A Crosby, Stills, and Nash song used to advise that when you’re down and confused because the one that you belong to with is far away, you ought to just, “Love the one you’re with.” In Exodus (32:1-14), God’s people get discombobulated because Moses is up the mountain and God seems far away. There are times in our lives when we find our primary relationships thinned out and fuzzy. It may be that our spouse is traveling or working a different shift. Face time disappears. Every word between us is miscommunicated. In these situations, there is always someone who says, “If you can’t be with the one you love…” What follows may be an affair, a prodigal use of credit cards, or a spiteful revenge act. Exodus shows us both the danger inherent and the grace available for those traveling through this wilderness.
There are two parts to this story. The first is the making of convenient gods. Aaron says, “the people you love, will always leave you.” Pastor Moses gets called to another church. The God that he was an ambassador for, begins to feel very distant. It is always better to have a god at hand. One should choose ones religion, a la carte. It’s easier that way. Less rules, less stress. The same is true of relationships like marriage and child rearing. It’s only understandable that concentration slips away, because your baby is so far away.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I call, primary relationships. Our relationship with God is one. Other primary relationships include our parents, spouse, siblings, and those we enter into a covenantal relationship with. These are the cables that anchor our lives. We dare not cut our moorings and try to love the one we’re with.
The second half of the story involves God playing the devil’s advocate. He models back the behavior of the Israelites, as they attempt to make gods out of gold. God says to Moses, “I’ll love you alone, and not my people, because I’m near to you. My primary relationship with the people feels confused and distant, right now.” Moses has to play along, by arguing with that others would notice that God was being unfaithful. This dialogue underscores this concept of being faithful to our God and to our primary relationships.