WHAT KIND OF A GOD SPEAKS FROM WITHIN A BURNING BUSH?
Moses’ encounter at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17) is one of the critical encounters in faith history. Typically, we think of what it calls forth from Moses. But I'm thinking about what it reveals of the One who speaks from within the fire that does not consume the bush. What do we learn about this God? Here's what I observe:
1. GOD IS COMPASSIONATE. Beyond the reality that God is holy and that the thought-to-be God-forsaken ground on which Moses stands is holy ground, and beyond the reality that God is an initiating, self-revealing being, the first thing we learn about the One who speaks from within the burning bush is that God is concerned about the suffering of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. Their cries and pleas are heard and God is concerned enough to intervene. Implicit in this compassion is a yet-to-be-articulated sense of justice, morality and ethics that will form the backbone of human civilization as it moves foward. In this God's sense of right and wrong, abuses against other human beings call for compassion and intervention. They are grievous and, ultimately, intolerable to this God.
2. GOD ENGAGES HISTORY TO CHANGE ITS COURSE. God is not only moved by the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt, the God who speaks from within the burning bush is ready to do something about it. God declares that Israel shall be liberated from slavery and Egypt. This decision will amount to what may be the most striking economic, political, military, and spiritual upheaval in history. This God is not uninvolved or involved only indirectly. This God is not just about laws and words and feelings and promises. This God engages human history. This God chooses to act to change the course of history, to work in time and material and humanity to express a divine intent and will.
3. GOD CHOOSES TO WORK THROUGH HUMANS TO AFFECT CHANGE. How does the God who speaks from within the burning bush propose to accomplish deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt? It will be through human cooperation. It will even be through the likes of a scandalized and volatile person like Moses. This God does not bypass human cooperation. This God does not make humans do his bidding like robots or as merely overtaken pawns (and this includes the misconception of verbal inspiration of Scripture). This God does not use people. This God works through people who are invited to cooperate with the holy One--to co-labor--to willingly bring about a community in which justice and peace lead.