Imagine you're a hunter-gatherer, living in a tiny tribe, wearing no more than animal skins. You hunt during the day for food, you hide from beasts during the night. The sun rises, impossibly huge and warm; it makes everything visible. You think, maybe the sun actually creates all life? If so, how can you convince it to bless your particular life, and make sure you stay healthy and strong?
What gifts can you give to this god to make him smile on you? What is the most valuable thing you have? Your children perhaps... maybe you should give our children to the god, and then maybe he will bless you. You reach for the branch sticking out of the fire...
Into this primaeval narrative, God says: "Such a thing never even entered my mind." (Jeremiah 19:5).
Many ancient peoples practised child sacrifice, and the Bible tells us the Philistines did also. Guess who lived for a while in the land of the Philistines? Abraham. Right before the infamous story about God supposedly telling Abraham to kill his son Isaac, Abraham was living in the land of child sacrifice. You know the story, Abraham believes he has to kill Isaac and takes him up a mountain. He ties him up and is about to kill him when God intervenes and stops Abraham, providing a different sacrifice himself.
God was impressed with Abraham's willingness to do anything that he felt God was asking of him... but God wasn't asking him to kill his son.
God never asks us to put our children in the fire.
God never asks us to go through the fire ourselves either.
So what about taking up our cross? What about the trials and tribulations of life?
God doesn't subject us to some arbitrary fire, or require us to pay any blood price. Rather, God provides everything himself, and invites us to enter into... him. And it turns out that God is a consuming fire. A fire that burns 7 times hotter, but a fire in which we find ourselves not alone, but accompanied. The invitation of God is for us to enter his experience of life, and in that process, lay down our own dreams and passions and our life itself. To be willing to lay it all down, if that is what God is asking. To let it all be consumed in the fire of God, as we enter him and find nothing else worthy of our attention or our affection.
Just like fire coming upon wood, the fire's only desire is to turn the wood into more fire. To re-create its own nature. And so with God, he longs to make us into the same stuff as him. A burning fire.
And after death comes resurrection. And after resurrection comes the fulfilment of promises.
If you've been going through fire recently, you need to read Dark Night of the Soul. It will change your perspective.