Some new survey results from the Gallup organization launched a bunch of news stories recently.
The headline from the Gallup website blared “Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low.” Other news outlets had more dire headlines.
Read it over for yourself - https://news.gallup.com/poll/393737/belief-god-dips-new-low.aspx.
Gallup is a famous surveying organization going back many decades. In some cases they ask the same questions year after year or every few years to see if there is any change in opinions. Clearly – there’s been a change here.
An accompanying graph had belief in God in the 90s percent range from 2011 all the way back to the 1940’s. But after 2011, the bottom has begun to drop out.
And just since 2017 the belief sentiment has dropped from 87% to just 81%.
The next subheadline shouldn’t surprise anyone – “Younger, Liberal Americans Least Likely to Believe in God.”
Well, with the lack of younger people in many churches today, now we know why. It’s still a majority, but Gallup says only 68% of younger adults believe in a higher power. And only 62% of political liberals have belief.
Wow – doing just a little rounding, around one-third of those groups don’t believe. Not a majority but still a large number of people. And growing.
Somewhere athiests and fans of the Church of Science and Human Folly are quietly cheering. Maybe not so quietly.
For many of them maybe they do actually believe that the Almighty has gone on a permanent vacation, or died, or didn’t exist in the first place. All the answers we need can be found in a science lab. All the belief we need can be found in the latest politically liberal cause or leader.
Belief has faded before, many times. If you know your Old Testament the ancient Israelites lost their faith a bunch of times, starting from their wandering in the desert with Moses after the exodus from Egypt.
1st Kings has the story of evil King Ahab and his doubly evil wife Jezebel. The wicked queen had no faith in God or His prophets and instead followed the false gods of Baal and Asherah. Over time many of God’s people followed her into disbelief. Such is often the case with celebrities – follow the leader.
Chapter 18 has the story of the prophet Elijah taking on several hundred of the false prophets in a contest to see whose God was best. The false prophets spent a day crying out to Baal to rain fire down on an altar, dancing around and even cutting themselves to get his attention. No dice, Baal never answered.
Then it was Elijah’s turn, all by himself. He created an altar with wood and had servants douse the altar with water not once, not twice but three times until it was drenched. Elijah then called upon God to burn the altar, and it was immediately consumed in a raging fire from above. The people of Judah saw this and then believed – again.
Elijah asked the people to gather up all the false prophets and they were all put to the sword. End of story, right?
Chapter 19 has a different answer…
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. – 1 Kings 19:1-13 NIV
What have we learned here?
First, that the powerful of this earth won’t give up their power easily. And they will look to do away with those who threaten them. Jezebel is no different than any other despotic ruler of the last 3,000 years, including some today. You listening, Mr. Putin?
For some reason it isn’t that difficult to lose sight of God. When you take your eyes off of Him it’s easy to stray from the path and follow only your own desires. The Israelites did it several times, from the desert with Moses to this story of Elijah to the later destruction of Israel, Judah and Jerusalem by the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Could it happen to America? People of faith know that it can and are thankful that God and Divine Providence are instilled into many of the founding documents and ideas of our great republic. But some of that growing group of non-believers see our Constitution as an old piece of paper no longer binding in the 21st century.
And many of these younger, brash people of science or their politically liberal brethren might only believe God is real with some big Hollywood-esque show of force complete with fireworks, earthquakes and the like.
But our Lord doesn’t work that way. As with Elijah and using our United Church of Christ line, “God is still speaking,” He does so in the calmest of ways, not with a big show but with a quiet whisper.
Ever try to listen to someone who shouts for all to hear? It’s easy. It’s when someone is very quiet that we concentrate more, really focusing our hearing on their quiet words. That’s what God did with Elijah, and He’s still doing it with us.
Are we taking the time to listen? If the Gallup poll is correct, a growing number have tuned out. Perhaps we feel like Elijah, wanting to run to safety, to save ourselves.
But if we hold onto our belief, God has work for us to do. Out there, not just in the comfort of our own groups but among the unbelievers as well. It wasn’t easy for Elijah, it won’t be easy for us.
Are we up to the task?
From George Churchgoer