By Benedict Augustine
“There an angel of the LORD appeared to him in fire
flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush,
though on fire, was not consumed.
So Moses decided,
‘I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.’”
Every skeptic hopes to experience the miracle that Moses had experienced. An atheist friend of mine claimed smugly, “I want to have a “burning bush” moment. I want God to talk to me and prove He is there. Until then, I won’t be convinced.” To this, I could only sigh and fruitlessly argue that God’s miracles would be wasted on a skeptic who refuses to believe.
And I still think this is the case. If the average atheist encountered a burning bush, he would try to put it out, both literally and metaphorically. When he realizes that the bush burns miraculously and does not go out despite his efforts, he will seek to find a natural explanation, or more likely, he will summon an “expert” to give a natural explanation for the bush. Usually this will put the atheist’s mind as ease, but if doesn’t, then he might just have to conclude that current science has no explanation—yet—but it will soon enough, so there’s no point in examining the issue further (See: the Shroud of Turin, theDancing Sun of Fatima, the miracles at Lourde, the stigmata of Padre Pio, etc.)
Or, instead of going through the trouble of investigating the bush, the truly typical atheist will probably shrug his shoulders, assume the bush was for someone else, and ignore it as he does with most things he doesn’t understand.
All the while, the bush goes on burning in vain since the person for whom it was intended decided to wish it away instead of hear the message. Luckily, God knew beforehand that Moses, a man eager to rediscover the God of his ancestors, would respond.
What often goes unnoticed in this story, by atheists and Christians alike, is the context of burning bush. This might make one pause before he appeals to God to make Himself known.
God appears to Moses after Moses has left his home, suffering from something of an identity crisis. Because of the pharaoh’s decree to kill the Hebrew children, Moses, by the Grace of God, was given up by his mother and adopted by the pharaoh’s sister. He grew up as an outsider at the court, knowing that he didn’t fit in. When he is an adult, he decides to take action for “his people,” a rather abstract concept for a man who grew up as an Egyptian, and kills one of the Egyptians who struck at a Hebrew. When this crime becomesknown by the Hebrews and Egyptians, Moses flees.
Later, Moses flies into action once more, helping some Hebrew damsels in distress. Some shepherds decide to harass and drive them away from a well, but Moses defends them and helps them draw water for their father’s flocks. He marries one of the daughters and lives the simple life as a shepherd. Thus, from living in the highest court in the land, he now lives off the land.
Moses’ concern for his people lies at the heart of his descent. Although one might say he simply wanted to find meaning in a world of gold and pagan hedonism—like many men today—he actually had the right idea of taking up arms for his people. The Hebrews were in trouble, serving as slaves, undergoing forced abortions, and questioning their own (like Moses) instead of questioning their oppressors. They needed a leader, and more importantly, the needed God.
God commissions Moses with a mammoth task that requires substantial faith along with the other virtues of leadership. In light of this fact, one could say that He appears to Moses because of His faith, not the lack thereof. It’s likely that there were more than a few skeptics among the Hebrews, who not only questioned God before the miracles, but even after the miracles! Obviously, people who didn’t believe in elevating their situation would hardly believe in a God that could save them.
Keeping in mind the context of the burning bush, one can conclude that God appears in times of crisis and will usually demand something. Furthermore, He only does this for those who can accept His mission. Seeing that He has a vocation for all men and women, it’s essential to understand this and open our hearts. For those who lack the willingness to listen, let alone respond, He will remain silent and leave them to their tyrants and idols.
On a deeper level, the story of the burning bush also suggests that a man who does not believe in God probably struggles with believing in himself and others. God picked Moses for a reason, and the reason isn’t obvious. Moses does little to distinguish himself as a leader, and most would call him a hypocrite for trying to identify as a Hebrew even when he grew up among Egyptian royalty.Nevertheless, God sees Moses’ self-confidence and his courage in leaving Egypt even when he could have enjoyed the good-life. Moses evidently believed in himself, and in his people, and likely in that hitherto unknown God he must have only heard rumors about.
Through his peculiar faith—which is certainly different from Abraham’s—Moses liberates himself from pagan Egypt. This self-liberation then qualifies him as liberator of others, both for the skeptics of his time and the skeptics today.