God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
- 1 Timothy 6:15b-16
“Just because God cannot tell us what He is He very often tells us what He is like. By these ‘like’ figures He leads our faltering minds as close as they can come to that ‘light which no man can approach unto.’ Through the more cumbersome medium of the intellect the soul is prepared for the moment when it can, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, know God as He is in Himself. God has used a number of these similitudes to hint at His incomprehensible being, and judging from the Scriptures one would gather that His favorite similitude is fire. This accords with His revelation of Himself as recorded throughout the Bible. As a fire He spoke to Moses from the burning bush; in the fire He dwelt above the camp of Israel through all the wilderness journey; as fire He dwelt between the wings of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies; to Ezekiel He revealed Himself as a strange brightness of ‘a fire infolding itself’ (Ezekiel 1:4 and see 27-28).
”With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the same imagery was continued. ‘And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them’ (Acts 2:3). That which came upon the disciples in that upper room was nothing less than God Himself. To their mortal eyes He appeared as fire, and may we not safely conclude that those Scripture-taught believers knew at once what it meant? The God who had appeared to them as fire throughout all their long history was now dwelling in them as fire. He had moved from without to the interior of their lives. The Shekinah that had once blazed over the mercy seat now blazed on their foreheads as an external emblem of the fire that had invaded their natures. This was Deity giving Himself to ransomed men. The flame was the seal of a new union. They were now men and women of the Fire.”
- A. W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man
When I read the Tozer comments on 1 Timothy 6:16 relating to the most recent Bible study post, 1 Timothy 6, Part 2, I knew that this had to be a post all on its own.
I was very disheartened when I moved to the Pittsburgh area, to be a “Steeler” in the Steel City, although, these days you have to get to the suburbs to find any steel being made there. There is one stainless steel mill near where we attend church that has a Pittsburgh address, but…
No, I did not want to be identified as being an engineering company employee. either. I loved nurturing people and watching them grow as more productive employees. I did not think that I fit in well with being the hired consultant to teach a class and then disappear before they had a chance to implement what I had taught. Usually after they try it once is when the real questions arise.
I had further issues with the engineering company business model. When they sold things, times were extremely busy with long unpaid hours of overtime. When things were bad, they cut back employees to the core group, hoping to rehire the same people in better times. I had no financial reserve to handle a lay off. Not for some time. They also kept salaries low to be more attractive when bidding on new work. And to top that off, once you had the engineering company label applied to you, the steel mills would never wish to hire you for the job that I felt that I was more suited to do.
Add to that, I took a pay cut to come to Pittsburgh, and I had been unemployed for 16 of the previous 25 months. I needed a pay raise to recover the losses, but instead, I got a pay cut and my wife went from her best paying job ever to spotty minimum wage work and early retirement near age 50. I had two boys in college soon after arriving in Pittsburgh, and they were on their own in paying for that. One quit school, joined the Air Force, and then going back to school, while the other is being granted forgiveness from student loans a little each year by working in impoverished school districts at poverty wages.
When I moved here, Pittsburgh was in the midst of an identity crisis and may still be to an extent. Pittsburgh is a traditional blue collar, union town. Yet, since the mills started shutting down in the late 70s, it has reinvented itself as a high tech, white collar town, with retired union workers scattered everywhere. The people have that aggressive inner-city attitude to a great extent, and it spreads well into the countryside. They wear black, in solidarity to their beloved Steelers, and there is a darkness in their rude way of treating one another – but maybe that is universal these days.
I was in a funk when I moved here, not wanting to stay, continuing to send out resumes, and going on the rare interview. When at worksites, I saw the molten steel in ladles being poured into the tundish of a continuous caster. My thought was that I was being shown the Lake of Fire and that Pittsburgh was the gate to Hell.
I still believed that God was in control, but I was not happy with where He had planted me. Practically all of my fears came to pass regarding an engineering company job, but for nearly 20 years, I was considered part of the company’s core, being the only one that could do what I did, or wanted to do it. I was safe from being laid off, but not safe from pay cuts, until I was no longer safe at all under new ownership.
So, when I read the quote from A. W. Tozer about how God is like fire, my attitude changed considering two words – unapproachable light. I have gotten to know Pittsburgh over the years. I had warmed to the people of the city, slowly – some of them who are close friends, but I looked at the molten metal and I wondered about those gates to Hell.
Now, I can see God in the unapproachable light, in that same molten metal. I have been there. I have shielded my eyes, observing how people did their jobs. I have held my breath in taking video and photos, in the knowledge that taking a breath that close to the furnace while certain operations were on-going would sear my lungs, and I could die.
When they are melting steel in an electric arc furnace, it is extremely bright inside, but it gets brighter, especially when oxygen is bubbled into the molten bath. That is done to lower the carbon content of the steel. When it is done, the surface looks like it is boiling. The impurities float to the sides of the furnace, exposing the molten metal in the center. It is just like looking at the sun; it would burn your retinas – an unapproachable light.
In aluminum melting, it is not as bright in a melting furnace, but the contrast is more drastic, as the furnace is not that bright until the slag on the surface is skimmed, revealing an oddly colored mirror surface beneath. Aluminum is bright, but not bright enough to shield the eyes and it has a salmon hue – about 700 Celsius or 1300 Fahrenheit. Not as hot as molten steel by any stretch of the imagination, but hot enough to consume a human body – an unapproachable light.
Of Tozer’s examples, the story of the burning bush is in Exodus 3; the pillar of fire is first mentioned in Exodus 13; and he gives the Ezekiel reference. I cannot find the fire reference in Numbers 7:89, just a voice between the cherubim. But, there was fire among the cherubim in Ezekiel 10:7.
Yes, my attitude is changed, and someday in my new body, my eyesight will be changed.
For all who worship Jesus Christ, our Savior, and trust in Him without reservation, we will one day get new bodies, bodies that can approach the Light.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.