Sometimes devoted Catholics get discouraged. A proliferation of apathy toward religion seems to have taken hold in the world. We feel that Christianity is waning and will soon simply fade away. We’ll have “outgrown” religion. I don’t think so.
Elijah probably had similar thoughts. If it’s been a long time since you’ve read the First Book of Kings, Elijah is a story that might be useful to bring back to your memory. Particularly Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. (Chapter 18 in 1 Kings.)
God was trying to get across to the Israelites that He was the only One. The Israelites were being stubborn, and even their kings refused to limit their worship. Statues of Baal and other “gods” were everywhere. So God, working through Elijah, came up with a demonstration; a contest between his one prophet and Baal’s 450.
King Ahab and the Israelites were already on God’s bad side and were suffering from a drought that Elijah said was the result of their lack of adherence to God’s law. Elijah challenged the King to line up 450 of his best “prophets” and to have them make sacrifices, praying to the false gods for rain. He even resorted to a little Biblical trash talk, telling the prophets they needed to pray louder, because maybe their god was resting or off on vacation somewhere. Of course, there was no response from Baal.
Elijah then set up God’s altar. He sacrificed a young bull but then ordered the Israelites to soak it with water. Over and over again he told them to pour water on it until it was sopping wet, with water running onto the ground. With a word to God, the whole thing was consumed by fire.
Baal and 450 Prophets: 0; Elijah and the One True God: 1. Game over.
In some ways it’s your typical fire-and-brimstone Old Testament story. It’s one of a long line of stories of our spiritual ancestors forgetting about God and trying to do things their way, leaving it to God, working through a faithful prophet to call them home. The Old Testament seems to be devoted solely to the question of “God? God who?”
God always wins. It may take time, sometimes generations, but eventually, the Israelites say, “Oh, you mean God?! Well, of course. Why didn’t you say so?” (I suspect our spiritual ancestors drove God a little nutso at times.)
But the whole point of all of the books of the Old Testament seems to be that God is infinitely patient with His children. And that hasn’t changed a bit. No matter how many times we turn away from God and get obsessed with something from this world, He always guides us back and then welcomes us with a loving embrace. As my Priest said yesterday, every time you make a good confession, they have a party in heaven.
God is always with us; even when we’re not with him.