Fire and Salt
For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another. (Mark 9:49-50 KJV)
In my study of this chapter to better understand worms and fire, I find it quite compelling to see how these last two verses of Jesus' teachings add light to our understanding of what this may all be about.
The traditional views of hell simply do not fit well at all into these verses, and there is good reason for that. The popular views of God and His attitude and treatment of sinners is so screwed up that it doesn't fit well with many of the Scriptures revealing the truth about God. Most of the terms and words and phrases from the Bible have been so perverted and distorted that it becomes nearly impossible for a person to grasp the real meaning of Scripture until they first allow the Spirit of God to use the Bible itself as its own interpreter instead of relying on popular theologians to decide what it might mean.
As I look at the context of this chapter a number of things emerge as compelling to me. The uses of the word fire here are quite interesting and particularly in this verse where it says that everyone is to be salted with fire. Now if we adopt the typical opinions about hell fire that are commonly taught in most churches and religions, that would mean that everyone is going to end up in the flames of hell somehow. And ironically, when the real facts are exposed that is not really that far from the truth. But hell is not what people usually believe it to be, so explaining what this means is not quite that simple.
This verse creates a very close linkage between salt and fire. As far as I can see it almost makes them one and the same in a sense. If we think of salting food with some seasoning, wouldn't it stand to reason that the act of salting it would mean pretty much the same as describing the content or makeup of what is being put into the food? When you salt something you are putting salt on it and the salt is being absorbed into it and having a rather dramatic influence in it.
If Jesus says here that everyone is going to be salted with fire, then His use of the word fire must be very close to what He has in mind as to the content or makeup of what salt means. And if He is talking about literal flames that are physical and intended to torture someone's body or soul, we would find this verse very puzzling indeed. And it is true that those who cling to dark notions about God have a real problem with this verse and may tend to gloss over it rather quickly or try to rationalize it away.
But this is not the only time that Jesus talks about fire in ways that puzzle people.
I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! (Luke 12:49-51 NRSV)
John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Luke 3:16 NRSV)
Too often we tend to isolate verses from each other and forget that they are placed in proximity for a reason. The original verses quoted at the beginning here come immediately after the verses where Jesus quoted Isaiah about the worm not dying and the fire not being quenched.
I don't think too many people believe that Jesus intended to come to this earth to go around setting literal fires like some sort of pyromaniac to get people motivated. There is no record of Jesus obsessed with starting fires in people's fields or houses or anything of the sort. But both John and Jesus clearly stated that one of the main purposes of Jesus coming to this earth was to ignite a fire of some sort. And the verses under consideration primarily in this study are the ones referring to an unquenchable fire that is going to become evident somehow both here on earth and in the final day of Judgment.
Jesus said that He wished that fire were already kindled. Just what does that mean anyway? Does it imply that Jesus was so irritated with sinners and all the wicked things taking place on this earth that He wished He could just go ahead and burn up all the people He was disgusted with and get judgment over as soon as possible? Some might be tempted to believe that if they cherish similar views of a God in heaven who is angry at sinners and eagerly waiting to wreak vengeance on them by torturing them for eternity. But the Bible supports no such picture of God and certainly we cannot see that view supported in the life and character of Jesus. (see Luke 9:54) And remember, Jesus Himself clearly stated, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”
John the Baptist also explicitly stated that Jesus had come to baptize people quite differently than he was doing. He said that the Messiah was going to baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Is there any record of Jesus ever immersing anyone in the flames of a campfire or some other pyrotechnic demonstration to baptize them? Hardly! And yet people continue to cling to the sordid notions that God desires to immerse sinners in some literal flames of hell either for some limited period of time or worse yet for all of eternity as a means of torturing them for the sins they committed during a few short years. And all of this is supposedly going to take place while the saved look on with delight and gloat over their agonies.
Is this the kind of sordid heaven that Christians want to promote to the world? Is this a kind of God that invites spontaneous love and respect for His caring heart for the lost? Any reasonable person who is willing to think clearly at all has a difficult time reconciling these horrendous views of God as portrayed in these teachings with even their own sense of decency and justice. It also does not align at all with the representation of God as displayed in the life and teachings of Jesus. So something is terribly wrong with the popular views about God and especially about hell that have suffocated the love out of millions of hearts for centuries. These teachings actually destroy respect for God and His laws.
Instead of motivating people to love God, these teachings promoted by supposedly loving Christians claiming to represent Jesus Christ tend to create confusion, fear and even a deep sense of offensiveness in their own lives. And rightly so! These are bald-faced lies about God, slander of the highest degree and people should be outraged that anyone should dare to make such wretched insinuations about God and His motives and feelings toward sinners. But yet the lies continue to flourish and remain because they are used so effectively to swell the ranks of church memberships and the fear thus invoked can be manipulated to increase the financial gain of religious leaders and institutions. What a travesty! What hypocrisy! And all in the name of religion.
But even with all of that deception opened up and exposed, what do these words really mean if they are not referring to a literal fire torturing people for eternity as many try to claim?
It is hard to expunge all the false ideas and deeply embedded lies about God that we have lived with all of our lives. But it is necessary to let go of at least some of them initially if we are to allow any room for real truth to come in and clean out our minds and hearts from all this confusion and fear and deception. We must let go of our preconceived opinions while at the same time inviting the Holy Spirit to introduce us to saving truth, truths about God and His character that will cleanse our minds of falsehoods and awaken true love in our hearts. That has been slowly happening in my own life over the past few years and is what I long to see happen in the hearts of those touched by my influence.
As I think about the purposes of salt it just makes logical sense that the value of salt, or any seasoning for that matter, is the intensity of its flavoring power. Jesus spells that out rather clearly in His words, both here and in other places. If salt loses it saltiness then it becomes insipid and pretty much useless.
I also believe that the reason Jesus intimately linked the ideas of salt and fire here is to highlight their similarities. Fire has varying degrees of effectiveness depending on how strong it is and how hot it burns. Fire is also used as an analogy both in the Bible and in our own languages as a means of describing various other things, particularly emotions. We talk about someone's anger burning hot and we know just what that means. We refer to lust or sexual passion as a fire that sometimes burns out of control and causes people to do things that are improper and even destructive. Yet our modern culture continuously fuels that fire of passionate lust in the advertising we are exposed to every day and the music we hear on the radio and the movies that people are exposed to all the time. And then it is no wonder that our marriages are falling apart and sexual crimes are more and more common. Our society is simply reflecting what it is feeding on and the fire of immoral passion burns hotter and hotter all around us.
I have come to understand and believe firmly after years of study on this subject, that much of the time when the Bible speaks of fire it is directly related to intensity of emotion or passion. It is important to note at this point that passion itself is not necessarily either good or bad but is simply a description of intensity itself. One can have intense hatred and be very passionate about killing and harming others and another can be passionately in love and be motivated to heroic acts of, bravery, kindness and selfless service. Passion is not a problem necessarily, it is simply a descriptor, an amplifier so to speak, of the level of other emotions.
With this view of fire and passion being closely linked as possibly one and the same in the Bible, it becomes far easier to see how it fits in and makes sense in places that were very puzzling before. I have even discovered that the word translated wrath throughout the Bible is often a mistranslation and actually refers to passion itself, not necessarily hate-filled anger as many suppose. This discovery dramatically opened up my understanding of many passages in the Bible that previously confused me and it actually deepened my appreciation of God's love for me in ways I had never dreamed could be possible before.
So as the words and concepts are better understood, then when I come to verses like these I see them in a completely new light – a very exciting light I must add. Now, when I read verses about the wrath of God and transpose the word wrath into passion, it is much easier for me to see love lurking behind those words instead of anger and terror. I have come to realize that the fiery presence of God is a simplistic description of the intensity of the passionate love that emanates from His heart that is so powerful and overwhelming that it will prove fatal to anyone getting too close to it without first becoming synchronized with that love properly.
From this view of fire and passion it now makes more sense when I read Jesus' words that everyone will be salted with fire. It also explains why Jesus longed for this fire to break out on the earth, this kind of fire that He had come to introduce. Jesus Himself was the insertion of God's passion into this dying world that had been so isolated from the truth about God and His love for us that it had come to view God generally with terror. Jesus was the toned down version of God's passionate love that was veiled sufficiently so that this revelation was not at lethal levels and so we could relate to it in our terribly weakened and limited capacities. The reason that Jesus veiled Himself by taking on humanity was so that He could attract us back into believing the real truth about God's character, His disposition of unconditional, uncompromising, intensely passionate love that is the fuel that keeps the whole universe synchronized and moving.
Jesus came to this earth to demonstrate the passionate love of God towards us, not to intervene between us and a passionately angry God wanting to kill us. Yes, we do need to respond to the invitation of Jesus to be born again and allow God to dwell in us and transform us to prepare us for a much fuller exposure to the passionate power of the Father in the future. But the fire of the Bible primarily is representative of the intensity of the love that God and all of heaven has for us, not a sordid desire on God's part to get even with us or bring vindictive punishment against those who dare to offend a tyrannical deity.
What I see in these verses is an invitation by Jesus to allow the salt of God's passionate love to move into our own hearts to re-infuse us with more of the spice of His passion that in turn will produce more peace among us. We know intuitively that where there is love there will be peace. And yet so often we resort to depending on fear, intimidation, attempts for control or methods of force to try to bring about peace.
The disciples in this chapter seemed to not have very much peace between themselves or they would not have been arguing about who was the greatest. All sorts of things in this chapter refer to elements that were potentially producing stress and conflict and Jesus was trying to teach them and show them what was really going on and the underlying reasons they did not have peace.
The last few verses in this chapter were teachings of Jesus based on Isaiah 66 to show how real peace needs to come about. Peace is not something imposed from the outside but comes from a collective submission to the authority of God in its proper perspective and an infusion of God's passionate love into the heart of each person thus submitted. When that fire of passionate love fills our lives we will no longer find ourselves struggling for supremacy over others but like innocent children we will find our hearts open and joyous as we join in the fun of just playing together and trusting our heavenly Parent to take care of all of our needs.
Father, help my own heart to be much more open to being filled with the fire of Your passionate love. Imprint these truths into my own mind and heart permanently and deeply so that my life will exude the joy of knowing Your love and so I can remain secure in Your arms and rest in Your lap.