Today we pick up in the exodus story when Moses has received the two tablets written on both sides by God himself. As he comes down the mountain he hears the sound of the people reveling. In this the story of the golden calf there is plenty of blame and sin to go around: Moses, Aaron, and the people.
For Moses part, why smash the tablets? Here we see Moses allowing himself to act out of anger.
Aaron, the actual creator of the idol. He admits that he was the one who told the people to handover their gold jewelry. He was the one who mealted it down and made the calf. Why? He wanted to placate the people. He wanted their approbation.
Both are rather ordinary emotions that we all have to struggle with. But if we look even deeper we find the real catalyst, the root cause of the entire story. The people have become impatient. How many of us do not to some degree suffer from impatience? Perhaps if we look more closely at the story we will see some clue as to why they fell into impatience and how we might avoid it.
Impatience most often expresses itself as anger. Any why are we angry? Because we have no control of the situation. Think of the last time you were stuck in traffic, a sense of absolute powerlessness comes over us. There is nothing you are going to do to make the traffic move. We start searching for an exit, and when we see no way out we become even more worked up.
But there is something even deeper. When Moses asks Aaron why he did it. Aaron reports what the people said,
Make us a god to be our leader; as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.
They do not know. Moses has gone off and the people have no idea what has happened to him or when or if he is coming back. This lack of knowledge, ignorance, creates fear, and the fear expresses itself in impatience. The unknown scares them and they go looking for security in a golden calf.
How do we deal with the unknown? Too often we can be like the Israelites. We can allow the unknown to frighten us, and our fears can lead us to make very bad choices. The key it seems is to examine our fundamental vision of the world. If we truly believe that God created the world and God remains king of the world, then the unknown need not frighten us. If we believe as we sing that heaven and earth are filled with God's glory then we know that we are headed toward the fullness of God's kingdom and no matter what tomorrow brings, God can turn it and use it for good.
Those moments when we are stuck and it seems we can do nothing. We can always pray. We can sit and bask in the presence of God who promised to remain with us always. We can turn those moments when we feel impatience taking over into moments of stillness, moments of grace, resting peacefully in our powerlessness.