Naming our Golden Calves

Golden bull sclupture on grey glassIt’s ironic isn’t it that the Israelites created a golden calf and not a golden bull. I mean given their belief that their God was a jealous God, one prone to dangerous anger, one wonders at their use of a newborn, still fragile, unknowing of much of the ways of the world, as their symbol of deity.

In any case, the story is fraught with puzzlement. Like much of the Hebrew scripture, God is portrayed as hardly all-knowing and often not all-powerful. He often argues and gives in to human logic (or what passes for it), and he seems to be in need of human hands to accomplish his ends at times.

This is perhaps why some folks think they know God and know what He wants on any given issue.

So Moses argues with God and dissuades Him from destroying the people for their “stiff-neckedness”, something one would have thought God had learned by now. It shows that Moses is the more rational of the two, reminding God that all His work to date would be for naught, and worse yet, he would look pretty weak and puny to non-Hebrews if in the end, he just mashed his sculpture into a ball and started over again.

Literalists of course, ignore all the strange and contradictory conclusions to be drawn here. Historically a lot of them used to (and perhaps still do) tsk, tsk, at the Catholic church for its use of statues of saints, calling it idol worship. One of course often misses the plank in one’s own eye when busy pointing out the planks in other people’s.

There are so many problems with concluding that the Bible is the “word of God” in a literal fashion. Least of which is that none of the fundamentalist crowd will ever answer the questions. They are quick to point out ( having matured no doubt) that they don’t claim that God literally “wrote” the bible, but only that he caused the writers to write down “in their own words” all that he desired humanity to know and nothing he did not want them to know.  Since they have pointed this out, I think it only fair to answer, “well why?”

Why what, you ask? Well, if God “used” people to write “in their own words” my question would be why would he do that? A God who can inhabit a burning bush, cause tablets to magically contain the ten commandments, part waters, create plagues of locusts, bring forth water from a rock, can surely manage to make a book of instruction can’t He? So what is the point of using these intermediaries?

Well, the answer begs the question. It’s just a not very logical way of explaining why God didn’t just start with one, and go through a list of commands. He did it once, so I guess he could make a longer list right? It explains why the Bible doesn’t read very God-like. Rather of course, than just simply state the truth–men (maybe women but we don’t know) wrote it.

My friend, Dr. James McGrath from Butler, said it thusly:

“People spoke it, others wrote it, still others copied it, still others collected the writings together, still others elevated the collection to the level of Scripture, others claimed that collection to be the Word of God, then the words of God. And that doesn’t “settle it.” The Bible tells me so.

So to claim that it does settle it, under the fundamentalist adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”, suggests to me somebody is busy sculpting that calf again.

Churches can become calves too. I’m afraid that given enough time, almost all of them do. The church becomes THE thing. Certainly true of the Roman church, where rules and rules upon rules tell every Catholic what to do and when. They’ve relieved a bit of that, given the falling numbers, but there is still plenty of it. The Roman church formed from a winning of the battle of orthodoxy. But it didn’t go away. It erupted full force during the Reformation. It continues today. Most every church is formed around the belief that only they have the “true” understanding. That human hubris  sounds pretty darn calfish to me.

Then of course there is the infighting within the denomination. Who is a heretic? Who is a real prophet, seer, Guru? What is right teaching, wrong? Churches split nowadays over gay rights even suing each other over the very physical structures. People vie for personal power within the institution. People steal from the coffers in the name of something or other that somehow or other they justify as being “Godly”.  Your preacher “needs” to live in splendor given that he is “sweatin’ for Jesus” and you have no idea how stressful that is with the powers of Satan working so feverishly at every moment.

All that power, so necessary to “rightly lead” is a calf for sure awaiting its gilt covering.

We can get real personal and find that calf growing in our garage with that car that is oh so essential “given my long commute”, or that state of the art entertainment center, because after working so hard for the Lord, I just got to unwind! The calf grows in our relationships as we struggle to be in control, and form our partner into what works for us, draped in a facade of “what is the right way” to be a couple.

We are a stiff-necked people. Until we stop using the poor Israelites to teach a story to OTHERS about their lack of piety, well, we will continue that tradition. It’s all about your own calves. They surround you and me.

Is it time to melt down a few?

Simplify. Quiet down.

Find your real God.

She’s waiting.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 13:42:56

    Sherry, there is a word I’ve come upon a lot in the past few months that I’ve grown to truly love: biblidolatry–idolization of the Bible to the point that it supplants worship and respect for the God Whose word it claims to be. So many believers are so convinced that scripture has all the answers and that it’s so clear-cut that they effectively evict God and the power of the Holy Spirit from its pages. It’s like a huge reference book instead of a conversation between the Creator and us, which is what I believe it was meant to be.

    I love the Butler quote here. It acknowledges what so many refuse to see. The Bible is divinely inspired, but it is also the work of human hands. What’s more it’s not a journalistic work, written in immediate response to the events it describes. As far as we can tell, much of the Hebrew Bible was compiled and edited no sooner than the 10th century BCE–i.e., around the time of the Babylonian exile. Thus, we’re wise to see the Bible not only as a stab at assembling Hebrew history, it is also a response to recent events in the nation’s history. The Exodus in particular, with its miracle stories of God delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian captors, holds particular resonance to a people recently held captive by another pagan empire.

    So there’s quite a bit of mirroring going on here in the editorial choices that give the text its shape. This golden calf business is not as easy it as seems, as it’s as much a cautionary tale about mimicking powerful cultures in the present tense as an explanation of how the Hebrews’ “stiff-neckedness” kept getting them in trouble. Of course, for bibli-idolators, all of this is irrelevant, as it’s “extraneous” to the few hundred words printed on the page. And my heart breaks for them, as their closed-mindedness (or would that be “stiff-neckedness”?), cheats them of the riches that come from seeing the Bible as a work in constant progress. It’s the story of a people and their God trying to work things out, with mistakes and presumptions being made on all sides. It’s a story that continues to be told.

    I’m so glad you expanded your post to include people who idolize churches and denominations and possessions–so many golden calfs to choose from! But in the end, they all have the same effect: they come between our Creator and us, running interference between what God desires to tell us and what we long to hear.

    Excellent post, dear friend!

    Blessings,
    Tim

    Reply

  2. Shannon
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 15:34:22

    Did you happen to notice the mention of another calf in the readings today? The Prodigal Father ordered the fattened calf to be killed and cooked for his son. I don’t know what it all means, but I’m thinking.

    Reply

  3. Julie Garro
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 18:11:35

    Excellent, thought provoking posts, and comments. Thank you all.

    Reply

  4. louis vuitton canada
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 02:49:04

    You can if you want to,that’s your choice.

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