The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfills Himself in many ways. Lest one good custom should corrupt the world. More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of… If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer….. For so the whole round earth is every way, Bound by gold chains about the feet of God
(Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), Le Morte d’Arthur.
Amidst protracted pain and suffering, a cynical world jeered at Nigerians, wondering how we could still be the happiest and the most God-believing people in the world. We have been told to rise from our knees and walk on our feet because our problems defy prayers. Over time, we ourselves have been tempted to believe that our religiosity is merely an excuse and a compromise for corruption. Many of us have been tempted to think that perhaps God has turned away from us because of our many sins.
I have spent the better part of the past year trying to encourage our people not to panic or lose hope. When people ask the basis of my optimism, I have answered that I am a Christian, and faith is the commodity I market even to a cynical world. However, nothing prepared me for what we have just witnessed this holy week. INEC chose the holiest period of Christianity, a time when the heavens are open to receive our fast and prayers, to organize its elections. How God works! Today we could say that God has proven to us once again that He is indeed a Nigerian.
I therefore wish to focus on a few themes by way of this Easter Message to Nigerians.
1: Have Faith and remain Obedient to God
Notwithstanding our foibles, God has remained patient with us. We know that patience is a major attribute of God. The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving (Numbers 14:18, Ps 86:15, 103:8). Joel adds to this when he says that: Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of evil (Joel 2:13). Abraham and Sarah remained faithful despite being childless. Abraham obeyed God when called upon to offer his only son. In return God does far more than Abraham could ever have contemplated (Gen 22). That is why Abraham remains today our father in faith.
2: Faith is surrender, not a transaction with God
Our relationship with God has tended to be transactional, us behaving as if all we have to do is to placate God. It is good to remember that while we struggle through the days and years, while we create a calendar of activities and plan what we shall do, God has assured us that He has us and our plans in the palm of His hands (Is 49: 16). He is our shepherd and we shall not want, even when we walk through the valley of darkness, He is there (Ps 23: 1, 4). Therefore, God’s love and faithfulness is not dependent on us keeping our part of the bargain, as it were. No; God is always faithful and what God asks of us is surrender our lives to God who loves us and in whom we trust. From the book of Job, that even unearned suffering has its meaning. Trusting in God, surrendering our lives into God’s loving hands, we seek to do His will and obey His commandments: in faithful surrender, we seek to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
3: Faith is a Gift of God
Our nation has been weighed down by religious intolerance built on ignorance. Many ignorant so-called believers have turned themselves into demi-gods who own religion. They believe that it is only their variant of religion that God accepts, that it is only their mode of prayers that God accepts. They have formed believers who have faith but do not have reason, and who therefore easily become fanatics. They have thus built a wall around their followers and have turned their communities into breeding grounds of hatred.
We need to remember that faith is a gift from God and that therefore religion too is a gift from God since it is an expression of faith. Freedom of religion as enshrined in our Constitution must be guaranteed. This must include freedom to change our faith or freedom not to believe in God. This guarantee of freedom can be helped by strong laws but it is every teacher and every believer who must ensure those laws are kept. Threats of punishment, ostracization, banishment, death, or denial of rights, only lead to hardened hearts. St Francis has said that we should preach our religion by the witness of our lives and only use words if necessary! It is only authentic witness that will draw people to our faith.
4: We are children of One Father
As believers of different faiths, it is imperative that we show one another that we are all children of the One Father. We have tended to express our unity in the exchange of gifts and salutations, sharing food during our sacred feast days; we must do much more. In the course of electoral campaigns, both Muslims and Christians were going around asking for prayers, attending Churches, Mosques, and Shrines. Why does this show of tolerance and accommodation not continue after the political campaigns? We as believers, especially Christians and Muslims, must begin to show greater solidarity in concrete terms. We must end the divisive culture of Christian and Muslim prayers in public functions since this only deepens our sense of difference. I am in full support of the adoption of the second stanza of our National Anthem in opening or closing public events.
5: God answers Prayers
God’s ways are not our ways and the way we think is not the same as the way God thinks (Is 55:8). Therefore, when we think that God has not answered our prayers, the opposite is the case. This is what Easter reminds us of. With human eyes, we see in the passion of Jesus evidence of one abandoned by God, evidence that all this was a fraud. However, in the end, the old rugged cross becomes a treasure. It is only our faith, patience and trust in God that can enable us experience the triumph of His will, especially when we face serious challenges. After all, God has assured us that: My word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Is. 55:11). However, we must know that God is not a magician who must pander to and please his customer by fulfilling his or her will so he or she will come back. Answered prayers must always align with the will of God.
6: Let not our enemies ask, where is our God?
For over two years, Nigerians agonized over the fact that Americans had predicted the collapse of our country. There were fears that the elections would be a series of funeral rituals. Most of this was not true, as I have said on several occasions. What was true was that there were fears that if we as a people and as a nation did not change our ways, the worse could happen to us. Boko Haram, that untreated cancer, was the first symptom of the danger lurking around.
I myself, for almost three weeks, tried to meditate on the faithfulness of God especially His redemptive power over darkness and fear. I said with the Psalmist: Why should I go on suffering from the cruelty of my enemies. Why should I be crushed by their insults as they keep asking me, Where is your God? (Ps 42:10). I remembered the assurance of Micah that the Lord will not let our enemies gloat over us (Micah 7:8, Ps 38:16). I recalled with the Psalmist that those who trust in God shall never be put to shame (Ps 25:2). Let all of us be invited this Easter season to meditate on God’s faithfulness, strengthen our trust in God and allow God change our ways.
7: Christ is Risen: Let our enemies Flee
As Christians, we are children of the Resurrection. The resurrection is a promise made and a promise fulfilled. It closes the doors of uncertainty or speculation. After the resurrection, we have no doubt about who God is. After the resurrection, we cannot be afraid of even the darkest clouds of the future. After the resurrection, we know that the mountains of fear will move. After the resurrection, the dry bones shall become a standing army marching to victory (Ez. 37:10). This is a time of joy because we know that our redeemer lives (Job 19:25). It is the time of fulfillment of the promise of Emmanuel, God-is-with-us.
However, we must enter a note of warning. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed, let us not take God’s love and generosity for granted. Let us not simply relax, believing that we can always summon God to our cause. Our politicians must end their prodigality and irresponsible misuse of our resources. After Jesus healed him, He warned the blind man: Behold you have been healed, go and sin no more or something worse will befall you (Jn. 5:14). Let those who have ears to hear, listen.
A happy Easter and God bless our dear country. Long live Nigeria.