Monday Scripture - Exodus 32:1-2 [the people] said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me."
the people want a new god. it's easy to rush to judgment for their lack of faith. but for me, their desire for a god with whom connection was immediate and the experience of presence was constant is a very understandable one. All of us, at one point or another experience the doubts, fears and frustrations that are a part of faith. These may be born of the struggles and challenges that are a part of life. It may be that we feel alone and abandoned by God at times or that the faith community of which we are a part, disappoints. But we all feel alone, unsafe, vulnerable at some points in our lives and this is the moment when we can begin to wish, like Israel, for a new god, a closer god, a more immediate god, a god of our own making.
As we considered Sunday, it is not necessarily doubt or disappointment in God that opens the door to other gods. Studies show the slow but steady progression in our country of those who simply do not believe in God at all. It is not necessarily that they have been let down by the church, but that they stop believing in God. God is a story, a fairy tale as there is no rational proof of God. The weakness is the idea that because one does not believe in God one is now free to view the world from a position of rationality. We are always 'worshipping.' We are always putting our trust and hope in something though we are not conscious of it. James K.A. Smith suggests that we are defined by, become, what we love. Simply because we do not devote ourselves to traditional religious practice does not mean that we are not choosing what is good, what is due our love and devotion. But as Smith and others suggest, we are left loving (worshipping) success, competition, power, acquisition, in order to attain fulfillment. Gratification is promised to us through guns that will make us safe, gadgets that will connect us with others and give us status, wealth, and possession will bring us purpose and fulfillment. But force, consumerism, self-gratification, entertainment, offer empty promises. And these become the gods we worship.
Once again, we see the temptation of Adam and Eve to master that one last tree played out for us. Again, like Abram and Sarai, grasping for control of the blessing, Israel creates material gods to assuage fears and guarantee safety and security. It will be played out time and again in Israel's collective life of faith. The prophets will warn about the subtle temptation of safety and security through profit, power, military might, mastery over the people of other nations through their superiority as 'God's chosen people.' All of these are golden calfs. All of these the gods that Israel will grasp for a sense of security and status. And all of them echo through to our own experience. Still, today profit, wealth and material possession promise to make us happy and comforted.
The story of the golden calf maintains its power and its influence as it gives us a vehicle to interrogate the promises for safety, security, happiness and joy that we hear. We know before we even encounter this story that there are many empty promises. The story, told and retold, prayed and pondered, helps us to discover the gods that promise a great reward, but succeed only in distancing us from the source of our being. The golden calf reveals empty promises. And encourages us to turn to God who promises to provide abundantly the full life we were created to live.