In Ash and Flame
I have vivid memories of hearing the story of Moses and the burning bush as a child. I always pictured this green bush in the middle of the desert suddenly bursting into flames, and Moses kind of rearing back, unsure if he should go closer or not. And then he sees that the bush just keeps burning, and the leaves are all still green! My child self couldn’t get over the picture of this grown man taking off his sandals in the middle of the desert and talking straight to God, in flaming bush form. Why a bush? Why flames? Why not a more civilized setting, or at least something more impressive than the desert and a talking bush?
And even though Moses sometimes gets a bad rap later in the story for making too many excuses to God, I always thought he must have been very brave to go closer to the bush, to dare to examine those nature-defying flames. Only when he does move closer, does the voice of the Lord call out to him. That’s when God commands him to remove his sandals because he is standing on holy ground. That’s when God identifies himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,” as “I am.” But, even as incredible as that declaration is, the story remained baffling to me. In my teens and early twenties, I remember wondering how I could hope to have my own moment of divine connection and calling if it seemed like God could only meet someone in such an extraordinary and inexplicable manner.
Now, as I revisit the story, I see myself much more clearly in the image of a bush on fire, that somehow is not consumed. And boy, does that idea hit home these days. Who of us hasn’t pictured the last two years as a fire that just won’t stop burning? Who hasn’t felt the flames of sickness and fear and injustice and guilt and exhaustion and shame and division and anger and blame and grief and war threaten to envelop us time and again? Sometimes, it has felt like so many of our dreams and aspirations and even our own sense of personal identity are on fire, about to be burned beyond recognition. YET, as the story tells us, the bush is not consumed by the fire, and neither are we. The fire burns without destruction. And instead of ashes, inside the fire we find the very Presence of God Himself. Inside the fire, we can hear the voice of God identify Himself, remind us of His history with us, remind us that this place of flame and fear is actually holy ground.
Fire isn’t meant to be tamed and docile, and neither is God. Yet without the burning Presence of our Holy God, how can we be changed? How can we hear His calling on our lives? God goes on to tell Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt… so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” And this is the truth we can grasp in our deepest moments of fear and accusation. However much we have suffered, however much we have felt singed by the flames of this chaotic world, we can cling to the promise that God’s plan has always included rescue and redemption, and always will.