“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).
COMFORTING STATEMENT—UNTIL IT is tied to a verse like Deuteronomy 4:24 (“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire”), or to Isaiah 33:14 (“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?”). The words generate images of gasoline poured out on a lighted candle.
To those among us dwelling in ignorance and spiritual darkness, the combination of those verses probably fuels vivid pictures of God as a cunning and vengeful Deity, one to be avoided rather than worshipped—a live version of our virtual reality Xbox or computer games. Something to keep God amused while whiling away eternity.
How Do We Picture God?
Even many believers, while not actually avoiding God, fear to move too close. Their perspective of God, especially in the Old Testament, is one of a wrath-filled being of extremes, a God who provides only two choices for humanity: an eternity of tranquillity or one of torment. (At least we get to choose, though some even question that.)
How true is this picture? Is God truly a consuming fire, vengeful and unapproachable? Are we merely part of some cosmic computer game?
It is our perception of God—and not reality—that motivates us. We either draw near to, or retreat from, His presence based on our understanding of who He is. And our own sinfulness makes us want to withdraw, like Adam and Eve, who hid from God in the garden after they sinned.
Such a response is simply the acting out of the natural, physical laws of the universe affecting opposites. Light and dark, up and down, wet and dry, cold and heat—all respond to their opposite accordingly. The weaker gives way to the stronger; or, where one ends and the other begins, they meld together in a transforming compromise that only faintly resembles either extreme.
Total opposites, by the very laws of physics, cannot coexist in their completeness in the same place at the same time. There must then always be an area between that separates the two—which is, for example, neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. Or neither completely wet nor completely dry, but damp.
Long before Calvary, Exodus 19 told how under the old covenant the children of Israel were instructed by God not to come near the divine Presence lest they, like the darkness, be consumed. To approach the God of light under the shadow of sin and without the protection of a covering was to invite immediate destruction. When God initiated an audience with Moses, God protected him. He could not approach God on his own and live, until the fulfillment of the promise in Christ. For as darkness is utterly destroyed in the presence of light, so also those who approach God in sin. Hence Isaiah’s statement: “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?”
The light of God completely destroys any darkness, taking with it its supporting vehicles—fallen, selfish humans. God purposed to illustrate for all creation that though sin (selfishness) and love (sin’s opposite), by their very natures, cannot coexist in the same place, He was willing to do whatever it took to win humanity back.
Because of God’s great love for us and His desire that we be with Him, God had Moses build a sanctuary in Israel’s midst. It was like a covering that protected His people from His glory. Between this tabernacle and the tents of His people He established a broad threshold, an area of compromise, so to speak—an expanse of “twilight” that served as a protecting barrier for the people. In this way God sought to illustrate that though sin cannot exist in the direct presence of a holy God, yet God desired to bring together the incompatible elements of love and sin.
But we were blinded by the darkness, unable or unwilling to comprehend God’s great love for us and take the journey across the threshold. In time we withdrew from the light of God’s tabernacle in fear and for self-preservation (see John 1:5).
Bridging the Massive Gulf
So how do sinners lost in darkness become reconciled with a God of light at the opposite extreme? How do they span the intervening gulf to approach the “consuming fire” without fear of being destroyed or consumed by His presence?
The answer is through Jesus. He has done it for us—the only One who could. Though we cannot fully understand the how of it, it’s perhaps possible, through a simple word picture, to illustrate what He did, to bring us together with God and us, while at the same time allowing us to survive in His presence.
Picture in your mind’s eye our planet enveloped in darkness on one side and bathed in light on the other. Separating them is the twilight—that ethereal realm that is neither fully dark nor fully light, where distinct lines vanish into shades of gray, an expanse so large that there exists no border or demarcation to distinguish one extreme from the other. To move from the darkness to the light would require not just a step, but a journey—for light and dark are bound by that law of extremes that forbids such opposites from residing one beside the other in their totality.
God, desiring to embrace us once more—to walk and converse with us as He once did in Eden—longed to destroy that twilight zone of separation. Thus, He sent into this darkened, sin-filled, selfish world His Son. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
Since in the darkness of sin we could not approach God and live, God veiled Himself in the darkness of sinful flesh and came to us through the incarnation of the Son. Only in Christ, being at once human and divine, darkness and light, could the powerful opposites be brought together in their totality without compromise. On the cross, with His arms outstretched to both, Jesus supernaturally drew the darkness and the light together in their fullness, destroying the twilight, that gulf separating us from God, and at once, in apparent defiance of the laws of the universe, enabled the darkness and the light to come face to face for the first time. We could now, with one step, approach the “all-consuming fire,” and with that one step, move from the darkness into the very presence of the living God without fear of destruction (see Heb. 10:9, 10, 22, 23).
The Darkness Is Gone
In the quest for survival, sinful humanity would no longer have to remain in darkness in order to live. The light that once promised only death now offers safety and life for all eternity. For Jesus said: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46). “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8).
Not only can we now in our darkness approach the God of light, “the all-consuming fire,” without fear (Heb. 4:16), but we can ultimately divest ourselves completely of the darkness that now enshrouds us, allowing us to live in the light of God’s presence for all eternity (Col. 1:12-14).
Until that day when we’ll be changed in a moment, let’s ever give thanks to God who was and is still able to suspend even the physical laws of the universe
in order to bring us into His presence. At the cross the twilight of separation vanished, as both darkness and light, selfishness and selflessness, found oneness in Christ Jesus. He became sin for us, reconciling us to God.
So to address the questions raised earlier:
1. Are we merely a reality game a twisted god uses for His amusement? No! One need only look toward Calvary for the answer.
2. Is God approachable? Yes! Yes! Yes!
3. Is God a consuming fire . . . ? I suppose that depends on where one is standing when Jesus returns—in the light or in the dark. Unbelievers prefer the absence of light altogether—so the answer for them would be yes, God is a consuming fire. But for those who have stepped from darkness into light, the answer is no!
Strangely, though, a large number of believers today, while abhorring total darkness, are uncomfortable in the full light; and they try to find comfort in the shade of—dare I say—a twilight zone which, like the old black-and-white TV show of the same name, ceased to exist a long time ago. All that remains is a scriptural record for one, and old reruns for the other.
One thing is sure: with no more twilight to offer shade when that day comes, one will need more than sunscreen ointments and lotions to keep from getting burned. “I know your deeds,” Jesus says, “that you are neither cold nor hot. . . . So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth’” (see Rev. 3:15, 16).
But the story does not have to end there. For to that same church in Revelation Jesus says: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).
At the time he wrote this article, Don Droze was the boys’ dean for Thunderbird Adventist Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona.