downtown Portland?
Revelations in Babylon
He began to tremble at what he saw
In astonished tones he spake
Did we not cast three men bound
Into the midst of the fire
Well, Lo, I see four men unhurt
Unbound and walkin’ down there;
There’s Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
And the fiery coals they trod
But the form of the Fourth Man that I see
Is like the Son of God
— Johnny Cash, “The Fourth Man”
I’ll turn to one story from the Book of Daniel that touches on fire and revelation, in Daniel 3.
The backstory of Daniel 3 is set up in the first chapter of Daniel: King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian Empire conquers Jerusalem and directs his men to select promising young men from among the Hebrews to come to Babylon and enter the king’s service. Daniel and his friends are selected; the three companions of Daniel are renamed the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel 3 turns to this narrative encompassed in “Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Statue” and “The Fiery Furnace”:
King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to assemble the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other officials of the provinces to attend the dedication of the statue he had set up.
So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the rulers of the provinces assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.
Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “O people of every nation and language, this is what you are commanded: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into the blazing fiery furnace.”
Therefore, as soon as all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, and all kinds of music, the people of every nation and language would fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Immediately thereafter, in verse 8, some “astrologers” “maliciously accuse the Jews” to the king because the trio will not worship the statue. The astrologers are understood to be Chaldeans, like King Nebuchadnezzar himself, who is a non-native ruler of Babylon.
King Nebuchadnezzar becomes “furious with rage” (v13) and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are brought before him to answer for this choice. King Nebuchadnezzar offers them one more opportunity to worship his god (verse 15):
Now, if you are ready, as soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the statue I have made. But if you refuse to worship, you will be thrown at once into the blazing fiery furnace. Then what god will be able to deliver you from my hands?”
The Jews refuse, stating that, “if the God whom we serve exists, then He is able to deliver us from the blazing fiery furnace and from your hand, O king,” and express that even if their God does not save them, they will still refuse to worship the statue.
King Nebuchadnezzar becomes even more enraged and orders Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Thereafter (verses 24-25):
Suddenly King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and asked his advisers, “Did we not throw three men, firmly bound, into the fire?”
“Certainly, O king,” they replied.
“Look!” he exclaimed. “I see four men, unbound and unharmed, walking around in the fire—and the fourth looks like a son of the gods!
King Nebuchadnezzar calls Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the furnace by name, also titling them “servants of the Most High God”. In a miracle, they are completely unburned, as if “the fire had no effect” (verse 27).
King Nebuchadnezzar then declares (verses 28-29) before promoting the trio:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him. They violated the king’s command and risked their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be cut into pieces and their houses reduced to rubble. For there is no other god who can deliver in this way.”
At the beginning of the story, the Babylonians have been called to worship this statue at Dura through music and dancing. The Pulpit Commentary (ed. Joseph Exell and Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones) notes:
It was most likely when the rays of the morning sun smote the golden tip of the obelisk, that there came the burst of music which was to serve as a signal for all the multitudes to fall down and worship. The image was looked upon as the sign of the god it represented; it received the worship meant for him.
While Daniel 3 does not explain any backstory as to why King Nebuchadnezzar orders the worship of Dura, it is very clear that all sacrificial rituals that are in place to avoid the mimetic conflict involve music. Music allows a large group of people to act as one body, swaying to one tune, imitating each other. This controlled mimesis allows the group to experience undifferentiation and achieve a vaccine-like catharsis against the real danger of the uncontrolled mimetic conflict.
The reality is this: there was always going to be a sacrifice in Daniel 3, with or without the bravery of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Everything in this setting is a prelude for sacrifice.
What is most interesting is that the “astrologers” — the Chaldeans — are the first lined up to accuse Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of refusing to worship the Dura statue. The Pulpit Commentary has some interesting insight, noting that the Syriac translation of Daniel uses the phrase “achalu qartzchun” to describe the accusation of the astrologers, a phrase that literally means the astrologers wanted to devour pieces of them. Pulpit goes onto explain:
“We must remember that ‘Chaldean’ is not equivalent to ‘Babylonian.’ As we have seen, the Chaldeans were intruders in Babylon, and to them Nebuchadnezzar belonged. It was but natural that native-born Chaldeans, who reckoned themselves to be of the same kin as the king, objected to have their rights postponed to a set of Jews. The fact that the three friends are not named, or in any way designated, but the whole Jewish race is referred to, shows that the purpose of these Chaldeans involved the whole Jewish people, and that they singled out Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego simply as test cases. Their elevation to positions of such trust might well have caused jealousy of them.”
The music and worship of the Dura statue causes undifferentiation; a sacrifice will be needed soon. The astrologers are not only perhaps jealous of the Jewish men’s elevation to status proximate to the King of Babylon, but they are also keenly aware of the perfect sacrificial victim: the insider-outsider. A sacrificial victim must be near enough to the group experiencing the crisis in order to provide enough cathartic relief, but also far enough to prevent the continuing cascade of violence that would wipe out the entire group. The Chaldeans astrologers, who do not have the power of the Chaldean king, would make perfect sacrifices, and they well know it. Therefore, they intelligently and immediately scapegoat the Jews, the other insider-outsiders who have been nurtured in the Babylonian culture, in order to prevent themselves from being sacrificed first. This action also satisfies their jealously; their accusation meant they wanted to devour pieces of them because cannibalism is always at the root of sacrifice.
But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, like Jesus after them, do not go gently to death. Not only do they survive unburnt — a feat which would have sufficed to ensure their continued protection thereafter — but King Nebuchadnezzar sees another in the fire. This figure gives Nebuchadnezzar the impression of majesty, of otherworldliness, such that he calls this figure “a son of the gods” or “aggelos” in the Septuagint (messenger or heavenly angel).
The fire — and only the fire — reveals the Innocent Victim hiding in the sacrifice. Had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not stuck themselves out in such a way that they invited the scapegoating, the sacrifice would still come — but there would have been no fire, no revelation of the Innocent Victim, no fourth figure, no salvation. Christ is the fourth figure in the fire, not incarnated, not yet fully revealed, but He is present and is beginning to point the way toward His full revelation. King Nebuchadnezzar may not exactly kneel at his bed and recite the Sinner’s Prayer with a Gideon Bible at hand, but he does remarkably confess the miracle, bless the God who saved them, and then boldly proclaims that “there is no other God who can deliver in this way.” King Nebuchadnezzar’s confession foreshadows the pagan world’s reception of the message of the innocent victim through the Jewish people who nurtured this awareness down the millennia. While King Nebuchadnezzar may be speaking that there is no other God who can save men from a fiery furnace, his words also speak to the truth that there is no other deity on Earth who ever takes the side of the innocent victim over demanding and devouring the sacrifice, save the Triune God of Israel. As the crowds worship the visible statue at Dura, another God, more powerful and more destructive, lies in secrecy within the fire, revealed only in tandem with the sacrifice of the innocent.
It Hurts Too Much to Look
And sometimes, it hurts too much to look
Like Moses at the burning bush
I tried to turn away, but I could see
And he said, "Fathers, don't forsake your sons
There's so much Kingdom left to come
Just let it fill your lungs before you leave"
— Noah Cyrus & PJ Harding, “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus” (YT)
A story recorded in all three synoptic Gospels, “The Sadducees and the Resurrection,” provides us insight into how Jesus understands fire (Mark 12:18-27; Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-40).
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection (which Mark points out in the text) and question Jesus:
“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man is to marry his brother’s widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died, leaving no children. Then the second one married the widow, but he also died and left no children. And the third did likewise. In this way, none of the seven left any children. And last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife will she be? For all seven were married to her.”
The Sadducees seem certain that they have walked Jesus into a logical trap: either the resurrection is not real or there are some very eye-popping polyandrous arrangements in Heaven.
Jesus responds with a very subtle suggestion here that that the Sadducees are not familiar with the Book of Enoch like He is, but then quickly dismisses His own first answer for another (verses 26-27):
“But concerning the dead rising, have you not read about the burning bush in the Book of Moses, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
Mark cuts off there, while Matthew notes only that the crowds are “astonished” at this teaching. Luke, however, provides two additional verses that shows the Sadducees’ reaction (Luke 20:39-40):
Some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, You have spoken well!” And they did not dare to question Him any further.
The text does not directly explain why, exactly, the Sadducees seem so discomfited with His answer, but Jesus provides us some hints in His reference to Exodus 3, “Moses at the Burning Bush.”
This story is the “call” of Moses. At this point, Moses is in exile from Egypt, his adopted land where he was raised, in some middle-of-nowhere place called Midian where he is watching his father-in-law’s sheep. He leads the flock “to the far side of the wilderness” and comes to Horeb, “the mountain of God", where:
The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from within a bush. Moses saw the bush ablaze with fire, but it was not consumed. So Moses thought, “I must go over and see this marvelous sight. Why is the bush not burning up?”
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
“Here I am,” he answered.
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
At this, Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
— Exodus 3:1-6
The burning bush which Moses witnesses prefigures the Theotokos, the God-bearer, who, like the bush that burns but is not consumed, is both virgin and mother, and acts as the vessel of God on this earthly plane.
St. Gregory of Nyssa writes in On the Birth of Christ:
“What was prefigured at that time in the flame of the bush was openly manifested in the mystery of the Virgin, once an interval of time had passed. Just as on the mountain the bush burned but was not consumed, so also the Virgin gave birth to the light and was not corrupted.” (via)
The burning bush, like the Theotokos holding Christ within her, is a physical manifestation of God the Father that prefigures the real manifestation of God the Father in the Incarnation of God the Son in the human person.
It “hurts too much to look,” and this is why Luke observes the Sadducees scurrying away, refusing to ask more questions after their initial boldness, in a manner not dissimilar to Moses’ discomfiture at the burning bush. When Christ references Micah in Luke, He reinterprets the words of the Prophets in light of Himself. He is boldly claiming that He — and He alone — is the One Who will cause division, Who will set the world on fire. Similarly, when He speaks to the Sadducees, He is interpreting their question in light of Exodus. Jesus has reminded His audience of the fire of revelation — the revelation of the Innocent Victim. Jesus has proclaimed that the Triune God is the God of the innocents and they live, because He is the “God of the living.”
The resurrection of the dead is real and it is filled not only with the victims who have died through scapegoating and sacrifice, whose deaths are covered in the tawdry lies of those still living, but there is something yet still worse than even that. The profession of the resurrection of the dead means that the most terrible, worst Judge of all — the Innocent Victim, the perfect, sinless God incarnate, who encompasses all the victims in His divine unity in multiplicity — will stand in front of us and demand that we look at Him. He will not allow us rest through His own death, not allow us to construct our own self-serving mythological lies around Him, but His life will force us to start telling the truth about our own scapegoating. For those left holding stones amid the dead bodies at their feet, this revelation is horrifying.
The Jesus of the Gospels speaks to a mostly Palestinian Jewish audience, who believe, by and large, that the largest problem that they face is Roman oppression, false political leaders, or else lack of proper adherence to religious customs. But Jesus will not accept these frameworks. Time and again, He announces that He has come to bring division, fully pushing against these notions that He will be some unifier, some political leader, some priest, some prophet, some warrior, some king. He will be much more than that, in a way that is far more destructive than any of His listeners had ever imagined.
Jesus constantly asserts that the problem is much more fundamental, which is why it will even show up inside the family, which is nothing more than the most fundamental, organic unit of human togetherness. The problem is not only political empires, religious factions, or tribes, but instead it is much more deeply rooted in the personal. The Jews of His time have yet to realize this, however. These fractures have not occurred because our Mashiach has not entered into His Kingdom yet, enthroned upon the Cross. But, as He walks with His disciples, He warns them that the apocalypse is coming, and not only does He warn them, He actually has the gall to anticipate it and even relish in it: “how I wish it were already blazing!" His revelation will burn through nothing less than our own human hearts.
So, Mr. Joel is half-wrong. The fire was not always burning since the world’s been turning, but it’s true that we didn’t start it: Jesus did.
The Son of God Goes Forth to War
From the moment that the Romans and the Jews launch Jesus on His first steps down the Via Dolorosa to His throne at Golgotha, they set into motion the beginning of the apocalypse. Indeed, as Jesus finally dies on the Cross, the veil in the Temple, which conceals the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum, is torn:
When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection, when they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.
— Matthew 27:50-53
The Temple veil is ripped: the Lord Jesus has come into His Kingdom and He will now start setting our pretty little world on fire. The apocalypse — from the Greek “apokalupsis” which means an “unveiling, uncovering, revealing, revelation” — has begun.
Nothing will be the same now; our dead, holy Innocent Victim will never let us be fully at ease, even all these thousand years later. His death will unravel all the carefully woven threads that have held us together because His concern for every last person, no matter how marginalized, crippled, weak, feeble, unloved, cast out, unpopular, canceled, is too great. He would rather let the world burn than let us get away with our Nice Societies built on the bodies — physical and metaphorical — of the scapegoated victims whose stories we would refuse to truthfully tell.
Construing Christianity as some sort of “nice” religion that involves singing a few songs and saying a couple of words together in some quirky building and having a few Eucharistic donuts afterward before we go about our ordinary lives is diametrically opposed to how Jesus Himself understood His purpose on the earth. Friedrich Nietzsche understood this, but many self-identifying Christians do not:
“There is a perfect likeness between Christian and anarchist: their object, their instinct, points only toward destruction. One need only turn to history for a proof of this: there it appears with appalling distinctness. […] That which stood there aere perennis, the imperium Romanum, the most magnificent form of organization under difficult conditions that has ever been achieved, and compared to which everything before it and after it appears as patchwork, bungling, dilletantism—those holy anarchists made it a matter of "piety" to destroy "the world", which is to say, the imperium Romanum, so that in the end not a stone stood upon another—and even Germans and other such louts were able to become its masters… The Christian and the anarchist: both are decadents; both are incapable of any act that is not disintegrating, poisonous, degenerating, blood-sucking; both have an instinct of mortal hatred of everything that stands up, and is great, and has durability, and promises life a future… Christianity was the vampire of the imperium Romanum,—overnight it destroyed the vast achievement of the Romans: the conquest of the soil for a great culture that could await its time. Can it be that this fact is not yet understood? […] This organization was strong enough to withstand bad emperors: the accident of personality has nothing to do with such things—the first principle of all genuinely great architecture. But it was not strong enough to stand up against the corruptest of all forms of corruption—against Christians…”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, “Der Antichrist” at 58
Words cannot capture my response to Mr. Nietzsche’s passage as aptly as the below gif:
For all his promotion of revolting pagan schools of thought, Mr. Nietzsche did grasp correctly that the effect of Christianity is not salutary on anything: it’s even akin to anarchy. Jesus will serve no one and no purpose but His own, and all will ultimately serve Him or perish, because there is ultimately no way of being or existing outside of relationship to Him and His terrible message.
Christianity has an unprecedented concern for victims, for the lost, the unclothed, the unhoused, the handicapped, but this does not make it a “nice religion.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite: Christianity’s concern for victims and its uncomfortable revelation of the sacrificial mechanism is utterly destabilizing to everything that we know. Our families will not be the same, our religion will not be the same, our society, culture, powers — none of them will escape the ravaging fire that is Christianity. The Romans knew this, which is why they sought to root out Christians from their society with a zeal that exceeded even slave rebellions; the Nazis knew this, which is why they hilariously attempted to return to paganism; and even today, the Chinese Communist Party is well-aware of all the problems Christianity brings, as they apparently edit the Bible to make sure that Jesus does stone the woman caught in adultery in order to uphold the law.
These are all highly rational decisions by nation-states that are seeking to preserve the survival of the group, even at the expense of a few. Concern for victims is catching; the revelation of the sacrificial mechanism cripples the normal means of human togetherness provided by scapegoating and sacrifice. It takes down families, religions, and even empires.
The Apocalypse is Already Now
A reading of St. John’s Book of Revelation as a telling of events that have yet to happen and only yet to happen is a hopelessly rationalist, materialist, modernist view. Since the Temple veil was rent at Jesus’ last breath, the apocalypse has already begun. The Innocent Victim, stripped naked on the Cross, is now revealed. He will rise again, ascend to Heaven, and send His Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to light upon the disciples as tongues of flame. The fire of the Holy Spirit is pure revelation and it is catching from person to person, tongue to tongue, nation to nation. Christ has assumed dominion and the world as we knew it is now set ablaze.
In a sermon on this passage of Luke’s, Bishop Robert Barron explained:
“Jesus — listen now — in His words and in His very way of being, lit a fire which indeed had a destructive purpose. […] So that old forms of life, predicated on sin, can be burned away, can be cast aside, to allow something new to come into being. Think of Jesus now, coming in to your own life. Oh, that’s lovely, yes, please Jesus, come into my heart. Yes, but: that’s a dangerous proposition, when you let the real Jesus in — I don’t mean some cultural construct, I don’t mean some Hallmark card Jesus — I mean the real Jesus — He’s going to burn some things away. […] He’s going to burn away what needs to be burned away: your hatred, your sins, your self-absorption. He’s going to burn all those things away if you let Him in. […]
Families themselves will be divided. […] It’s true to this day, that when Jesus comes into people’s lives, what has to give way are phony and false forms of community. […] It might be a family that’s predicated on all kinds of dysfunction. That family has to be disrupted so that the new family of the Kingdom of God might be born. Anyone that’s ever dealt with families experiencing alcohol addiction or domestic violence, or any of these forms of dysfunction… To heal the family, it first has to be disrupted, something’s gotta be broken up: you have to put a wrench in the works. That family has been predicated upon all kinds of dangers and false assumptions. So when Jesus, you have fire that burns some things away. He’s a source of division before He’s a source of unity. […] You can’t build a new house on some lousy foundation. You have to clear the old house and old foundation away to build something new.
So, authentic religious people like Jeremiah and Jesus, they’re always troublemakers. Not sometimes: always. In a world gone wrong, they’re going to seem problematic. In a crazy world, they’re going to seem crazy. [….] Do we have the courage to listen to Jeremiah, to listen to Jesus? To let Christ light a fire in us and burn away what needs to be burned away? To break up the phony, false forms of community to allow the true community of the Kingdom of God to be born?”
There is no going back. Christ has entered history now; we are polluted, tainted forever by His existence, forever washing the blood off our hands like Lady Macbeth, and because of Christ we know the blood is there. We cannot escape this terrible Hound of Heaven, even as we wring our hands dry and tell ourselves otherwise. Christ has revealed to us the horrible truth that we hide from ourselves, inventing ever more elaborate, ever more highly crafted narratives to allow ourselves a smidgen of existence and self-understanding that is without reference to His terrible truth. If we want to continue to look away from our own crimes, our own scapegoating of innocent victims everywhere, we will find ourselves slowly going mad as the house of cards we build falls in tatters around us. We are not capable of sustaining such self-delusions indefinitely as we find Christ hiding behind every door we desperately open in crafting these new lies.
What is there to do, as the world burns down around us and we have no refuge, no shelter? We cannot erase Christianity. Jesus is already deep in the shadows of all civilization and being, far beyond the reach of even the written word, and He will never be stamped out. There is no going back to some pre-Christian pagan society — that has already been and is even now being burned up by our pyromaniac Savior.
Instead, we can only find our ultimate happiness in complete surrender to the flames of Christianity in the Holy Spirit’s fire, even as it burns us up along with all that we know, trusting that, on the other side of ashes lies the city for which our forefather Abraham searched, the “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). While we trod on this earthy soil even as it is being burned up by the apocalypse of Jesus Christ, we can make as our prayer a line from the hymn “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer,” which memorializes the experience of the Israelites as they were led out of Egypt back to the Promised Land. As these Israelites fled Egypt, God went “before them in a pillar of cloud to guide their way by day, and in a pillar of fire to give them light by night, so they could travel by day or night” (Exodus 13:21). In our own exodus through the desert as we struggle toward that better land, we too can pray for this divine leading: let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.