Sunday, September 3, 2023

Our Golden Calf. . .

The truth is that Israel just did not get why God would be angry with them.  Though they mixed the faithful worship of prophet and temple with that which they picked up from the pagan culture, in their own minds they were not being unfaithful.  God was being unreasonable.  When Aaron was at the foot of the mountain and the people were growing restless wondering about Moses up there with the Lord, they urged him to make a golden calf, which he did.  What is interesting, however, is that in dedicating this golden calf, Aaron proclaimed a feast to the Lord After this, they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.  They did not believe that diluting the faithful worship of the God who had brought them out of Egypt would be wrong.  In their own minds, they were not forsaking this God but worshiping Him in broader, might we say diverse, terms.  They did not get that it was just as wrong to worship God in a pagan way as it was to worship pagan idols in the way God was to be worshiped.  From this point on, there remained a hint of this blindness in all their history.  By the time you get to the later kings of Israel and Judah, you see the pattern become normative.  Worship God faithfully but keep your Asherah in the high places.  Even though God sent prophet and seer to address this and call them and their leaders to repentance, they did not get it.  To widen the worship of God by the inclusion of other deities was not being unfaithful in their minds.  But God saw it differently.  They had committed blasphemy.

We have that same blind spot.  We protected the altar to make sure it belonged to God but we surrendered worship to the world.  It is for this reason that the most dangerous thing the Church could ever have done was to bring into the sacred the matter of taste, preference, desire, amusement, and entertainment.  We thought that substance and practice could be easily distinguished and the faith preserved in theory while in piety allowing the world to own the music, the beat, what was preached, and the role of the faithful as mere spectators before a manufactured display.  God is just as offended by diluting worship with culture and the world and the self as he is by dedicating the altar to another and giving to the idol what belongs to Him alone.  That is all well and true enough.  But the underside of it all is that we end up in the same place Israel ended up -- with a golden calf of what we like or find meaningful done in the name of the Lord and, arrogantly enough, for the glory of the Lord.  God would have destroyed Israel many times over except for the remnant.  God allowed Judah to suffer the consequences of their own choices until what we left at the birth of Christ was merely a legacy while the land, the faith, and the hearts of the faithful belonged to others.  It was preserved not out of deference to Judah but because from Judah the Christ would come.  We are afraid of exile but the only exile left to us is the prison and captivity of our own wants.  God is not merely concerned with the sincerity of the worshiper but with its form.  Unless both belong to Him, there is nothing left to redeem us.  The form without faith affords little and the faith without form is betrayal.

What the devil could not do and the world had no power to do, our own selves have done.  We have built a neat little wall between form and content, doctrine and practice, style and substance.  It allows us a clear conscience (or so we think) for we have not worshiped Baal outright but we have bent the knee to him by letting him set the agenda for how we praise the Lord.  We will not praise God as He wills unless our hearts are in it and we enjoy it.  The Lord must be so pleased with us.  We have become the very people we condemn.

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