“Burn them! Burn them all!” –King Aerys II Targaryen, (aka, “the Mad King”). From George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice saga.
I’ve been writing a lot recently, trying to birth the next book from grey-matter into ink on page.
There’s one particular New Testament story that has been in focus over the past two-three weeks of this process. A story which features prayer, discipleship and, of course, Jesus.
But it’s not a nice story.
Far from it.
It’s a story which takes place in Luke’s gospel (Chapter 9: 46-56), whilst Jesus is on his final journey towards Jerusalem.
For the sake of brevity, and to avoid repeating what I’m writing elsewhere, I’ll skip to the most sinister aspect of the scene.
Jesus has just been refused hospitality by a Samaritan village, and two of the disciples–The brothers James and John (aka, The Sons of Thunder)–bring a horrible, disturbing and genocidal prayer request to Jesus.
They ask permission to call down fire from heaven with the purpose to engulf the entire village–including it’s residents of women, men and children–in a death bringing furnace of divine retribution and vengeance.
Shocking! And that’s from two of Jesus’ followers. Which should surprise us, but these ideas have a nasty way of repeating themselves.
This, John and James believe, is what God is about and how God’s Kingdom comes; through destroying those who stand in their way.
Thankfully, Jesus rebukes them both. (Btw, this a great example of unanswered prayer).
Jesus turns to them and says (to paraphrase), ‘You have no idea of how malignant and dark the desires of your hearts are! God isn’t about dealing out death, but about curating life!’
These guys had missed it. By a long way. Their theology is skewed. Their picture of God’s power, God’s Spirit, God’s authority is perverted and tainted by their nationalism, xenophobia and twisted idea of how power is exercised.
That said, they are not alone. Their request has found its way on to many lips over the rolling centuries; as our intercession and prayers (as well as our open conversations, Facebook posts etc.) about those we see as threats to us and ours, testify.
Especially in recent days.
The idea of a God who heals a fractured and broken world by smiting all those who seek to break it through their terrorising methods, is really appealing. And in my own anger, shock and despair, I find James and John’s sentiments wishing to climb out of my mouth.
But death is incapable of bearing life. Violence will never breed peace. Hate, to quote the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, can never drive out hate.
Now fast-forward a couple of months after this event. And we find James and John getting their request; although, it’s in a very remixed fashion (thankfully).
It’s the feast of Pentecost, and the Sons of Thunder find themselves with the other disciples praying and waiting upon God. When all of a sudden, to use the words of Acts 2 (Acts being the continuation of Luke’s first letter, his Gospel);
‘ …there came a sound from the sky like the roar of a violent wind, which filled the entire house. Then [the disciples] saw what looked like tongues of fire, which separated and came to rest on each of them’
But this *Fire from Heaven* doesn’t reduce them to charred ashes, nor does it brandish them with the power to maim their enemies. This fire falls in order to empower them to preach and to practice the Good News; a message of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, grace and love.
God’s fire falls, but it doesn’t come to destroy life, but to ignite divine life within humanity. The disciples are like tapers–enflamed to touch the world with love and light. All the world; not just the bits they like.
It’s this commissioning experience that would lead John to later write, ‘Let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who lives has God as his father and knows God’ (1 John 4:7, CJB).
The same John who once prayed for the horrifying death of others, now encourages us to be led by the Spirit towards love for others. This same John would also write the most loving of all the Gospels; a gospel which continually presents us with a God of love. A love which at its pinnacle is displayed through laying itself down for others.
It’s apparent that the heat of the Holy Spirit had melted the hard places of John’s violent nature.
You see, this is the thing with the Holy Spirit; it consumes our hatred, our bitterness, our desire for vengeance. The Spirit falls, and I find that it is my prejudices, preferences, stereotypes, and my twisted sense of justice which God seeks to annihilate.
I need this right now. I need a baptism in God’s agenda. I need empowerment from above to practice God’s Kingdom ethic, because it’s certainly not going to come from within me.
So to God I pray, ‘Burn them! Burn them all!’
Burn up my hate, my blood lust, my paranoia, my ability to demonise and scapegoat. Burn up anything that leads me away from love; any impulse that leads me to seek to destroy other instead of loving other.
As Spirit-filled people, we are called to unite what is broken and heal what is hurting. We’re to cultivate sacred gardens in barren wastelands; to bring life, and stem the flow of death.
So as we celebrate Pentecost, especially at such times, let us remember that Pentecost has a this-world agenda, not an escapist one. It’s focus is not on sensationalism, but on generating authentic, loving human community; A Spirit-soaked, earthy Humanity which bears the hallmarks of the self-emptying, benevolent God.
Holy Spirit, come.
—Tristan Sherwin, author of *Love: Expressed*.