How long are you willing to wait on the Lord? Maybe a better way to ask it is this: how quickly do you give up on God? Today’s OT reading in the Daily Office (Exodus 32:1-20) is a terrible tale of Israel’s impatience and unfaithfulness. Moses has gone up on the mountain to speak with God, and, when he is delayed, the people rebel. But my favorite part of the story isn’t the people’s impatience—it’s how quickly they look for their own answer to their predicament.
Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. After a while, the people gave up on him. The text doesn’t tell us what made the Israelites impatient; it simply says that since Moses was delayed they took action on their own. The people gather around Aaron and say, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” In other words, after 40 days, God’s people, who had been rescued from Pharaoh through the most dramatic of divine interventions and who had been sustained in the wilderness by the God of heaven, abandon course and look for new gods to follow. That change is so complete and comes so quickly that I wonder what had been going on in their hearts all along.
One doesn’t simply switch gods. That’s not the sort of life-decision that one makes lightly. I can understand why a wavering convert might leave the faith during a difficult spell, but I don’t see why a whole nation of God’s people suddenly switch to worshipping a golden calf. Apparently, their religion had been less heartfelt than it had seemed.
And that’s the real point here: real faith weathers storms; shallow faith crumbles in the face of adversity. If we really believe that God is God and we really trust that he will take care of us, we aren’t easily swayed when God seems absent for a while. But, if we’ve only been going through the motions of faith, we might be in trouble.
“Easy enough,” you say. “There’s no chance of me switching gods. I’m in this for the long haul.” That might be true. The threat of you deserting for another religion might be small, but how long are you willing to wait at the foot of the mountain before losing hope? Sometimes God’s people are asked to wait a lifetime or more before the answers come. Sometimes God feels absent for several generations. Are we willing to wait on the Lord through that kind of drought? I think our faith is usually built on the expectation that God answers our prayers in the short-term. But, if those prayers go unanswered for our entire life, are we able to remain faithful?
The story of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness involved a 40-day delay. But the story is about much more than that. Are we faithful enough to wait for God through an indefinite delay? That’s where we live—waiting for God. It isn’t easy, but it’s what we do. Faith is waiting. Faith is hanging in even when we don’t know whether we’ll live long enough to see the answer.