Ghosted By God?

L. British Hyrams
(Exodus 32:1-8; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23)

The end of Psalm 106 that Jodi just read gave the “cliff notes” version of the Bible story commonly known as “The Golden Calf”. We will read the more detailed account from the OT book of Exodus.  Exodus, where the Lord liberates the Hebrew people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  Where the Lord travels with the Israelites, protects them and leads them to Mt. Sinai. At Mt. Sinai, the covenant is instituted by God and affirmed by the people: “I will be your God and you will be my people”! This is where we find the Israelites here in chapter 32, and Moses has gone up on the mountain to receive instruction from the Lord.

I will read from The Message (MSG) translation, which is rooted in scholarly work and presented in contemporary language.  It is not a translation for in depth Bible study but a good 2nd Bible to gain clarity and insight into the heart of a passage.[1]

Listen for the Word of the Lord from Exodus 32:1-8 The Message (MSG)

32 When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”

2-4 So Aaron told them, “Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.” They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool.

The people responded with enthusiasm: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!”

5 Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf.

Aaron then announced, “Tomorrow is a feast day to God!”

6 Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!

7-8 God spoke to Moses, “Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have fallen to pieces. In no time at all they’ve turned away from the way I commanded them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it. They’ve sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”

Along with the reading from Psalm 106, this is the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God

Please pray with me.  God of mercy, you promised never to break your covenant with us. Amid all the changing words of our generation, speak your eternal Word that does not change. Then may we respond to your gracious promises with faithful and obedient lives; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Presence can be defined in at least a couple of ways – materially or intangibly.  In 2019 our modern day ways of being present are wide and vast. Materially can include: in person, video, voice, and maybe even a hologram. Intangibly has a lot of choices: the tried and true ways of letters and cards, but also text, direct or instant messaging, and a plethora of apps and social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, GroupMe, Tik Tok, Marco Polo, the list goes on and on!

With all the ways of being “present”, this makes a phenomena called “Ghosting” even more painful.  You see, Ghosting is a sudden lack of presence that includes all of the definitions of being present. Ghosting is when someone abandons you out of thin air without an explanation[2] Ghosting is most commonly referred to when someone you’re dating ends the relationship by cutting off all communication.[3] Now, while giving someone the cold shoulder or ignoring them as a way to break off a relationship is nothing new, the age of cell phones, the internet and social media have added a particular glare and brutality to the act. There are thousands of ways to know that you are being ignored.

In the dating scenario, not hearing from someone and being “blocked” by them after one date or a short amount of time doesn’t feel good and certainly plays into the worst of our own self-doubt, however the longer the dating scenario, the worse the impact – a person’s self-worth can be totally wrecked!

Friends and family members can also “ghost” you.  This scenario can be frustrating in its own particular way, because you usually know quite a bit about their life and how busy (or not) it is, but yet making time for your relationship via the many ways of being present has had a certain norm.

Your feelings about the absence of the other person can vacillate between concern and worry, to hurt and angry. You have reached out to your friend, mother/father, sister/brother, aunt/uncle/cousin and for reasons unknown to you, they don’t respond to you.  Nothing.

You don’t know if they are injured, mad, or God forbid even – dead. Despite what you elect to do (or not do) all the technology in the world cannot and does not elicit two way communication.  

Beloved, the presence of others is so essential that withholding the presence of all other human contact or contact with particular people is at a minimum a manner of control or manipulation.  Think cults and interrogations. At a maximum withholding of human presence is punishment, pure torture. Think solitary confinement. The importance of the presence of other human beings (in whatever dose suits your introverted or extroverted self) cannot be underestimated.

From this text in Exodus, it appears the Israelites felt like they were being ghosted by not only Moses, but by God! You see, Moses was the designated representative of God, the mediator between the Israelites and God. Therefore, Moses’ absence was equivalent to God’s absence

Exodus 32:1 NRSV

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

Moses had been gone 40 days and 40 nights either literally or most likely figuratively – the verb translated “delayed” in the NRSV has a sense of shame connected to it. In the eyes of the Israelites, Moses was gone for a shamefully long time! Evidently long enough that the psyche and feelings of the people were in turmoil, and their sense of insecurity set in.

Psalmists give us a view into the mindset of those who lament over the absence of God, by their words we can be assured that the very thought of being outside of God’s presence is in fact soul crushing. Psalm 13:1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? Psalm 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

After all of this relationship building and covenant making, had the Israelites been “Ghosted” by God? Never mind the fact that God had been shown faithful in so many ways, including by traveling with them, leading them in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night. God had even provided for their physical needs with water, manna, and quail.

It’s easy to judge the Israelites as unreasonable or even look down on Aaron as the 2nd in command. But if you have ever been ignored, avoided, or ghosted by someone dear to you, or dare I say if you have ever felt ignored by God –  the knot of anxiety in your stomach, the heaviness in your chest and the fear that can overtake you is an extremely difficult situation. And so, their perception becomes reality and they decide to act on it!

When we perceive that we are left to our own devices, that we have to make “it” happen of our own accord (whatever “it” is), the depths to which we will travel is frightening. Fear can make us forget – I mean what other excuse do the Israelites have for violating the top two commandments? Fear can make us do things we would not normally do – the Israelites spoke disrespectfully of Moses calling him “that man” AND they pretty much “ordered” Aaron to make them “gods”. They don’t know when Moses, when God, is coming back and something has to be done!

What the Israelites would learn more fully and what we forget sometimes is that “God with us” is a statement of covenant faith that God does not break. It is NOT a product of how we feel, what logic we can work out, or of the things we can see, touch, smell, taste or hear. God is with us! One scripture that is a powerful reminder of this comes from the book of Romans where Paul writes to the Church of Rome and wrestles with some really tough theological and practical issues, in 8:35-39 we find this encouragement. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Psalm 13, after the question “how long” comes the acknowledgement in verses 5 and 6: But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

In closing, I offer this: feeling abandoned by God might look like…29 year old Anthony Ray Hinton, an African American man of no particular means in Alabama, was mowing his mother’s lawn when he was arrested. Arrested for two murders he did not commit.  Despite faulty gun evidence and a solid alibi among other things, he was arrested and tried. Because of inept legal representation and rampant racism among those who had supposedly vowed to serve and protect, to seek justice on his behalf he was tried and convicted. Mr. Hinton was convicted and sentenced to death and spent 30 years on death row in Alabama. For the first 3 years of his confinement, he spoke not a single word to anyone, not even God.

On the other hand, knowing God is present, might look like this: Mr. Hinton took his Bible with him to prison, even though he threw it under the bed for 3 years. Mr. Hinton took his faith with him to prison, though it was a long journey from asking “why me” to asking “why not me” when he finally did talk to God again. Mr. Hinton speaks of an immutable will and determination to fight for his innocence that outlasted the years and years and years of disappointments and setbacks of trying to prove it. God’s presence may have been made known through organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative that took up his case and fought for him or the best friend that supported him the whole time and took him in upon his release in 2015. In the surety of God’s love and presence, Mr. Hinton does say that he has some questions for God when he gets to heaven about what took so long!

The presence of God finds its greatest expression in Immanuel, God with us.[4] God came to save us in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who entered human history and time. God in Christ became a human, walked among humanity, preaching, teaching, healing, and died and rose for all people. In this merciful act, we are reconciled, redeemed, set free, we are never separated from God. Even now, the Spirit of God is with us.  The Spirit guides and directs, empowers and sustains, rules and reigns.

Beloved, no matter what situations make you feel like God has abandoned you, no matter how awful the ways of the world have become, God is faithful.  We have NOT been “Ghosted by God”!  Thanks be to God!

 

[1] https://messagebible.com/faq
[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/how-get-over-being-ghosted-ncna904776
[3] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-psychology-of-ghostin_b_7999858
[4] https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-presence-of-god/