Whenever I read any of the accounts of the exodus from Egypt (or watch The Ten Commandments), I feel rather smug: “Those silly Israelites, they don’t see that God is with them in the wilderness, and so they look to idols for help.” I turn out the light and go to sleep, feeling secure. I then wake up the next morning, read the paper, and discover anew that the world is not so safe; I receive a phone call and hear that a loved one is facing a crisis; I get a reminder of a doctor’s appointment and tension builds as I think of what he might find. I comfort myself that there are buffers, people and institutions, between me and the dangers that abound. Hazards pile up and I seek more safeguards, disregarding how they can fail. These buffers have become my personal golden calf, constructed to help me avoid the wilderness.
The wilderness, however, is far more powerful than any golden calf I can find. The wilderness has the power of God within it. I cannot decide if God places us in the wilderness deliberately, or if, since that is where we are going to be on a fairly regular basis, that is where God waits for us. It is certainly in the wilderness that I find myself turning to God on a daily, even hourly, basis. When life is good, I pray to God and offer thanks, but it is almost perfunctory since I am not in need. And it is in need, in the wilderness of hurt and anger, that I perceive God most.
In some ways, I envy the Israelites that golden calf is hard to deny. My idols are dangerous in that they are not so blatant. The sooner I recognize them, the sooner I encounter God. That is my daily struggle.