“[T]hey would relapse and do worse than their ancestors, following other gods in service and worship, relinquishing none of their evil practices or stubborn conduct.” —Judges 2:19
Worshiping the one true God means kneeling before something far beyond our understanding. Everyone worships at some kind of altar: we glorify art, intelligence, health, success, affection. We are tempted to worship idols of our own creation because these are things we can control and understand. Devotion to something definite and concrete is easier to wrap our minds around. The golden calf is small and manageable; we can worship it on our own terms. But the God of Moses and Abraham is a wild and terrifying mystery, full of puzzling surprises, capable of great and powerful things. He makes us aware of our own smallness, our helplessness—and that frightens us.
The golden calf would never lead us to die in the desert, would not bewilder us with hard truths and cryptic silences. But the golden calf cannot rescue us from the desert, either. It is not God. It has no spiritual substance; it simply distracts us from the Truth. The very definition of God is that He transcends our human sphere; He is infinitely greater than any earthly thing. He is Mystery. If we believe in God at all, we are choosing to lean into that Mystery, to believe that we don’t understand everything and that there is One Who does.
We can pretend that God is something that will fit into our own plans, our own schedules, our own beliefs and habits and desires. Or we can see Him for Who He truly is. We can let Him reveal Himself to us, bit by bit, and bring us deeper into the beautiful and terrible unknown. Only then will our lives take on real meaning. Trusting in the one true God will be the most real thing we will ever experience, the bravest and most important act of love we will ever perform.
Image: Storm over Czestochowa / Ziijon / CC BY-SA 4.0