Agents of Faith: Pursuing the Pillar of Fire

Moses Crossing the Red Sea, Pillar of Fire, RaphaelIn times of uncertainty, we tend to look for the quickest path to security. We want solutions that are neat and tidy, direction that is clear and comfortable, and a future that is pretty and predictable. No one wants to be unsure about tomorrow, and no one likes to be exposed.

When it comes to looking for security in God, we are no different. Not only do we want a tangible sign that God is real, but we want a flashy display of his guidance, outlining exactly what to do and how to do it. We want to know which job will be profitable, which relationship will endure, and which parenting strategy will empower our children to the fullest.

In many ways, God has already given us the answers to these questions, and he has done so in a direct and persuasive way — through his Word. Not only does the Word take the form of written guidance for our daily lives, but it also became flesh in order to deliver us from sin and send us the Holy Spirit (aka “the helper”). In this sense, the answers are largely available. What more could we want?

The problem is that God does not answer such questions on our terms. If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked the following question at least once in your life:

If God is real, why doesn’t he just come down from heaven, tell me the Bible is true, and give me his phone number in case I have any questions?

The answer lies in the reality that God created us to be agents of faith, which is necessary for us to be agents of love. God yearns for relationship with us, and real relationship requires faith in the sense that real relationship requires trust.

The struggle of faith — of believing in God and doing what he says— is part of that pursuit, and God intends for us to engage in it. It is all part of the active relationship we are called to, and although this relationship promises a God who is reliable and steadfast, it also promises a life that can be a bit uncertain in human terms.

This becomes even harder to understand when we notice that God presents himself differently to different people in different places at different times. In some cases, God seems nowhere to be found (ask Mother Teresa). In other cases, it seems as though he’s not asking for much faith at all.

An example of the latter can be found in the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt, during which God showed himself in many extraordinary ways. He afflicted the Egyptians with plagues, parted the Red Sea, and provided manna and quails to the Israelites on a daily basis. Most noteworthy (in my opinion) was God’s decision to lead the Israelites through the desert using a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. How many of us long for God to guide us in this sort of direct and visible way?

There are plenty of good arguments regarding why God does this. The most convincing is that the Israelites (among plenty of other Old Testament folks) didn’t have the Bible or the Cross or years of documented human history (etc.). Without these assets at their disposal, how were they supposed to know if God was real without God pulling some pretty bold supernatural stunts? (This argument is currently made to explain the extraordinary miracles that frequently take place in Africa’s poorest and most violent regions.)

But although God may indeed meet us where we are, we must recognize that there is still an ever pressing necessity for faith, even in a life full of supernatural spectacles.

Let us remember: Each time God afflicted the Egyptians with plagues, Pharaoh ignored God’s power by denying Moses’ request. Even after God parted the Red Sea, the Israelites scorned his plans and doubted his provision. Likewise, in the very moment that God was inscribing his commandments on stone tablets, the Israelites were busy worshipping a golden calf.

In addition, how could the Israelites be led through the desert by a physical pillar of fire and still deny God’s sovereignty and disobey his commandments?

I think the answer says more about the nature of humans than it does about the character of God.

Put plainly: Without faith, we tend to resort to areas of security. We want to stay in Egypt because it’s comfortable and predictable. Even though we are slaves, at least we have enough food to eat.

In Jesus’ story about Lazarus and the Rich Man we find a similar lesson. After the rich man dies and is burning in Hades, he sees Abraham in heaven and begs for the chance to return to his family so he can warn them about the consequences of unbelief.

Abraham responds with this:

They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them…If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.

Just like the rich man, we think we need a bigger, better, and clearer sign in order to follow God accordingly and do what he asks. The truth, however, is that whatever our circumstances may be, God has already given us the information we need to take the next step of faith.

The good news is that we do have a pillar of fire available to us on a daily basis. In the same way God provided direction and comfort to a lost and confused group of fugitive slaves, he is reaching out to each of us, challenging us to take the risk of coming into relationship with him.

The real question?

Are you looking for a sign, or are you looking for the fire?

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  • Remnant Culture

    If God were leading you via a physical pillar of fire, would you still disobey him? The Israelites did. New post:

  • Joseph Sunde

    If God were leading you with a physical pillar of fire, would you still disobey him? The Israelites did:

  • Modocrider1

    Sometimes, God gives us pretty blatant signs, but since we're usually looking in the wrong direction, we don't see what He has done until after-wards. We're looking for one thing and He provides what is needed in a completely different way. Then we slap ourselves and think “How did I miss that?”
    Trusting God includes accepting the fact that the way He leads is not always the way we are looking to follow.

  • Remnant Culture

    How could the Israelites be led through the desert by a physical pillar of fire and still deny God’s sovereignty?

  • Remnant Culture

    How could the Israelites be led through the desert by a physical pillar of fire & still deny God’s sovereignty?

  • Remnant Culture

    How could the Israelites be led through the desert by a physical pillar of fire & still deny God’s sovereignty?

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