Unearthing the Golden Calf

A CALF figurine, about four and a half inches high and long, has been discovered in ancient Canaanite ruins south of Tel Aviv, according to The Times of London. "The newly-found calf . . . would have been worshipped before 1550 BC,'' the paper reported. The find shows that the figurine was a religious object in the area centuries before Moses. Like most readers of the Bible, I am familiar with the account in Exodus that tells what happened when Moses found that the Israelites had made a molten calf from their jewelry. As I read the short newspaper account, therefore, and looked at the photograph of the small image, many questions came to mind. The most significant one to me was, How could the Israelites--or anyone for that matter--have worshiped such an object? What would bring people to substitute an odd material structure for the worship of the one God? No wonder when Moses was faced with similar worship that he became angry and broke "the two tables of the testimony'' he had received from God for the people.

Talking about the newspaper story with a colleague, I grumbled about Moses' followers. How could they have such amazing resistance to a leader of great faith and spirituality? How shallow their perception of the Commandments, especially the first thundering "Thou shalt have no other gods before me''!

Our conversation shifted. My friend told me about the stress she was feeling from deadlines. Then I launched into a list of woes: an increase in my taxes; continuing estrangement from a friend; one of my parents was not well, and I was afraid.

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"I suppose--if we were being honest,'' my friend said suddenly, "we would have to say we both have unearthed some rather ordinary little idols here. We're not exactly having 'no other gods' before God, are we?''

Her point was sound, and we both began rethinking our attitudes. Either we were going to be willing to acknowledge God's power, His presence and control, or we were going to allow our preoccupation with fear or anger to take precedence in our thoughts and lives. Another idea emerged then, words Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote to a Boston newspaper in 1904. They're reprinted in her book The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany: "The First Commandmen t in the Hebrew Decalogue--'Thou shalt have no other gods before me'--obeyed, is sufficient to still all strife.'' My friend felt the key word there was obeyed, and I agreed.

As I thought more about this idea, and measured my own behavior against the standards it sets, I saw my need to worship only one God, one cause, one divine Love. What a surprise! I was giving power to small gods mentally, emotionally, and by my actions, while knowing that there actually is only one God.

I began to see how challenging--and rewarding--it is to unearth the golden calves and stop worshiping the belief that lack and fear and despair are inevitable. It takes patience, but the reward is a far more secure feeling of God's love. In truly trying to love God first and trust His guidance, I did start to find a difference in my ability to be at peace. My prayer didn't change the taxes. I did, however, find a way to meet the charges. The estrangement with my friend cleared away. And I was able to be much more patient and resourceful in helping my parent.

Perhaps being a monotheist is not so easy in practice. But I begin to feel that, if practiced, the allegiance to one God can bring much strength and spiritual joy.

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