Eugene Peterson, in his book Subversive Spirituality speaks of our living in golden-calf country. In golden-calf country people have a deep and insatiable hunger for God without having a deep desire for him. Peterson says “What we really want is to be our own gods and to have whatever other gods that are around help us in this work.” He later concludes “Mostly they want to be their own god and stay in control, but have ancillary divine assistance for the hard parts.” The gods of golden-calf country affect both Christians as well as non-Christians. Most of the golden calves we worship are self oriented. They are centered around questions containing the word “I”. What do I get out of it? How can I maximize my potential? How can I be happy? and so on.
In the end we become very practiced in being religious without submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ. We become much like the ancient Israelites described in the book of Judges. They were perfectly content to live a religious life that didn’t include God until the going got rough. Only then would they cry out to him for assistance. But in their callousness, it often took decades of oppression before they would truly cry out to God.
In our world we tend to worship the golden calves of prosperity and power. This is as true in secular society as it is in the church. Some people follow the prosperity gospel, believing that by following God they will be materially blessed. Others look to success as the sign of God’s blessing. But these can easily become idols if they become more important than God.
The other gods which are often worshipped in golden calf country are politics and science. We look to them to solve all of our problems. But they never seem to quite satisfy. With all of the medical advances we have made, we still haven’t conquered disease. Trusting in governments to solve every need has proved to be illusionary. Philip Yancy, writing in an essay in Christianity Today noted that “Christ exposed as false gods the very powers in which men and women take most pride and invest most hope.” They always fail to ultimately satisfy.
Living in the now generation where we tend to want things instantaneously, we may call upon God more quickly. But we have the same problem the ancient Israelites had. We are perfectly comfortable bowing down to our own self-made idols. We place our faith in the centers of power and influence. Instead of being in the center of our lives, God is placed on the margins, to be called upon when needed. We become adept at praying “God if you will do such and such, I will ….” We can even become like an ancient Babylonian man, who upset with how his life was going, offered the following prayer to his god. “If you don’t start treating me better I’ll stop sacrificing to you, and then where will you be?” Like the ancient Israelites, we can become adept at ignoring God when things are going well and then complain to him when they aren’t. Like the ancient Babylonian, whose religion centered upon himself, we can worship a similar golden calf. The songwriter, Bob Dylan, wrote in one of his songs that everyone has “got to serve somebody”. It will either be God or a golden calf. But we will serve somebody. Are you worshiping the Lord or are you in danger of worshiping a golden calf?