And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.” (Exodus 19:10-13)
We discussed this passage in church on Sunday and our pastor pointed out that God set limits even as He was about to reveal Himself. Now that actually did not strike me as terribly incongruous because I have accepted, intellectually at least, that God is God and I…am not. But as I was thinking about it, here is the metaphor that came to me.
Tonicity is a relative measure of solution concentration. If Solution A is hypertonic to Solution B, there is more stuff dissolved in Solution A, and therefore Solution B is hypotonic to Solution A because it has less stuff dissolved in it. Water, or any solvent, has a tendency to move from a hypertonic to a hypotonic solution to “balance” the tonicity. (This happens as a result of the second law of thermodynamics, there is no intentionality or volition for the water’s movement.)
Living cells are mostly water, but there are lots of solutes dissolved in it. If you place a cell in salt water (hypertonic to the cell’s interior), water will rush out of the cell and the cell will plasmolyze, or shrivel. If you place a cell in pure water (hypotonic to the cell’s interior), water will rush into the cell and possibly cause it to lyse, or burst.
We are cells, literally and figuratively. God is like pure water, and if He were to surround us fully, that purity would destroy us because we are not pure. So in His wisdom, God has put limits on us (and how much He reveals of Himself) so that we don’t a’splode. The biological analogue would be the cell wall that is around plant cells; the rigid wall allows water entering the cell to cause it to swell without bursting. In fact, a plant’s mechanical strength comes from billions of cells full of water pressing against the cell walls, a phenomenon called turgor. If millions of Christians were full of God’s spirit, within the limits He sets on us, what strength we might have!