I started a small fire in my toaster oven this afternoon. It was no big deal. The flames soon subsided when they ran out of breadcrumbs and the only harm done was that my toast had that outdoorsy flame-broiled smoky taste which I didn't mind at all. It was a contained fire and caused no panic or fear in my life whatsoever.
How can the sight of such a powerful force only squeeze a bemused smirk from my face? Because it has not been unleashed. It is safely restricted to a small box and turned on and off at my convenience. It is tame. But fire, real raging fire! Now that's different! When I see that, I grab all my valuables, the two cats, and run!
Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12), yet I find myself too often not impressed by his presence. Perhaps this is because I have relegated him to a nice safe distance. He serves a certain purpose, but I do not fall on my face in awe and fear everytime I sense him. Perhaps that is because his nearness is in reality, rather distant, and I feel more at ease without his hot breath on my neck. Yes, he is comforting; yes, he is loving; yes, he is a friend to sinners; yes, he is compassionate. But let us never forget he is holy. The very nature of fire is to consume everything it touches. We cannot suppose that we can come close to a holy God and not be affected: our frail humanity will be singed and any part of us that harbours evil will be totally obliterated. It is the mercy of God that we are not all consumed. I have become so accustomed to being clothed in mercy that I forget that underneath it all I am poor and naked and wretched. And afraid to come close.
They say that those who play with fire will get burned. I suppose if no one had ever played with fire, I would not be enjoying my toaster oven or my gas grill or my heating system today. Someone dared to come close, and changed the world. Why not me?