Fire, arguably, is one of the most powerful metaphors for God’s desire for men and women to share His presence in friendship. “Spiritual heat,” opined theologian-therapist James Loder, “is always greater than sexual heat.”
The fact that Scripture uses fire as symbolizing God’s presence repeatedly in relational/social stories where sex is not the point of the narratives gives us fiery wisdom and insight when fire is used in specific contexts for holy sex like in the Song of Solomon and unholy sex in Proverbs.
It was T.S. Eliot who poetically pondered, “To be redeemed from fire by fire.”
Of course, as Bible-believing Christians we are all familiar with the ubiquitous fire-as-danger narrative when we begin to explore friendship between men and women. During a pivotal point in my journey exactly ten years ago, my then pastor passionately told me I was “playing with fire.”
The traditional fire-as-danger narrative purports to be grounded in wisdom when we are reminded again and again by well-known, good-intentioned leaders that close cross-gender friendships are, “too hot to handle.”
We all know that narrative, right? Don’t get too close. That’s too risky. Authentic closeness between men and women as friends is a dangerous undertaking. Better safe than sorry. A burnt child dreads the fire.
If I had a dollar for every time I have heard or read fire-as-danger story concerning cross-sex friendships in the last ten years, I would have quite a sum of money. We all know how in patriarchal psychology men-in-power use the women-on-fire-as-dangerous theme.
But again and again I return to the fiery biblical tradition where fire is clearly used for God’s immediate presence. What do we do with that? What about men and women sharing the fire of God’s love?
There is an ancient story. Perhaps you have heard of it. I wonder about it in light of men and women sharing God’s presence—God’s friendship together.
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little rule of prayer, I fast a little, I pray and meditate. I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”