God is the ultimate, all-powerful, creator, all-consuming power. Even though he is a consuming fire, God is equally gracious and compassionate. We simply like his grace better, and we judge God when he judges, and sometimes we blame him when he doesn’t…
24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.
35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other.
Deuteronomy 4:24, 29-31, 35
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
When Moses went up the mountain to meet with God, he appeared to the people as a consuming fire on the mountain. They saw the glory of the Lord from the ground as Moses was up on mountain and, to them, God seemed like a consuming fire. This imagery was also used of God as he went before Israel into battle. God is a consuming fire and will consume those who oppose him and threaten God’s people.
One of the first emotions at the thought of this imagery is that this God is not friendly. This is a threatening and wrathful and bullying God. We sometimes process ideas about God as if they are ideas about a nation or a world leader.
If God is like that, then he represents a spirit of imperialistic authority, taking what he wants like a dictator. We don’t want to follow and trust a God like that. And when we think about God in this way, we are processing our understanding of God through constructs of the world.
The truth of these ideas about God in the Bible is that God is the ultimate, all-powerful, creator, all-consuming power.
When we think of volcanoes erupting, oceans raging, hurricanes and tornadoes ravaging all their paths, and forest fires consuming all of creation, these things are glimpses – just glimpses – of God’s power. The sun, which is the most powerful object in our solar system, was put in place by God. Any thing which gets too close to the sun will vaporize. We don’t blame the sun for that. That’s the power of the sun. And so we ought to live in awesome reverence for our God.
Even though he is a consuming fire in strength and power, God is gracious and compassionate. Unlike the sun, and unlike a volcano, which cannot determine what to destroy and what not to destroy, God chooses, from his divine will, who receives mercy. We want to judge him, yet we are talking about the Maker of the universe.
Moses was pleading with Israel to obey and trust God, and to stop fashioning idols to worship instead of God. God’s jealousy for them would not allow them to turn away without consequence. And still, as they would come to the end of themselves, and then turn back toward him, God would be compassionate and restore them as his precious children. Think about that. God’s grace is actually as confounding and difficult to understand as his power and his wrath. We simply like his grace better.
Not that we can exude that grace as easy as we can enjoy it. We identify with the wrath of God much easier than we do his grace. To practice the grace of God requires us to completely surrender and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to him.
Only God can produce gracious attitudes within us.
God is a consuming fire. There is none like him. Live in awesome reverence of the creator.