On this Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.
While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Law from God, the Israelites were growing restless. They confronted Aaron, who was left in charge in Moses’ absence. What was Aaron to do?
He took gold from the people and fashioned a golden calf.
It appears to me that Aaron didn’t intend this calf to replace God, but instead crafted it as image to represent God. This seems clear in Aaron’s reaction to the Israelites’ worship of the calf:
On seeing this [the Israelites’ reaction to the calf], Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast of the LORD.” Ex. 32:5.
Aaron sought to redirect the Israelites’ adoration from the calf to the Lord. Maybe this is why he was spared God’s wrath.
But his fellow Israelites were not so fortunate. When Moses came down the mountain, he shattered the tablets God gave him and destroyed the golden calf. Moses then sent his trusted associates, the Levites, throughout the camp to kill. In all, 3,000 fell to the sword.
Perhaps the Israelites were too ignorant to understand symbology. Or maybe they were too near the pagan cultures or blended with them to distinguish symbols from idols.
Either way, Aaron’s good intentions did not lead the Israelites closer to God. And what Aaron hoped to be a holy gesture—a symbol of hope reminding the Israelites of God as their Deliverer—was twisted by the Israelites in unholy ways.
Which makes me wonder: when do my good intentions—when apart from God’s wisdom and guidance—lead to disaster? No matter how much good I intend by my actions, if I try to “go it alone”, without God, my actions are predestined to failure. Maybe this is what Saint Bernard of Clairvaux meant by his famous aphorism:
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
I have a habit of trying to be a Maverick, to rely on my own skills, strengths and wisdom to achieve a goal, ignoring the fact that all I have comes from Him. This Lent has given me some wonderful opportunity to counteract this instinct. For example, I am developing a habit related to emails: before I hit sent, I pray a quick “Glory Be” to remind myself that whatever I send should be done for His glory and not my selfishness.
But what of the good things in my life that I—like the Israelites with the golden calf—repurpose for selfish gain or incentive? Food, for example, is good until I abuse it, use it to seek selfish ends, and displace God with food as the center of my life. Sexuality, also, is a good thing, a gift from God. But it, too, can be abused. Same with the internet, or TV or sleep. When I look to any of these things—things that can be used in healthy ways to draw me closer to God—if I use them to replace God, they only lead to my destruction.
Fasting—self-denial—helps me to re-focus my energy and attention on serving Him. As with any form of slavery, true freedom does not mean ceasing the activities of servitude: true freedom means replacing the negative actions and thoughts with healthy and holy service to God.