As I write this I am waiting for the power to come back on at the rectory and the main church building. In a flurry of rain and wind over the course of fifteen minutes, the power shut off. That was 20 hours ago, and National Grid’s website assures us that we’ll have the power restored in 33 hours give or take.
And I’m getting impatient. Because I want those workers from National Grid to get on with it already and bring us salvation in the form of an electrical current. I’ve got programs I want to watch, and food I want to save, and dirty clothes I want to clean.
But they’re taking their good old sweet time somewhere else.
So when I read about the Israelites getting a tad restless when Moses hasn’t reappeared from Mt. Sinai, I get it. I understand the desire to stop waiting around, to need to get going. I feel the longing for things not to go entirely south.
And the Israelites in their anxious state decide to take matters into their own hands. They go to the next in line and say to Aaron, “Make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, we do not know what’s become of him.” You can hear their contempt, right? “As for this Moses, well, we don’t know what’s happened to him, so give us something else to worship.” And Aaron does just that with their gold jewelry. He forms a golden calf. And the Israelites begin to worship it.
Our narrator cuts from that scene of revelry to God and Moses on Mt. Sinai. And God is ticked. “Go down at once!” God bellows. “Your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, are acting perversely.” Nice, right? God, the one who brought the people out of Egypt is throwing them under the bus, and claiming no part in their deliverance. God continues, telling Moses that God’s anger is so hot, that there’s nothing from stopping God to strike down those blasted Israelites who couldn’t wait a couple of days for Moses to return. “Let me strike them,” God says, “and then I’ll make you a great nation, Moses.”
Now I don’t know about you, but I envision God a bit more genteel in nature. I don’t imagine God as getting annoyed by us human beings to the point of wanting to hurl thunderbolts at us. (Any mention of lightening as a judgment from God and our lack of power is not related whatsoever…) Yet in this topsy-turvy lesson that’s what happens.
And Moses, the guy who literally got so mad at an Egyptian that he killed him with his bare hands, responds all gentle-like. “Why does your anger burn so hot, God? Your people,” notice the sly move to remind God that the Israelites aren’t Moses’ own people, but God’s, “Your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power, don’t deserve to die. Think of what your enemies would say. Egypt would say that you’re fickle, God, bringing your people out into the wilderness simply to do away with them. You don’t want people to think you’re that cruel, do you?”
Moses then reminds God of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that if the Israelites were struck down, well, God wouldn’t be keeping that bargain.
And so God relents, and doesn’t send lightning bolts down on the crowd worshipping the false god.
Before we head down the trail of how the God of the Old Testament is always angry, let’s ask why God responds like this. Why does God get so upset?
It’s because God’s jealous. God wants to be the one receiving the love and attention of the Israelites. And so when the people of Israel go off and conjure up that golden calf and begin worshipping it, well, God feels jilted.
Rebecca Button Prichard responds to this surprising turn with a surprising turn of her own. She writes, [T]his disconsolate deity is so very lovable, precisely in that deep, deep hurt that is the result of even deeper love. This God feels what we feel. This One has passion.” Who among us hasn’t felt that hurt when that person we were dating is suddenly infatuated with someone else? Who among us hasn’t felt the anger and hurt when we were dumped for another?
God has felt that too.
Prichard then asks this: “What if [we] put [our]selves in those divine shoes for a moment? Could we begin to see that maybe God has feelings too? Could [we as] the faithful be open to the possibility that [we] have the power to hurt, [or] to let God down?”
Which isn’t something I often ponder. I don’t often ask how I can more fully make God aware of my love. To make God know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my devotion is on the One who loves me, who is passionate about me.
What about you? What can you do today to show your devotion and love—dare I say it, your passion—for God? How can you make it clear to God that you’re firmly in God’s corner? Reading scripture or a reflective book? Walking while you breathe in the beauty of creation? Sitting quietly? Writing a note to God, simply telling God about your day?
And if you sense that God’s a little slow on the draw, a little late in responding, don’t give up. Keep at it. Keep patiently waiting for the passionate God to respond. Eventually God will. Besides, you never know, maybe God’s power was out too.