"When Moses failed to come back down the mountain right away, the people went to Aaron. 'Look, they said, 'make us some gods that can lead us. This man Moses, who brought us here from Egypt, has disappeared. We don't know what has happened to him.' " Exodus 32:1
Back when I worked in retail management, I had a store in downtown Pittsburgh that specialized in selling copies of the very highest fashion shoes for women. They were shoes that looked almost exactly like the originals, which usually sold for a very high price, even for those days. These shoes could be purchased at a much lower cost, making them obtainable for all the young women who worked in the city in those days. The store was very popular with them, and the volume of shoes sold was very high. The shoes were called "knock-off's." They looked like the real thing....except that they weren't. That didn't matter to most all the customers. Only a purist would care. I see a lot of the same happening in the Church today. I think in many ways we've offered up a "Knock-off Jesus," who looks very much like the real thing....except that he isn't.
I think when we read Exodus 32 and the account of the people demanding Aaron make them a "god they could follow," we see it as a total rejection of the Father on every level. That they wanted to embrace a pagan god, a god who was the complete opposite of the Yahweh Father that had led them out of Egypt. Not so. They still wanted Yahweh, but not as He had thus far revealed Himself. So they, with Aaron's help, got busy creating a god who was more acceptable to them. A god made in their own image. We're appalled at the idea of a golden calf, it screams "idolatry," but how often have we, and do we continue to do much the same? How many times have we sought to create a God, a Christ, that is much more acceptable to our flesh than who He has revealed Himself to be in His Word, in our lives, and in His ways? That store I managed had quite an inventory of knock-offs, and as I said, they were very popular and desirable. What does our inventory of knock-off Christ's look like?
We tend to be very hard on the Israelites and their behavior in the wilderness. They say we generally dislike people who exhibit the same negative personality traits that we do. That's likely the reason we are so hard on them...because we can be, and so often are, just like them. When God, whether in the Person of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, doesn't act or behave as we think He should, we, like the people of Israel, set about to create a God a lot more to our liking...A knock-off. He looks so much like the real thing.....except that He isn't. And these knock-offs seem to be increasing everywhere. Our store in the city was so popular that others like it began to spring up around us. Other retailers wanted to capitalize on our success. Sometimes, too many times, the Church can look a lot like a retail outlet. Get hold of a product that people want, and make it available on a large scale. Can we deny that in many ways, that's exactly how we've presented, indeed marketed Jes us?
I completely reject the image of an angry, unforgiving God. A God who lies in wait for us to fail so that He can bring swift and awful punishment. This is not the Father that has been revealed in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Yet I just as strongly reject the kind of "Flower-child" Christ that has become so popular in many corners of the Church. A Jesus that just loves us, isn't put off with our sin, doesn't just take us as we are, but makes peace with us staying as we are. A Jesus who exists to serve us, follow where we lead, and instead of ever rebuking or correcting us, gives us nothing but positive reinforcement in all things. And He shows us a Father who is just like that as well. A God of love and mercy, but not of justice and judgement. Some years back I read a powerful book entitled, "Jesus Mean And Wild." We don't like that kind of Jesus. We don't like that kind of depiction...so we come up with one suitable to our desires. But the witness of His Word and His ways is that there are times, many, when He is just that. Mean and wild....to our perception. When He is, and when we fail to know Him as He truly is.....our next choice is come up with a "golden calf" that is more acceptable to our flesh.
Can we be honest enough to do a real heart-check and see just where we may have created our own "knock-off Jesus?" Where have His ways offended us? Where has He failed, from our perspective, to come through for us? Where has He too long delayed? Where has He taken us that we felt we should not be? What has happened in our lives that we think should never have happened? Where have all these things and more come together so that we have created our own Knock-off Jesus? In all of these places we can be sure of something; He won't allow the continuation of that golden calf. He will explode into our lives as He is...and leave no doubts about it. He will demand that we receive Him as He is....and love Him as He is. And that we know that no golden calf, no matter how beautiful we make it, can ever be so beautiful, good, lovely, and perfect as Him. He will tolerate no knock-offs. He bids us come to Him.... as He is.