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On Nigerians, Religion And Everything In-Between By Leonard Shilgba

August 13, 2016

I affirm from the beginning that I believe in the existence of God, in the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that I must do to others exactly as I expect them to do to me. And if I am not so sure how I expect to be treated in certain circumstances, then I should fall upon the principle of moral compounds, which insists on the inseparable bonds between the pairs, peace and righteousness, and mercy and truth.

The deplorable state of Nigeria in almost every facet of life, in spite of plenty of religion, has driven not a few along the road of inquisition on the existence of God or his willingness and ability to make good happen. There are some who believe that society is capable of self-regulation and creating its own set of goodness without God; and they view religion with suspicion and disdain, as a weapon of cruel control and manipulation that sentences reason to perpetual custodian restriction while generously planting the seed of faith without examination, reason or enquiry. Does truth depend on obedience? Can we judge God's existence or kindness by the quality of conduct of the people who claim to worship him? Do children always follow the path of their virtuous parents? If not, does their contradictory conduct vitiate their parents' testimony of virtue?

I have read quite a few articles and comments by some Nigerians, who, because of the undeniable existence of many Nigerian preachers that serve their bellies only but not Christ, whom they derisively call "pastorpreneurs", have come to deny the very existence of God (without attempting to define what they now deny exists). Some Nigerians claiming to be "secular humanists" today, once confessed faith in Jesus Christ; but what made them to recant? One of them asserts a reason that a once close acquaintance of his, with whom he sang in a Deeper Life Campus Fellowship, was struck with cancer. And despite their prayers, she died. He therefore does not believe prayer works, except that it makes someone to feel "good" about themselves.

First of all, what answered prayer informed his confessed faith in Christ at the beginning? We have asked our parents for certain things that they withheld from us, for some undisclosed reasons, but did we come to deny our parents existed? This fellow affirms death to be a universal and inevitable experience of which he claims absence of fear. But did he consider that cancer too is one means through which death takes people away? Or does he question the fact that God (whose existence he now denies) permits death at all?

I think I have some experiences of not getting many things I have asked God in prayer for: In 1997, my mother died of cancer right in my house. I had prayed to God and wept before Him that she should live. I was a pastor of a Deeper Life Campus Fellowship. Yet, she died at a young age of 49! Should I, on account of that, deny the efficacy of prayer and the existence of God? Before she died, she told me one day when I returned from my university campus ( I was a very young lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria at that time) that Jesus had appeared to her and told her not to fear, and that I, her son, was his friend. She asked God to take her away (She also had confessed faith in Jesus Christ even as I did).

In 2002, my beloved father also died while I was in faraway Japan, and this in spite of my prayers and those of my fellow brethren at the Tokyo Baptist Church, that he would overcome his ailment. Thereafter, I lost about three siblings back home in Nigeria. Did I not have good cause to renounce my faith therefore? No, I did not. If we build our faith in God's existence and goodness around events of our life and the world, it is because we don't know him; and this is the tragedy of religion— ignorance about God. If we knew God, we should know that God does everything (not some things) according to the counsel of his will. In other words, God always subordinates his power to his will.

He does not just grant every wish of man just because he can. What God cannot do is to break his will. No matter how great your faith is, it can never be preferred above God's will. All our desires must be prefaced by "Let thy will be done." This is true religion. And man's noble duty is inclusive of knowing God's will. For those who despise the affirmation of God's existence, let me appeal for a simple definition, that God is the creator of all things, visible and invisible; whether they are thrones or dominions. Except you believe that you created yourself, you should be concerned about the source of creation. The very fact that someone gave birth to you means there is a creative power behind our universe. Belief in some evolution theory or the Big bang is starting the narrative in the middle. Assuming these to be true, what creative force was behind the evolution (which there is no evidence today of its continuance) or the Big bang?

Jesus Christ taught about love, forgiveness and mercy. He also taught about true righteousness, different from that of the nauseating righteousness established by the religious folks of his time on earth. He never discriminated between men and women. Men touched him, and women did too, and were part of his ministry life on earth. The first evangelist he sent out to bring forth the message of his resurrection was a woman. He offered protection to a woman who was about to be stoned because her accusers claimed she was caught in the act of adultery (but where was the male sexual partner?). Jesus Christ therefore is against misogynism. Jesus had married folks like Peter in his team of top disciples. Therefore, he is not in support of misogamy either. He stood against child abuse and ordered that they should not be stopped from coming to him. He taught that greatness is in service, and not being served. He openly and actively was against exploitation of religion for filthy lucre. He exposed the hypocrisy and greed of the religious leaders, and once physically drove out of his "Father's house" those who had turned the "house of prayer" into a "den of robbers." Today, we have many of such robbers plying their trade on street corners and in huge camp grounds in Nigeria. Would you speak against Jesus' Way because of those who are not in His Way? That would spit logic in the face, wouldn't it? If you despise the false religious activities in Nigeria today, sodoes Jesus also, who was not timid, who did not only pray but also spoke against the evil of the religious. But he was gentle on the weak and remorseful. A bruised reed Jesus would not break, and a smoldering flax he would not quench. He said to the adulterous woman, "Neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more." So she received both forgiveness and power to go and sin no more. Jesus never encourages living in sin, but freedom from it. He came to set man free from fear of death. Jesus taught the nobility of planning without worrying about the future. He taught that man must count the cost before embarking on any venture.

Jesus Christ warned against deception by false prophets and murderers (terrorists), who would kill, thinking they are doing God service. He says we can know false prophets by the evil fruits they bear. He demands good fruits of character from those who profess to follow him, saying, "You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you." Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus did not give a label to his followers? He said to some that he called, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." He taught his disciples on prayer and urged them to pray that the "Lord of the harvest (of men)" should send more laborers into the harvest field. In our day, we need skillfulfishers of men, planters, waterers, reapers, and master builders. But only God gives the increase on our labors. Prayers of faith made in accordance with God's will, in agreement with, not only his eternal purpose, but also timing, always are answered, because we keep his commandments and do the things that please him.

If someone wants to argue against the existence of God or the veracity of the Bible, it would be inappropriate to situate the argument in the context of the "gods of men" in Nigeria, who are erroneously called "men of God". Jesus Christ's stand against them is evident in the scriptures. I must quickly address some burning issues, which have been trending on social media lately:

First, the Bible encourages investigation of prophecies or teachings by listeners. We are taught therein to not believe every prophecy, but "test the spirits". You cannot test if you are uninformed. Is this not similar to the expectations in all sciences? For instance, I am a professor of Mathematics, teacher and pastor; and I follow this principle of investigation, verification and conclusion based on evidence, which must agree with certain axioms (a set of inviolate fundamental principles). And all followers of Christ must study to discover or verify. We are not called to blind faith, suspended reasoning or more ignorance. Rather, the testimony of God's Word is that the deep or solid meat of God's Word is for those who "by reason of use (of the Word) have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." [Hebrews 5: 14] The scriptures deplore a state of ignorance. Disciples of Christ are in fact, commanded to study and give diligence to build up on faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love in that order. The presence of all these in a life, family or society guarantees fruitfulness. But, how much of these do we have in Nigeria, our States, Local Government Areas or Wards?

Mahatma Gandhi once lamented to a “Christian”missionary that, "Christians are very much unlike Christ." Labels do not matter, and Jesus Christ did not care for them. 

Before Western missionaries came to Africa, slavery was a common occurrence on the continent, oppressive African kings executed their subjects in the most cruel manner, and women were tradable objects and treated only  a little better than slaves. African kings wielded total control over their subjects. Therefore, to pin African woes on the entry of "Western religion", foreign religion, and the consequent step-down from "traditional African religions or gods" is to revise history. 

Yes, in the Old Testament, God, working with Israel as a "son", demonstrated how jealously he guards and protects His own. He sacrificed whole nations for them, thus even children were not spared sometimes among "enemies" of Israel. All non-Jewish nations were considered as aliens, without God in the world, and separate from God. Even at that, God still selectively used non-Jews for His purposes (e.g. Balaam, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, etc.). Furthermore, at different times, and sometimes spanning decades, because of God's anger against Israel's idolatry, he either allowed foreign nations to oppress them or dispersed them away from the Land He had given them.

Today, men and women hold various standards of right and wrong. But it seems to me that mere mortals assumecertain powers to determine for God what is right or wrong. For instance, while some believe they are free to enjoy their sexuality and express it anywhere and in any way they want, they take umbrage at those that uphold beliefs contrary to theirs. Jesus Christ has not given his followers the commandment or mandate to kill, discriminate against or ridicule people for their sexual orientation. But, they are commanded to warn lesbians, gays or the bisexual about the eternal consequences of their actions, and to show them the path of freedom. Free will and modern liberties are a personal choice, but the consequences thereof cannot be chosen or determined by man. Those that will not listen to us (Jesus' followers) must not be considered personal enemies. We must dust our feet and move on to others. 

In the New Testament, individuals are brought into personal Father-child relationship with God, and Heguards them jealously. God does not demand undivided obedience or worship because He feels insecure. He that made man for His pleasure and purpose, does He not deserve such? Those who allege that God, by demanding undivided loyalty and worship, has a feeling of insecurity, must demonstrate they could share their spouses with just anyone else without any harrowing emotions. 

Someone asked, "When Jesus Christ was in the grave, who watched over the earth?" This question was asked with the intention of ridiculing the claim that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. My answer is simple; even in the grave Jesus is Lord. 

Science is throwing up many discoveries of certain planets that we did not know about a few decades ago. Man has not been to many of them, but some equipment invented by man have provided the evidence. And although billions of people have not been to those planets, they believe the "evidence" of science, and talk freely about those planetary bodies. How then will the same man simply say, "Well, the scriptures are simple fabrications of Jewish people"? Can't I insist that unless I first go to those planets that man has never landed upon, the scientific literature about them are mere fabrications of scientists? 

Nigerians must give themselves to study or learning, and cease from vulgar language as substitute when logical reasoning is absent in the mind.  Nigerians must speak up against evil, even as Jesus Christ did, and not simply hide their cowardice in prayer without genuine faith. We must strive for a character without reproach for the good of our society instead of questioning on labels: "Are you a Christian or Muslim?" Between Nigerians and religion we have a few that groan for a nation of Truth, where we do not discriminate against ourselves because of religion or tribe, one a choice, the other by birth (without choice). In-between are Nigerians that hate the tensions being built up across Nigeria because of insidious discriminations in violation of the Constitution. And in-between is the Nigerian and African reader who agrees with me at least ninety per cent!  


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