In the New Testament, the writer of the Book of Hebrews called God a “consuming fire.” The writer was urging the church to offer God reverent worship, recognizing God’s coming judgment of the world. The church is part of God’s unshakeable kingdom, the writer said, and so we should be grateful, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
God’s power over creation is something every Christian should keep in mind. We are part of that creation, and we have lived apart from God, doing things that we ought not to do. We are sinners. We should receive God’s judgment. And yet God made a way for us to be part of his eternal kingdom – not because of anything we’ve done but because of his own mercy.
Still, we have a powerful and just and holy God. He is to be respected. His holiness is such that it consumes all sin.
The disciple Peter described God’s final judgment of his creation, which I assume will precede his creation of a new heaven and earth, as a fiery one: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).
And so, yes, God is a consuming fire. And we ought to view him that way – respectfully.
This picture, then, in Exodus 3 of a bush that was burning and yet not consumed is one that should make us think of God’s patience and grace. The writer of Exodus noted the bush was not consumed by the fire, and Moses turned aside to see this sight because of the fact the bush was not consumed. It was an important element of the story.
When I think of this, I think – again – of how grateful we should be to be able to stand in God’s presence. A bush that’s on fire but not burning up is a remarkable thing. These things don’t happen naturally.
The natural consequence of putting a match to piece of wood is a fire that consumes the wood. The natural consequence of sinners coming into contact with the God who is a consuming fire is our own destruction. We cannot stand in his presence.
And yet, we do!
So God is gracious and patient with us. Because of Christ, he wipes away the sins of his children. And so he can live in us without destroying us. Think of the “tongues as of fire” that marked the day of Pentecost, when the first Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit. God’s presence filled them and yet they were not burned up.
Some Bible interpreters note the burning bush is a good picture of the church. The church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, speaks the Word of God to a puzzled world. And the people of the church, even though they are in such close contact with this all-powerful “consuming fire,” are not burned up. We remain as we are – fragile, obscure, ordinary humans.
The fire is God’s. We just carry it.
One more idea to consider with this text: God allows us to be who we are. Because we are not consumed, I can be me and you can be you. Our personalities and our human histories are not charred away. God doesn’t override us as fragile humans. He loves us and speaks through us. Over time, yes, he burns away our sinfulness, yes. But he is so gentle with us.
Think about these things today.