Sometimes I muse on what it would have been like to have lived in the pre-Christian era when access to God was (it seems, anyway) much more direct. Some of the stories are quite fantastic and one wonders if belief in God would have been easier then because of a different kind of presence. Take today’s first reading for example (1 KGS 18: 20-39), when there was a contest of prophets going on. Elijah was the sole surviving prophet representing the Lord, God of Israel, while there were 450 prophets representing Baal. Luckily for the Israelites there was not going to be a military engagement to settle the question of whose God was Lord. You may remember that the matter was settled with a burnt offering. The Baals prepared their fire and spent an entire morning calling on their god with all manner of pleading and activity but nothing happened. When it was Elijah’s turn, he proceeded through a complicated but reasonable ritual of preparation, giving directions to the gathered community for their part in the preparation. When it was the time for offering sacrifice, Elijah stepped forward saying (Can you imagine the scene?): Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all things by your command. Answer me, LORD! that this people may know that you, LORD, are God and that you have brought them back to their senses…”
Imagine what it would be like to see the fire that burst forth, consuming the burnt offering, wood, stones and dust as well as all the water in the trench they had dug around the altar of sacrifice. It must have been stunningly convincing…I sometimes long for that kind of force, what likely seems to us a “magic moment,” but it seems that evolution has taught us and brought us a different, perhaps more humanized path—the way of the heart, we might say.
Today we are called to follow a path that leads us to an inner experience of the God we know as Love. Belief in this God is sometimes revealed to us in a “still, small voice,” a knowing that we say “cannot be taught but only caught,” spreading somewhat like Elijah’s fire, but without the visible display. Sometimes we just have to believe the evidence we see in the beauty of the universe in which we live, the good works and generosity of the people we meet and the witness of those whose belief and actions inspire us to become better persons. Although the pyrotechnics would seem an easier way to faith, I’m happy to live now when faith is engendered from the inside and is a personal choice every day but lasts a lifetime.