A consuming fire?
I have been pondering these two scriptures this morning. They seem to go together.
“Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-9)
“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:1-4)
Our God is like fire.
- He burns for goodness and beauty.
- He burns against the corruption of his creation.
- He burns without consuming the bush, and burns in us to fire our imagination and unshakeable hope.
- He burns to consume his enemies and cleanse the situation for new creation.
So I think there is a good way to be “consumed” and a reason to avoid it.
Wary of being consumed
The Christians I hang with are wary of being consumed. I think they have a large-context reason to be wary and a smaller-context one, both of which are well-taken.
The big reason they have become afraid they will be consumed is because they live in consumer culture where it has become one’s civic duty to figure out how to buy a Chrysler. This morning, for instance, I decided to actually look at my copious spam email, sent to get some little bit of my buying power and hopefully get my name on a list for future endless attacks. “Sasha” was offering me pictures of herself. “Mohammed Townsand” was offering Viagra. “Mrs. Mariam Coleman” was offering a donation of $2.8 million dollars from her Kuwaiti Christian husband’s estate. “Evelina Inge” offered me access to the #1 internet drugstore. Those were the highlights, likely to be repeated tomorrow. We are invaded with so many predatory demands to consume, it is no wonder we have developed some thick armor.
The second, more localized, reason to be wary of being consumed is that church structures are often big ideas promoted by aggressive leaders that need troops of drones to perform the duties associated with them. The “mega-church” model for church is modeled on the shopping small, in which everyone can find a place for their self-interest to be satisfied. Producing a Christian mall takes an army of dedicated “needs”-meeters. So one can have a demanding job for 60 hours a week and then be asked to have another one in your spare time and call it being the church. The church is so adapted to consumer capitalism in our country that everyone in it is required to produce some product for further consumers to consume. So everyone just keeps getting consumed.
We burn but are not consumed
There are good reasons to avoid being consumed. When a person enters the church with a shopping list of demands and looks at you like you are the sales clerk, a deeper conversation might be required before you automatically launch into trying to satisfy their desires. They do not have a God-given right to consume you. You are not a product. You are not a donation to their cause. People often have a general wrong idea about the world. If they apply it to you and you go with it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are being nice.
On the other hand, the bush was on fire, but it was not consumed. We can be so aware of “having boundaries” that we also become unavailable for being on fire! We can get so we are wary of God consuming us. But when the Consuming Fire lights us up, we are not consumed. Much the contrary, the Fire behind creation shines through; we have more substance than what we previously thought of as substance. So when that same person comes at us thinking we are the Christian salesclerk who is supposed to have whatever product they need, we can call their name, by God’s grace (“Sasha, Sasha”), and be a connection with the One they really need.
If one is a burning bush because the Consuming Fire lives in her, please do not leave someone wandering in the foothills of Horeb. You will not be consumed if you offer someone the Lord. Even if they shake your tree or pick at the branches of your bush looking for what they don’t need, you’ll be OK. If we rely on the Lord, and not just our ability to produce the fruit someone thinks they’d like to eat while ignoring the fire calling their name, we’ll be OK. The Lord burns with His own goodness and it has become inexhaustibly available to us in Jesus.