Fr George Adimike.
Fire is, arguably, the most significant discovery of humanity without which human civilization would have been a mirage. The discovery of fire and its mastery unbounded man’s developmental possibilities. It is such that all scientific and technological development runs on man’s ability to exercise dominion and control over fire. This preeminent value of fire serves as a compelling foreword to the discourse on the Holy Ghost fire. Devoid of any facile assumption, the Holy Ghost, who is the creative power, sustains the world, and leads her to survive, thrive and flourish. As the kinetic of God, the Holy Ghost is the creative fire of love and motor of civilization.
In the history of ideas, one early indication of the importance of fire is the Heraclitus’ attribution of it as the primal element in creation. He argued, as it were, that fire is the ultimate urstuff of the entire reality. Earlier than that, various mythologies of nations had presented fire-god as the cause of creation and development. In the Greek world, narrative has it that Titan Prometheus (foresight), credited to have created humanity, stole fire from Zeus the principal god in the Greek pantheon and offered it to mortals, which was responsible for civilization. In his reaction, Zeus sent Pandora (a woman) to Epimetheus (hindsight) for marriage, who then by opening her baggage unleashed evil to the world. Similar stories of theft of fire for the benefit of humans abound in mythologies of various cultures. It underscores the great importance of fire in the ancient world where it was believed to have played a significant role in the existence of the world. Even today, fire plays an essential role in running the entire system in the world.
Fire goes beyond the physical realm to metaphysical and spiritual realms. Different religions have different narratives, mysteries and beliefs associated with fire. Cultures and peoples encapsulate their value and significance relative to fire in myths, legends and deities. The importance of fire is accentuated in Igboland with Amadioha, in Yoruba with Sango, in Roman mythology with Vulcan, in Greece with Hephaestus, in Celtic mythology with Brigit, in Albania with En, etc. The memory of some of these gods of fire, thunder and lightning still exercise pervasive influence in the religious psyche of the people. In Nigerian setting, often does one hear expressions like “thunder fire you”. Such expression or its Igbo equivalence, “Amadioha magbuo gi” reveals the level of its diffusion in the society. In religion as well as in science-tech, a fire has an overarching influence. It interweaves with our daily life such that without it, survival will be almost impossible.
Such importance of fire in daily life has an even greater equivalence in the Christian life of faith. Being a metaphor for God, it is crucial to Christianity. From the witness of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, who is the love between the Father and the Son, is the eternal fire of love that burns in-between them, which overflows into creative activity. He is the holy fire burning in Christ, energised his Incarnate existence as the kinetic of the salvific mission, and the dynamism of Christian discipleship. He is the creative and consuming fire, which, above all, is the fire of love. He is the Fire described as the breath that gave life to the first man, Adam, the fire that overshadowed Mary in the conception of Christ, and the same fire which energized the apostles into ecclesial existence and apostolic mission (cf Acts 2:1-4). He is the fire within every Christian that propels one to God (enthusiasm from the Greek enthousiasmos meaning inspired or possessed by a god). This fire pulls together whoever he inhabits and forms them into a community of believers – the body of Christ and people of God. He is the fire underlying every reality. One could say that Heraclitus was prognostic to have underscored fire as the primal element.
Hence, the invocation of the Spirit of the Father as the Holy Ghost fire is partly a celebration of the eternal Fire, who is the power of life, resurrection, and redemption, and the unction for sanctity and love. In an objective sense, the Holy Ghost fire resonates as an exclamation, a cry, an expression of hope, a beckon of a child unto his Father, a stammer of a harassed and confused ward for help. One calls on Him for purification, healing, protection from evil, promotion and surrender. However, subjectively, ‘Holy Ghost fire’ can be abused stemming from our unrepentant, vengeful and wicked dispositions, thereby reducing him to an instrument for revenge. As such, many a Christian instrumentalize him in a way that is pre-Christian, for it is said that old habits never die. The widespread and pervasive influence of the traditional god of fire and thunder (Sango, Amadioha) that metaphysically embody the collective will to justice often understood as vengeance play out practically in some Christian usage of the metaphor of Holy Ghost fire. But Christ’s refusal to allow James and John to invoke heavenly fire against the hard-hearted Samaritans should be instructive (cf Lk 9: 53-55).
If love is what it was to be a Christian, then a true disciple labours to live by the rubric of love, expressed in forgiveness and love of enemies. This oblative love disposition towards our adversaries makes Christianity different and unique. The invocation of God of love for hateful and vengeful retaliation by some Christians bespeaks the superficiality of their faith, and misrepresents of Christianity. God of peace cannot be an alibi for living our unconverted vindictive, hateful and divisive natural humanity. Going forward, we underscore that though our salvation is by grace, we are saved for works of love through which we co-operate with the grace of God. Grace, which precedes faith, resonates with and in love. Without love, therefore, our Christianity is empty, and mere ritualistic observation or regurgitation of formulas. Faith without good works is dead (cf James 2:14-26). While good works express faith, both are equally necessary for authentic discipleship.
From the objective perspective, Holy Ghost fire is a holy name of God, and it is His creative power which requires faith and devotion of all Christians. Yet, on the subjective level, an individual’s use of the metaphor can be good or bad. Unfortunately, in private or community prayers, some in a most unchristian way weaponize it against real or perceived enemies. Of those who employ it in this manner, the underlying disposition is the unchristian expression of unforgiveness and unleashing of animus. In this way, they abuse what is holy in their ignorant or mischievous piety. The first step towards recovery is a personal conversion of the individuals involved in order to face their challenges with Christian disposition.
Since fire underlies creation and civilization, the Holy Ghost continues to fall afresh on scholars, scientists and all who contribute in bringing creation to its purpose. To us all, the Holy Ghost fire is useful so that converted, we can all contribute to building a new civilization of love. Let fire of Pentecost blaze anew for the purification, healing and progress of the world (cf Lk 12:49). Happy Pentecost.
Fr George Adimike