Israel’s golden calf episode (Exodus 32), didn’t happen in a vacuum. They had been exposed to the wonders of God through the plagues, the deliverance at the Red Sea (while Pharaoh and his army were buried in the same waters), and God’s continual presence in the cloud and pillar of fire. But they soon forgot all of these (Psalm 106:13), and lapsed into complaining and whining. Their sense of wonder dried up and under the desert sun, their leader (Moses) vanished into the mountains, and they mistakenly believed they were left to their own devices.
What followed with the golden calf was, as I see it, neither incidental nor unique. It is what always happens when people lose sight of God’s transcendence — they are left to create their own wonder. And people will manufacture something because they cannot live without anything in this area. We must have wonder!
For Israel it was the golden calf. That spoke as closely and completely to their sense of awe and fulfillment as anything of their own creation could. Still, it was a terrible exchange they made. They turned their back on the glory of the Almighty for a god they could cobble together with their hands (Romans 1). They said no to the transforming influence of the Almighty One in order to live in the secure shadows of something they created.
How easy it is to smugly read our Bibles and shake our heads at the disgusting idolatry of people who should have known better, while we live with our heads and hearts buried in a culture of gluttonous entertainment, spirit-numbing materialism, distracting technology and the like. It’s easy to be beaten up and dulled down until a sunset is simply an everyday atmospheric phenomenon resulting from the planet’s rotation, a baby but a blending of two people’s DNA, and God is Someone who rounds out our lives and makes them nicer. (Donald McCollough was right when he said our sin is not forgetting God but trivializing Him.) We then start to wonder when our lives became so passionless and purposeless. The answer is that we started to wander when we lost sight of God’s wonder and fell back upon our own pitiful substitutes.
The way back is to make the choice to live in God’s world rather than trying to force-fit Him into ours. It’s a good choice. His world is richer, deeper, lovelier, and more glorious than anything we can construct. His world is the real one.
Where do you find your wonder? I know an empty tomb were you can start.