All is quiet, save for slowly stretching tentacles of hissing lava nipping at the edges of the tropical foliage. Residents, fearful for their homes, stand grim-faced yet amazed. Most days they call this “paradise.” On this day, however, the fiery fissures in Hawaii’s Puna district reminded everyone that God forged these islands via untamable volcanic power.

The ancient Israelites encountered an untamable power too. When King David recaptured the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:1–4), a celebration broke out (v. 5)—until a man died suddenly when he grabbed hold of the ark to steady it (vv. 6–7).

This may tempt us to think of God as being as capricious as a volcano, just as likely to create as He is to destroy. However, it helps to remember that God had given Israel specific instructions for how to handle the things set apart for worshiping Him (see Numbers 4). Israel had the privilege of drawing near to God, but His presence was too overwhelming for them to approach Him carelessly.

Hebrews 12 recalls a mountain “burning with fire,” where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. That mountain terrified everyone (vv. 18–21). But the writer contrasts that scene with this: “You have come to . . . Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (vv. 22–24). Jesus—God’s very Son—made the way for us to draw near to His untamable yet loving Father.