23When you [Israelites] heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me [Moses], all the heads of your tribes and your elders; 24and you said, ‘Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. 25So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. 26For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? 27Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.’
The people feel like they can’t bear to listen or to be near to God’s voice. They’ve got a healthy respect–even fear–of God, which is sometimes missing from our modern understanding of the Creator of All That Is. They’re convinced that God’s presence will consume them, burn them up.
Isn’t that what we should desire?
And yet, I feel just like the Israelites–“let me have my little life in my tent at the bottom of the mountain (Deut 5:30), leave me alone to my regular, everyday stuff; don’t upset everything I know now by the all-consuming flames that are part of experiencing you, God. My reality right now is bearable, I don’t really want to know what would happen if it was all burned up. I don’t even really want to know what would happen if it all rose from the ashes again.”
They ask Moses to go and listen for them, so that God’s presence and voice isn’t quite so close, so that they themselves don’t have to go through the agony of truth and transformation–someone else can do it for them.
We see and know from Scripture as well as our daily lives that no one else can transform for us–we’ve got to go through the changes ourselves for them to have any real power in our lives.
Shouldn’t we want God to be near? Shouldn’t we desperately desire for the transforming heat to melt away the extraneous parts of our lives?
The problem is that when the heat comes close, when God starts burning things away in us, it’s uncomfortable. Any time something hurts, whether it’s stretching us, or poking us, or singeing us, there’s an opportunity for growth.
Though I want to close my eyes and hum real loud and drown out the invitations to grow, the only way to be close to God, to be transformed, to get out of the little, narrow, grey everyday lives we live, is to let the difficulties wash over us, to let God come close to change us and to pour his strength into us–that’s what Moses let happen to him.