Imagination cannot mislead us into too much horror of being without God. For that is living death. But with this divine difference: that the outer darkness is but the most dreadful form of the consuming fire—the fire without light—the darkness visible, the black flame. God hath withdrawn himself, but not lost his hold. His face is turned away, but his hand is laid upon him still. His heart has ceased to beat into the man’s heart, but he keeps him alive by his fire. And that fire will go on searching and burning in him, as in the highest saint who is not yet pure as God is pure.
But at length, O God, wilt thou not cast Death and hell into the lake of Fire—even into Thine own consuming self? Then indeed wilt thou be all in all. For then our poor brothers and sisters shall have been burnt clean and brought home. For if their moans would turn heaven for us into hell, shall a man be more merciful than God? Shall, of all his glories, God’s mercy alone not be infinite? Shall a brother love a brother more than the Father loves a son? Would Christ not die yet again to save one brother more?
As for us, now will we come to thee, our Consuming Fire. And thou wilt not burn us more than we can bear. But thou wilt burn us. And although thou seem to slay us, yet will we trust in thee, even for that which thou hast not spoken, if at length we may attain unto the blessedness of those who have not seen and yet have believed.
Into Thine Own Consuming Self
by Dave Roney
“...The Black Flame”
Before us today is a great feast of ideas which interlock in complementary fashion to produce, as golden bricks well laid, a monumental edifice of gilded theology. I can only address but a small fragment of the bounty at hand. The author begins “Imagination cannot mislead us into too much horror of being without God.” I would offer that the converse is equally true, that neither can imagination mislead us too much in our consideration and appreciation of the magnitude of the Love of God which He has poured out upon and in us beyond measure. I will, then, add my own imagination to what has been written in an attempt to describe The Black Flame.
God is the Consuming Fire (Hebrews 12:29); in Him is only Light and no darkness at all; His Fire is of a brilliance which the eye of man cannot now look fully into, for to see it in its unveiled fullness would be too much for our eyes, would, I think, perhaps incinerate us. How, then, could God be a Black Flame? MacDonald says here:
“...the Outer Darkness is but the most dreadful form of the Consuming Fire—the Fire without Light—the darkness visible, the Black Flame...” (CAPS and italics added for emphasis)
He speaks here in a paradox; the darkest blackness is that of “the Outer Darkness,” yet it is a visible darkness; a flame, as any flame, is the source and emitter of light, yet this Flame is blacker than blackest midnight. But, more, we read that the Outer Darkness is (“the most dreadful form of”) the Consuming Fire, which is God; God is the Outer Darkness! He is the Black Flame! How can these things be?
To add further to this seeming dilemma the reality of Hell itself must be ciphered into the equation (see end-note concerning“αἰώνιον”); for the “outer darkness” and the “black flame” both speak of Hell, in fact are synonymous with it. Where is Hell? Is it up or down, at the molten core of the earth or in the belly of some distant super nova? It is where the Consuming Fire, in its most dreadful form, is working; it is within the heart of a man, that terrible form being as here called “the black flame,” and the “outer darkness.” It is not the things entering into a man that defile him, or burn him, but the issues coming from his heart; the remedy wrought by the Consuming Fire in its most dreadful form is not an outer burning Hell-fire, as though that could purify him, but the Black Flame burning him from within; what good could an outer physical flame do but to burn up the flesh? The heart would still be locked in its chamber of misery except the Fire is Divine, is Love in a hard form, is purging away the man's dross, destroying all his wood, hay, and stubble, burning, ever burning him from within, until the Fire has consumed all within the man which is consumable, so that only what is inconsumable, therefore eternal, then Divine, remains. The fuel for this Black Flame is the Love of God, and that fuel is an inexhaustible supply; it is sufficient to finish the work which He has begun even though it may take ages of ages for the accomplishment.
“But at length, O God, wilt thou not cast Death and Hell into the Lake of Fire—even into Thine own consuming self?”
Is the “Outer Darkness” and the “Black Flame” truly outer, or dark, or black? Is it a physical, material, flame meant to destroy the dead who can never cease from indescribable torments? God forbid! Is the Lord of all Love and Grace to be reduced to a mere shovel man, filled with hatred, heaping odious coal into the maw of His furnace, into which He has flung His lost sheep, His errant but cherished child? The “outer” darkness is the inner darkness of a man; though that man suffer incredibly in the final stage of his Hell, he is even in this life carrying it, not yet stoked to its greatest intensity, yet still carrying it within him, which he can never escape except he open his will-shut eyes to see the Beauty standing at his heart's door, ready to receive him.
And that man is cast into the furnace of the Consuming Fire, which is the very Heart of God: the man enduring his innermost Hell will know, when he is able to see, that Hell is the innermost Heart of the Lord who eternally loves him. The darkness is not the Lord's but the man's; the blackness of the flame is not the reality of it but the man's perception, and all will continue as absolute inky darkness to him until he comes to his senses. In that day, on the moment that He can see, the Prodigal's eyes shall behold as glorious the thing that once tormented him; he will see the Lord high and lifted up, full of glory and burnished, shining as the sun in his strength. He will see it not from afar, but from out of the Furnace, the Consuming Fire, the very Heart of the Living One, his home. And when the Consuming Fire, in its most dreadful form, the Black Flame, has done its work well in every soul, then that which is written will be shown in full; that God is truly in all, and all in all.
End-note: My thinking concerning man's condition and form regarding Hell is structured around certain thoughts, not the least of which has to do with things consumable, which includes the physical body, which in many possible ways, inevitably “returns to dust.” The “soul” of man is him in his totality, including body, mind, emotions, etc., and also his needs, the chief of these being that for relationships, which is spiritual, the most profound relationship being that intimate one between God and man.
The disembodied soul of a man who knows not his Father lacks all the physical apparatus necessary for communication with the outer world. In unregenerate man, the soul seeks to “see,” but the eyes of the man are in his grave; there is for that man, then, only absolute blackness. So also with his other sensual faculties; he can not hear or feel or in any manner “sense” his surroundings. Thus the lost soul is locked in that dreariest prison of his disembodied Self where he is completely isolated; when he was in the world the things of the world, and of Self, consumed his attention; he will, eventually, turn from his thoughts of Self and the things which were to him in his former life important, which now can no longer satisfy, and begin in time to turn his attention to spiritual matters, leading immediately to God.
Nor will he, in his wretched condition, be unaware of the reality of the Lord, even though the Lord be, seeming to him, far from him. Yet,“God hath withdrawn Himself, but not lost His hold” on the man. One may contemplate what “His hold” signifies, be it His hand, or His Heart, or some other link between Him and the incorporeal man. The Lord is not hard to find; He will be found by the one who earnestly seeks Him. That is the purpose of Hell, the Consuming Fire, the Black Flame and the Outer Darkness; it is the interminable pleading, in its“most dreadful form,” of a Father to His forlorn and wayward child, which has never nor ever will change or diminish; “Come to Me...”
αἰώνιον (aye-own-eh-own) – Is the Greek word translated in every English version of which I am aware as, predominantly, “eternal,” and in a few cases as “everlasting.” For one example among many see Revelation 21:46; “And these will go away into eternal (αἰώνιον) punishment...” This is the adjective form of the noun αἰών. If the reader will refer to any Greek lexicon of their choice, it will be immediately clear that the word translaed as “eternal” is in most cases a misrepresentation; this Greek word means “an indefinite period of time of uncertain duration.” Our English “eon” carries a like definition, and would have provided a more accurate equivalent to αἰώνιον.
The common teaching concerning the supposed eternality of Hell, predicated primarily on the misinterpretation of this word, must be challenged. If the duration of Hell is for “an indefinite period of time,” then that duration must be for another reason than punishment; I submit that it is purgatorial in nature, meant to restore and not destroy. It is evident to me that one man may require more of this “indefinite period of time” than another: Therefore, Hell is not a general place into which all sinners are cast and kept for the same “indefinite period of time.” Hell is a wholly individual reality for each person; it therefore is not a “place,” such as is a compound or penitentiary, but must be located in an individualized setting specific to each person; this place, I suggest, is the man's own Hell, carried with him in his darkened Self; and that Self, his personal Hell, is contained in the Dark Flame furnace which is the Consuming Fire, the very Heart of God. Or, I might say to you that even as Christ Jesus has borne the sins of the world, His Father is bearing the sinners themselves, both bearing them and bearing with them until their will becomes His Will.