In response to a comment at Ordinary Times (nee League of Ordinary Gentlemen; formerly referred to just as the League, but henceforth to be referenced as “the Ordinary”), I remembered the Old Testament story of the golden calf. Moses has gone up into the mountains, and the people have mobbed his older brother Aaron and asked him to make a god for them (lousy slackers, make your own damn god!). So he commandeers all their jewelry, melts it down, and makes an idol from it.* God gets mad, and it plays out like this:
“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
At least two not-commonly-noted points seem clear to me. First, God is rationally self-interested in his own public image. Two, Moses was a lot smarter than God, at least in that issue.
So why didn’t they teach me that in Sunday school?
* Years ago, when I first wore earrings and the people of my church were disturbed that a guy was wearing earrings, I liked to point out that the story says men, as well as women, were wearing golden earrings, so if they guys had just kept their rings in their ears they wouldn’t have helped create a false idol. What folks really thought of that I don’t know, but it was a great conversation stopper.