Monday, March 18, 2013
Holy uncreated God. Uncreated. All-knowing, all-powerful, all-encompassing. Everlasting. Before creation. "In the beginning, there was God," God. At the birth of all creation, there was God. Before there was light and form and air and water and substance, there was God. Uncreated, everlasting, before. God.
It's so far beyond my ken that when I try to fathom it, I bump up against the edges of my finite createdness, my bodily skull, and my memory which doesn't stretch as far back as my skin, and I cannot comprehend. How can there be uncreation? How, in fact, can there be eternity? What is holiness? I mean, complete, utter, without one ounce of sin, holiness? The kind that burns a tree without destroying it, that makes a man's face glow because he's been in the presence of it, that lifts a man straight off the ground and into heaven, and causes others to fall on their faces. This uncreated, holy other, I Am that I AM God is so large and far off, so unexplainable, so hard...yes, so hard, that following Him was hard. He gave rules to make it easier, sent Aaron to be Moses' mouthpiece and speak the truth, gave some (Joshua and Caleb) strong faith, but I have to admit that if I'd lived in the wilderness with Moses and the gang, I don't think I'd have been any different than most of them. Trying, yep, giving it their best shot, but their best shot wasn't anywhere near good enough, but how could it be, after all?
I was thinking about this this morning, because I was reading about the Israelites making the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain. There was Moses, having the time of his life, the very time of his life, which he'd had a time or two. It wasn't always equal, you know. He'd gotten the burning bush, God's own voice, seen the back side of God in the wilderness and had his face changed. And all the people got was Moses' second-hand story about it. So I get it, that it's sometimes hard to live by someone else's faith. But much was expected of Moses as well. If you think it's harsh that, when Moses had that one moment of disobedience and reluctance, God told him, "that's it, buddy, you'll get to see, but not enter the promised land," remember what amazing moments Moses had had with God. Intimate moments--as a man talks with his brother moments.
So Moses disappears up the mountain for a long time, and they start wondering if everything he'd told them about this I AM that I AM God of his was actually true. So they build a golden calf. Now, intellectually, it seems a bit childish to me: if Moses isn't going to come back, we'll just create our own God to worship. And hey, what about a cow made out of gold? But apparently it was supposed to be somewhat like an Egyptian bull-god named Apis. But there's a part of me that kind of gets it. See, Moses goes up the mountain, is overwhelmed by the glory, the wholly Holy Glory of God and they see a difference. They want that for themselves. Of course they do. So they create some gold thing (though they've been told not to), dance themselves into a frenzy, and what happens? Well, nobody's face glows with anything but sweat, that's for sure, and all they get for their trouble is a whole lot of broken gold at the end. Not to mention anger for Moses and God. And it's not a pretty sight, my friends, that's for sure. The very opposite of what they'd been looking for.
The most glaring thing to me, though, isn't about what they did or how Moses reacted to the calf, but what God made them do next. He put the Israelites to work--to actually give them what they'd been trying to manufacture on their own, which is exactly how it should work. They'd spent a whole lot of time standing around, doing nothing, and their questions festered, their doubts grew and they looked at how Moses experienced God versus how they didn't and they wanted that. They wanted their own mountain on which to worship--just like Moses had. So...God put them to work building it. Building a portable temple in the wilderness.
This is remarkable. This elaborate building project came on the heels of their disobedience, which came as a result of their doubts about Him. And it was for a people who would pull up those tent-stakes repeatedly for 40 years. They built a giant tent for the worship of God right after they'd tried to worship a calf as a counter--immediately--their propensity to graven images. God put them to work because the people of God get into trouble when they have too much time on their hands, and He put them to work building a temple, because they needed a place to worship Him.
These are the things that counter doubt. The things that counter disobedience. Work and worship. But there's one more thing: God used the people in ways they were already gifted. They didn't have to try and figure out how they'd accomplish the building of this movable temple for His glory. He'd already given them skills, talents and gifts to do the work He meant them to do to honor Him. "God has chosen Bezalel...and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understand, with knowledge and with all kinds of skill..." Exodus 35: 30-31. There's a holiness of skill given to these men and women, given by God purposely. Their gifts aren't less than the priestly (pastoral) gifts; in fact, at this moment, for this matter, they are more important. Different gifts are raised up at different times, but all are from Him. And these people, these skilled and gifted people, had to show up--had to offer their gifts into His service. "Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given an ability and who was willing to come and do the work. (36: 2) They could have stayed home, I reckon. But would their gifts have disappeared? Probably not, but the gifts are given for His service to those who come. My un-qualified guess is that perhaps those gifts would have become bitter curses sooner or later.
What they already had was enough. They didn't have to be Moses then. In fact, they couldn't be. Moses couldn't have built the temple--he didn't have the right skill-set. All he could do was go up the mountain and lead the people. Moses was no carpenter, that's for sure, and when it came to wood, bronze or silver-working, he was all thumbs. We often worry about what we have to offer the world, or the church. Try to add to our skill package. And sometimes that means we stretch ourselves into areas where we just aren't meant to be. We even do this on teams, looking for a person to fill a gap, to bring the right 'stuff' to the table. Exodus 36: 6-7 says, "The people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was enough." WOW. Though this isn't actually about the work, but the offering, about giving to the sanctuary, I have the strong sense that it's the same.
What we give to Him, what skills we bring to Him--He already knows. When we try to do it for ourselves, we end up with a golden calf, broken in pieces, and probably a whole lot of anger to boot. But when God does it--when we use what He's already given us to use--it's enough.
(Reposted from November 2010)