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Wandering In The Desert, Part 4: Idols

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When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said “Come, make us a god who will go before us.  As for this fellow Moses who brought us out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them, to me.”… He took what they handed him and made it into an idol. –Exodus 32:1-2, 4a

An idol is anything we put before God, a partial truth mistaken for the whole Truth, a lesser good elevated to the ultimate good… Idols [promise] what they cannot deliver.

–Michael Schut, Simple Living, Compassionate Life

I find Michael Schut’s definition of idolatry helpful and uncomfortable, for it points out the unfaithfulness in my culture and in my heart. Like many others on this site, I’m trying to live an alternative to our culture’s veneration of consumption and its false promises of military and financial security.  But stepping back from the wider society doesn’t confer immunity from idolatry, as the Israelites learned.

They came out from Egypt to win their freedom, to worship their God, and to live under a new covenant. Then they had to deal with the hard realities of hunger, thirst, and uprootedness. God provided what they needed, but not always in the way or in the time that they wanted. Moses, who had been God’s messenger to them, went away for a long time to be on the mountain with God. They didn’t know what was happening. They didn’t feel safe. They wanted a God they could see, shape, and control—a God made in the image of their wishes.

I also get discouraged, lonely, and doubtful. I get tired of paying attention to the people and the place around me and seeing the ways in which they are damaged—sometimes by my own carelessness or selfishness. I crave comfort and security. I’m tempted to seek these things through self-indulgence, or attention and approval, or the self-righteous satisfaction of joining a faction and denigrating opponents.

I’m tempted to remake God in the image of my desires. I act as though God’s purpose is to give me what I want, or to approve of me if I follow some set of rules, or to undo the harm we do to the world so I’m not responsible for healing it. I concentrate on this image of God and avoid going confronting the darkness and listening to God in truth.  I am briefly comforted or distracted, but lastingly weakened and dissatisfied.

This Lent I pray for myself and for all of us on this wilderness journey—that we may have courage to endure the darkness and wait upon the Lord, to forgo comfort and security and choose faithfulness and freedom.

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