(Lead me Lord,) So that I do not turn aside.
One of the first times we find this phrase “turn aside” in scripture is in Deuteronomy chapter thirty-two. While Moses and God are up on the mountain working out the instructions which will be given at Sinai, the others who have been waiting for Moses to come down have made a golden calf.
Ex. 32:7-10 NRSV The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
Now before we are too critical of them we should remember that Moses stayed a long time on the mountain and the longer he stayed the more anxious they became that they were out in the wilderness without God to lead them. Chapter thirty-two begins with these words, “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.’” I am a bit sympathetic to them. They are out in the wilderness. They are afraid. They have left the only life they had ever known back in Egypt and the new life that has been promised them has not yet materialized. Their leader has been much-delayed and they set about solving their problem.
This narrative reminds us how hard it is to trust God and walk out into a place of bewilderment. God tells them there is a promised land awaiting them, but they have slim evidence to support that promise at this point in the story. So it is with many of us. We know that God has promised to be with us and to guide us in the path that leads to a life worth having — but there is often much-delay in our transformation and we begin to question the slow work of God in us and in the world as a whole. It is easy to turn aside and commit ourselves to solutions which promise more immediate and tangible results. The inclination to make “golden calves” did not die with the generation of Moses.
The journey with God is often a journey into places that challenge us to trust because they are so wild and untamed. The deserts through which the people of God wandered for four decades with Moses were bewildering. Sometimes we are prone to turn aside because we fear the cognitive-dissonance which God’s worldview brings into clear focus. Wilderness wandering has a way of making our certitudes fall away and we are left to strive to let a new understanding grow in us. This is said beautifully by the author Belden Lane:
“Only at the periphery of our lives, where we and our understanding of God alike are undone, can we understand bewilderment as occasioning another way of knowing.”
The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) 4-5.
So we pray as pilgrims in Lent, “Lead me, Lord, . . . so that I do not turn aside.”
God of the law at Sinai: you instruct us not to make idols; not to split our loyalties between you and all of our self-made gods. You know that these idols will never make good on their promises and you desire for us not to become entangled with them. Give us prudence in knowing the right paths. Give us fortitude in enduring the hardships of the wilderness with you. Lead us, Lord, so that we do not turn aside, and we for our part will trust that you know what is good and that you are merciful and that to follow you is to walk the way of the good life. In the name of “the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.”* Amen
* from the prologue of [A Brief Statement of Faith - PC (USA)]