“When the people became aware of Moses’ delay in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come make us a god who will be our leader…’” (Exodus 32:1) It was a non-stop litany of complaints: We are going to starve out here in the desert! What will we drink? What will we eat? When is Moses getting back?
They are constantly grumbling against Moses, Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? That wonderful place where we sat by our fleshpots! (minor detail: we were slaves!) Yes, we love our bondage to sin. We like our fleshpots, our attachments, our small passions. It's just one glass of wine, it's just a little white lie. Why you gotta make us feel bad about our comfy sins, make us feel guilty? And now, everything is so difficult! And we aren’t sure if God is still in charge. Or maybe he is going to kill us right here in the desert! “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”
Isn’t it ironic that the Israelites are being led by God himself: a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; he is feeding them every day, too, with his mysterious manna; and they vividly recall the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army. And, they are free! No longer slaves! Yet, they suspect the worst of God. He brought them out of Egypt to let them die in the wilderness. “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” they cry at Meribah and Massah. (Exodus 17: 7) And they grow impatient when Moses is up on the mountain and they immediately want a false god to idolize.
Don’t we, too, doubt that God is in our midst? Despite having the pillars of our faith, the teaching of the Church, despite being fed daily by the Eucharist, despite being freed over and over from the bondage of sin in the sacrament of reconciliation? Aren’t we impatient with God when he doesn’t respond immediately, when he doesn't answer our prayers, when we feel abandoned in the wilderness? And we are tempted to give ourselves over to a false god, one that satisfies immediately.