Narrating the account of the Pentecost, Luke recounts that suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where the disciples were sitting. Then “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (Act 2:3).
A pertinent question is, why tongues of fire? Could the presence of the Holy Spirit not be felt in another form? Certainly it could as in the case of Baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove (Lk 3:22). It should be noted that fire is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit alongside dove, water, wind etc.
Fire as a symbol of the Holy Spirit has a lot to teach us on our spiritual journey.
In the first place, fire gives light in darkness. This is because, fire is a source of light and light dispels darkness. By nature, we abhore darkness. That is why at night we quickly put on light and once a light is lit darkness quickly disappears at least around the area where the light is lit. We need light to see. Darkness blurs vision and brings a gripping fear on us. The idea of darkness suggests evil, hiddenness and falsehood. Light brings to bear goodness, openness and truth.
Fire as a symbol of the Holy Spirit brings out clearly what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. He sheds light to our darkened human nature. With his light our blurred vision is dispelled that we may see clearly. This can come through clear inspirations. With his light the gripping fear is forgone because we could see clearly and think clearly. With this the imagined dangers, bondage and unknown forces which are properties of darkness become the things of the past. Since light brings along with it goodness, openness and truth, we begin to strive and live out these qualities.
Secondly, fire gives warmth. We are not comfortable with coldness. In cold weather we normally look for something that would keep us warm. We put on thick jackets. In some regions where there is excessive coldness, they make fire to keep themselves warm. One thing with fire is that it has the ability to heat up something quickly. Coldness gives way to hotness or at least warmness. We feel more comfortable when we are warm. We are more agile and lively. Life has more meaning.
Fire as a symbol of the Holy Spirit brings out this warmness that is very necessary for our fruitful existence very clearly. When we catch the fire of the Holy Spirit, our cold life becomes warm. We feel lively. Our worship and relationship with God and that of man become lively and joyful. With these we could easily sail through this ocean of troubles. With cold living, our life becomes more miserable and burdensome.
Thirdly, blazing fire is energetic. Energy in its simple definition is the ability or power to do something. This implies that for any change, transformation or even achievement to take place, energy must be expended. Fire in itself has ability to bring about transformation. We put a raw food item in the fire brought about by stove, gas cooker, electric cooker, oven, wood etc. After sometime, the raw food item is transformed to cooked food ready for mastication.
Fire as a symbol of the Holy Spirit brings out this transformation in the life of a Christian. Jesus Christ has redeemed us with his precious blood. To appreciate the salvation due to this redemption, the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit comes in. Paul made it clear to Corinthian Christians that no one could say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). Transforming our lives from worldly, sinful and wicked lives to Christ-like need a spiritual energy as has been illustrated above with food. This Spiritual energy can be brought about only by the Holy Spirit.
Fourthly fire purifies objects. Certain objects such as gold are purified by fire. With this purification, the beauty becomes glaring. In the purification process, certain elements are lost or rather consumed.
Fire as a symbol of the Holy Spirit brings out this purification in the life of a Christian. When one receives the Holy Spirit, one begins to drop some evil habits. The Holy Spirit convicts us of evil doing (Jn 16:8). Some of the things we found pleasurable, we begin to detest them having found out that they do not give glory to God. Removing such in our lives, makes us better and brings out the holiness and purity in us just as the pure gold emerges after the heating process by fire. A nagging wife begins to speak softly and becomes responsible as any husband would wish his wife to be. The drunkard husband who does not care whether his wife and children are alive or not, begins to take interest in the affairs of the family. The family that has been a battle ground turns out to be a special place for happiness. This is possible by the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. The best in the man or the woman shines out
Fifthly, a consuming fire is not content with one object alone. It spreads from one object to another especially when the objects are inflammable.
Fire as symbol of the Holy Spirit brings out this quality in a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit. Normally, he will begin to spread the gospel message fearlessly and energetically. After the Pentecost experience, the apostles were afire with the presence of the Holy Spirit and they spread the gospel message like wild fire. When Paul caught the fire of the Holy Spirit, he did not mind any obstacle in his way and ventured in to spread the good news of the risen Lord to the gentiles.
From experience, fire can be quenched no matter the extent of ravenous consumption it has emitted. One of the ways to quench fire is to pour water on it.
In like manner, the fire of the Holy Spirit is quenched by sin especially when one consciously does so. St. Paul warns against this. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for day of redemption.” (Eph 4:30).
Another way to quench fire is to remove all inflammable and combustible objects around the fire so that it will not be able to spread. In like manner, we can prevent the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives by living in the flesh instead of the Spirit. Now “the work of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (Gal 5. 19-21).
Flame of fire can be guarded so that wind and its effects do not keep it off. A practical example is a lighted candle. One can guard it with hand. We sometimes use gloves to minimize the effects of wind and thereby prevent the flames from going off.
In our spiritual journey, we have to guard and protect ourselves from many dangers that present themselves as obstacles to our living in the spirit. We can do this by living always in the state of grace. Even if we falter, we should quickly amend through the sacrament of reconciliation. We should take Paul’s admonition to Timothy seriously: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” (2 Tim 1:14).
From this breakdown, we can therefore conclude that fire as a symbol of the Holy Spirit is primarily to transform our lives and set our souls afire for God and not necessarily as a tool to destroy our enemies both real and imaginary.