One of the distinctive images in the history of Indian art is that of Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. This sculpted version depicts Shiva as the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of the world. In one hand he holds a drum, symbolic of creation; in the other is a tongue of fire, symbolic of destruction. He dances within a ring of fire, embodying the Hindu conception of the world as a constant cycle of creation and destruction.
While it might seem unusual to use the depiction of a Hindu god to illuminate a Christian text, making a creative connection may help the traditions converse across their differences. The idea of fire-as-destruction, so prominent in Hinduism, is also central to the vision of the coming day of the Lord in 2 Peter 3: fire that dissolves everything, preparing the way for the new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:10–13). Further, the circular form of the sculpture seems an apt visual counterpart to 2 Peter’s references to cycles of fire and water across time (2 Peter 2:4–10; 3:5–7), which are unusual aspects of this text in New Testament terms.
The dancing Shiva in his creative aspects also has affinities with the benevolent features of divine activity mentioned in the epistle: by the word of God the heavens and earth came into being and are sustained (2 Peter 3:5–7). Shiva’s right hand gestures the mudra of peace. The gesture, along with the figure’s serene countenance, recall the compassion and patience of God mentioned in verses 9 and 15.
Throughout 2 Peter, the author makes a case for why the Christian should endure and be pure, avoiding false teachers who are notable for wallowing in sensual lusts (2 Peter 3:3). A subtle detail of the Shiva sculpture is the demon he dances upon, symbolic of ignorance and illusion, the things that lock humans in the karmic cycle of death and rebirth. The false teachers in 2 Peter are comparably captive to their own misguided thinking. Both the figure of Shiva and the words of 2 Peter, in different ways and in very different religious traditions, exhort believers to overcome false attachments, place their hope in true authority, and escape the coming fire.
3This is now the second letter that I have written to you, beloved, and in both of them I have aroused your sincere mind by way of reminder; 2that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles. 3First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions 4and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water, 6through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! 13But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
14 Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.