Maybe I am just a coward, but it certainly seems daunting to try to spread the good news of Jesus in my corner of the world. Evangelizing today seems different from evangelizing in the past. I got to thinking about this after hearing a Scripture reading at Mass recently, about Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to a contest. Elijah and the prophets prepared bulls for sacrifice, and the challenge was this: each side was to call on their deity to send fire down to make a sacrificial holocaust of the bulls. The prophets of Baal went first. They beseeched and sang and chanted, to no avail. Then Elijah called upon the Lord, and immediately fire came down and consumed the sacrifice. “Seeing this, all the people fell prostrate and said, ‘The Lord is God’.” (1 Kings 18:39)
In this story, for these people, it was a matter of whose deity was the most powerful. The people being evangelized here naturally turned towards a mighty and responsive God. No doubt similiar dynamics were at work with the evangelizing of the New World by the Spanish, as well as in Africa. The people were influenced by the evidence of power in the followers of God. One universal factor that served as a foundation for all of these diverse peoples was that they already believed that there is a God. It was a given that spiritual beings existed and were active in the lives of humanity. It was a matter of whose god was best.
But it seems a different circumstance today. It is difficult to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, without first addressing the underlying premise: it is not a “given” that God exists for many people in our secular world. Evangelizing today, in my militantly secular town, seems to first require “proof” that there is a God at all, before there is even a hint of acknowledgment that learning more about Jesus’ teachings might be of value. Following the Word of God seems to be secondary consideration to a people who will not accept the very existence of His Father. How can one touch the hearts of such people?