I have heard the story a thousand times; sometimes it feels as if I am becoming story about tethering, about tracing God’s goodness, about choosing whether or not to give a heart to God. You have heard it told. How the baby’s mother places him, tiny and helpless, into the handwoven sweet grass basket, how his sister stands at the brink to watch him float down the river alone, how the daughter of Pharaoh comes down at just the right time and lifts him out. The daughter who was unknowingly sent to bring about God’s goodness—God was aware of even this.
I read later, when the baby has grown, about the angel appearing in a flame of burning fire out of the bush there in the wilderness. I learn that Moses did not pass by unknowingly—he turned aside to see, he took off his shoes. Moses made himself vulnerable there in the wilderness, and because of that, he experienced God’s realness. In doing so, he learned that the God who created the whole universe could be intimately aware of a shepherd standing next to a bush. But even more important, he learned that God could see the affliction of His people, He could hear their cry, He knew their sorrows, and He would come down to deliver them (see Exodus 3:7–8).
But, one experience with God’s goodness doesn’t tie you to Him forever.
I read that Moses questioned God about the purpose He had in store for him, and when I feel Moses’s worry, his inadequacy, his uncertainty, for a minute I walk in his shoes. I have been there, where Moses is. I have questioned God. But there is hope in God’s answer to Moses: “I will be with you. . . . You will not go empty” (Exodus 3:12, 21). Yes, there is hope, but it doesn’t completely dispel the doubt.
“They will not believe me,” Moses whispers. He has spoken to the Lord, been rescued by the Lord; he has been given promises by the Lord, and still there is doubt. I know that doubt. I, too, would have run from the serpent. Just like Moses, I would have suffered God sends the rod and the healing, still, like Moses, I wonder. “Go,” God says, “and I will be with you” (see Exodus 3). He says it to Moses, and to the children of Israel, and to me and you, and still, we falter.
Because one experience with God’s goodness doesn’t tie us to Him forever.
We see the miracles and believe, we walk into the wilderness believing, and then, when the path ahead becomes hard and the Red Sea lies before us, we question our belief. No, we don’t question. We rebel against that belief. We think it would have been better for us to stay in Egypt. To stay in bondage. When we can’t see the end in sight, we decide it is better for us to go back to what we knew. We can understand bondage. It isn’t comfortable, but it is safe, and we know what to do there.
This vulnerable position, this intimacy with God, is uncomfortable. It stretches us beyond our own capacities. We question Him. We question ourselves. We question everything. Fear has a way of minimizing God’s miracles, making it easy to walk away from belief. The only way to avoid this walking away is to trace His goodness throughout the journey. God understands this, so He sends another miracle, a reminder: “I will be with you.” We walk through what once had the potential to drown us on dry ground. The water doesn’t just part. The mud, the sludge, the mess is taken care of too. The ground we walk on is dry. He is aware of the little details. Hope is restored, and we learn once again what it is to believe (see Exodus 14).
Until we are hungry, starving, until we might die from starvation, until the memory of the miracle pales against this current want—this desperate need—we hunger. The ache inside of us cries out for relief, and we aren’t certain this God who can move water can satisfy a daily want. He is the God of big things, we assume, but does He care about this? Even this? So we murmur, and we consider going back to what was easier. Maybe it is easier to live without God, to remain in bondage. We understand bondage.
But in the morning God sends the manna. Bread from heaven. God’s mercy sent down daily, gathered daily, gathered according to each person’s need. How much would I take? I wonder. Of the Lord’s goodness, how much do I take? The children of Israel gather it every morning, according to their need. Every morning. For 40 years. The Lord is with them every morning, filling them, providing for them every single morning, but it isn’t long before the mercies become mundane. “We loathe this bread,” they say out loud (see Numbers 21). There is no gratitude. There is hatred. The water spills from a rock, a tabernacle is raised from the dust, they walk away from Caleb and Joshua’s land of milk and honey. Why? Because of unbelief? Because they have forgotten His goodness? Because they have set aside gratitude?
Because I think I have taken steps into the unknown with God, looked at the wilderness ahead, and thought about turning back. I have faced the unconquerable with no way around, no way across, no way through, and I have felt small, wondering if God has forgotten me. I know the wanting that presses down hard, the aching for relief, the certainty that there is no way out. The questioning if God is great enough for this. The questioning if God even cares about this. I know what that is.
And I wonder how many times I have taken what God could have made holy and instead made it into my own mischief. The gold, tried in the fire—do I corrupt it with my doubt? Because there, in the burning, what is meant for the tabernacle somehow becomes a calf (see Exodus 32:19–24).
I am guilty of pointing fingers. I scoff at Israel. I wonder, when they had seen so many through so many personal experiences with God, how could they choose to walk away? How could they substitute a cold, unmoving, unfeeling object for a God who was willing to walk through the wilderness beside them? To walk through fire and water with them? To provide, and rescue, and deliver? When they could so easily trace His goodness through the everyday moments of their lives, how could they walk away?
Why is it that those experiences with God’s goodness didn’t tie them to Him forever?
The silence condemns me. It reminds me that I have considered walking away. When the hope of God becomes uncertain, when the waiting game takes its don’t come in my timing, in my way, when they don’t meet my expectations. It’s true; my heart has considered walking away. Yes, I have heard this story a thousand times; sometimes it feels as if I am becoming the story is mine. I am Israel.
And I have considered giving up the risk of God for the convenience of the golden calf.
It is not hard for me to imagine Moses taking the calf, burning it in the fire, grinding it to powder, and making the children of Israel drink it (see Exodus 32:20). I take the cup, and I drink it down. I drink the mischief, every single bit of it, and I realize I am not filled. It cannot fill me. There is only One who can fill me.
Could I tether my heart to Him? Could I open my life to the prospect of making room for daily personal experiences with God? Could I learn to trace His goodness?
I hear the call of Moses to the children of Israel: “Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come to me” (Exodus 32:26).
And I wonder if I will come.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in December 2017.