For many in our society, God resembles a sort-of Grandpa in the sky, someone who cares enough to give gifts and occasionally visit, but who remains generally distant, passive, and uninvolved. No wonder, for many, the God doesn’t seem compelling.
Contrast that picture with what we see in Exodus 3, when God reveals himself to Moses in a burning bush. In that account, we see the gap between the truth about God and contemporary misconceptions about him. Let’s consider for a moment the fiery God who reveals himself in glory, so that our sense of awe may be restored.
God Is Strange and Remarkable
The story begins with Moses baffled by a bush that is burning yet not consumed. He is more than curious; he’s amazed. The strangeness of the sight compels him. This is remarkable. I want to know more.
Already, all-too-common conceptions of God are challenged. The setting of the human heart is to fashion gods that conform to our ideas and desires. In our fallen state, we may prefer a vision of a God who affirms the general direction of our lives but doesn’t say or do anything unexpected, a God who doesn’t ask too much of us, a God who is easy-going and devoid of mystery.
But Moses’s encounter shows us a God whose revelation is strange. God is different. He stands out. The utter incomprehensibility of the scene draws Moses.
And so, it’s not that God is just like us that makes us want to draw near, but that he is so different, so extraordinary, so remarkable, so strange. This truth reminds us that we, as God’s people, are only as compelling as when we stand out, when our lives look different, when there’s something remarkable about our attitudes and actions. It is the strangeness of our beliefs and practices that draw the attention of others, not how well we fit in or conform to the culture around us.
God Is Inexhaustible and Holy
Next, God begins to speak from the bush. Why is this bush burning? What does it signify? Perhaps it is the truth that God is inexhaustible and holy. The God of the universe is self-sustaining and set apart. He never runs out of fuel. And like fire, he is wonderful and dangerous at the same time. Moses begins to draw near to the fire, but God tells him to stop. Moses must prepare himself before going any further. Though attracted by the fire, he is also threatened by it.
This is the mark of a true encounter with God. We are drawn to him. His utter holiness and strangeness compel us, but as soon as we draw near, we feel threatened. We feel shrunken in light of his greatness. We feel stripped before his knowledge. We feel dim compared to his glory.
God tells Moses to take off his shoes, since he is on holy ground. The Lord’s instruction reminds us that we can only come to him on his terms, not ours. We don’t create a God in our image and then worship him in the way we like. We see the God who made us in his image, and then worship him in the way he commands.
Moses moves forward, afraid to look on God’s face. This mix of awe and wonder is another mark of a true encounter with God. Before the power of God, we are undone. Serving the Lord starts with God being holy and you being humbled. This feeling of being drawn to God’s mystery and yet frightened by his majesty—that’s a sign that you are dealing with the true God.
It’s easy to lose sight of this majesty, to forget that God is like C. S. Lewis’s Aslan, the great Lion you would never feel totally safe around. “Safe, who said anything about safe?. . . He’s a lion, after all! He’s not a tame lion. But he is good.” He’s a lion with a ferocious roar that can burst your eardrums, but he’s also the lion whose mane you can bury your head in and cry out all your tears of sorrow. God is like that. He is untamable, unfathomable, unexplainable, but forever and always good. The all-powerful fire of God: dangerous to burn you, good to warm you.
God Is Active and Involved
God is near and active, not distant and passive. Many people like the idea of a distant and passive God because it means they can lean on God whenever they need him, but they don’t have to pay attention to him and obey his commands. But the true God of the universe does not exist for our purposes; we exist for his. He is actively involved in the world he has made. Even in situations where it seems like he is absent or silent, he is involved. He is compassionate. In what he says at the burning bush, we see how he responds to the cries of his people.
God responds by choosing to act through a messenger. God revealed his plan to Moses because he wanted to involve him in it. The plan of God involves the people of God. He stuns us with his holiness and love, and then he sends us out with his truth and grace. He calls us to salvation, and then he commissions us for service.
God’s plan is to use people to save people. That’s what happened when he sent his only Son to rescue us. He didn’t rescue us from a distance, but from the up close and personal horror of a Roman cross. He is involved. To not see this about God is to miss one of the major displays of his glory. He uses us. He chooses us. He is active. He loves. He woos. He cares. He responds. He calls.
The bush still burns today if we open our eyes to see it and open our ears to hear God calling us. So, let’s take off our sinful sandals and approach the holy God of grace through the cross. Let’s come to know him as remarkable and holy, wonderful and dangerous. Only when we are gripped by God in all his glory can we be sent by him in all his grace.
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