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A couple years ago, I visited Israel with a group of Christian journalists. We bobbed in the Dead Sea, ate "Peter fish" in Galilee, and ascended the desert fortress of Masada. We toured the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, prayed at the Western Wall, and sat amid Gethsemane's twisted olive trees. But for me the highlight of the trip wasn't a place. It was a person—our guide, Amir.

Amir was in his late 50s, stocky, with skin that looked like leather from leading trips through the Holy Land for three decades. At each site, Amir would seek out an isolated spot, gather us in a semicircle, and expound upon the historical and theological significance of the site. Sometimes he seemed more like a preacher than a tour guide.

I remember one talk in particular. With the Mount of Olives shimmering in the background, Amir described what he saw as the basic problem of the universe. "God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked," he said. "But there's a problem."

He leaned toward us and stretched out his arms like a scarecrow.

"His presence is like plutonium. Nothing can live when God comes near. If God came to earth, both the righteous and unrighteous would perish. We would all die!"

Initially Amir's metaphor struck me as strange. I'd heard God described as father, master, king, warrior, judge . . . but plutonium? Yet as I recounted God's interactions with the ancient Israelites, I wondered if Amir was onto something.

A Consuming Fire

We evangelicals love talking about God's love. Just drop in on one of our church services and listen. You'll hear worship choruses dripping with lyrics that border on romantic. The ...

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