During the season of Lent, our church is exploring the quieter virtues, based on a book Awakening the Quieter Virtues by Gregory Spencer. I confess that I have not yet read this book, not because I don’t want to, but because they have been sold out everywhere I’ve looked. It’s on order. As my Lenten discipline, I’ve decided to explore each of these virtues myself here on this blog. The first virtue is Reverence.
For the sermon on Sunday, Pastor Eric chose a scripture from Hebrews 12:28. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. I continue that with verse 29: for our God is a consuming fire.
I’ve been mulling that over this week – what does it mean for God to be a consuming fire? It sounds frightening. I’ve seen a fire consume a place very dear to me, and it was terrifying. We tell our kids not to play with fire. Perhaps in this context it is appropriate – God is meant to be held in reverence and awe. As C.S. Lewis says of Aslan in his Chronicles of Narnia: “He’s not a tame lion!” He is not to be toyed with.
Our generation has been raised with the idea that God is love and our friend (a doctrine I refer to as bumping butts with Jesus), which He is. There is no doubt about that. But God is also God. And I think we like to make God fit into some prescribed box of our own choosing, to make Him safe and comfortable for us. We forget that God is also majestic and awesome (not in the casual way we bandy this word around in our generation, but rather Awe-full). When we try to contain God into a neat tidy description we defeat the purpose of believing in God, and kind of makes ourselves God.
A fire is an amazing thing. It can warm us, cook our food, provide protection, bring us joy. But it can also consume and destroy. One treats fire with respect. We used to have a neighbor who said “You burn, you learn” when referring to the natural consequences of treating fire with care.
This is one way this verse can be taken. God is all-powerful, and must be treated with awe. Which I think is true. But I also believe that we can look at this verse from another direction.
God wants all of us. He doesn’t just want our Sunday best, or the remnants of our busy lives. This is a trap I frequently fall into. Does God receive my first, my last, my worst, my best? Or do I just throw the crumbs of my existence, the times when I don’t have anything else to do, His direction? He wants to consume it all. He wants to take the fire and purify us, to burn the dross and leave the gold, to incinerate the chaff and leave the wheat. That may hurt. But the end result is worth the pain. If we emerge from the fire finer and purer, we become shiny. God may then be reflected in us and away from us to others.
Another thing I’ve noticed – the more time I spend with God the more I want to. Could this be one more interpretation?
To revere God, to live a life of reverence, does not mean to live in fear. It means to know that God is wild and unpredictable like a forest fire, but also safe and life-giving like a campfire. While we may think we can contain or control fire, that is not always true. We fight fire. We also fight God. Or we can respect fire, and benefit from the good things it gives. And respect God, and benefit from the good things He gives.