THIS PRESENT DARKNESS; PROPHESIES, CONSPIRACIES, AND CORONAVIRUS: Why Denouncing Science is Not a Christian Solution.

“It is difficult to tell sometimes in the wake of a great disaster, whether those who hasten to announce whatever greater significance they find in the event are moved more by an urgent moral need to sow light in the midst of darkness or by a kind of emotional and rhetorical opportunism, which takes the torment of others as an occasion for the reiteration of one or another set of personal convictions.”  

Bartley, Doors of the Sea, 2004. 27

Whether COVID-19 is a direct product of human malignity or error or an active move of the hand of God to reveal human limitation or to punish their rebellion (perhaps it is all of these things), one thing that is clear is the immense havoc it has wrought on many fronts, leaving behind a wave of disillusionment across the world.

There is no point debating whether or not there has been anything like this. Other illnesses or some other categories of human plight could compare or even surpass COVID 19 in the cumulative number of deaths, but no other human plight has touched every sphere of human existence on such global scale.

One may argue that not even the so-called world wars and their aftermath effects had such vivid global impact, especially when globalization is viewed as a more recent development associated with the emergence of the internet and social media.

A majority of people living outside of the global West were hardly aware of the existence of any wars or any real dangers associated with them. COVID-19, however, with its unprecedented communicability, has come in an age of “global community.”

Not only was its actual presence in a place terrifying, but the mere rumors of its devastation in other places caused such wonder and dread. For one thing, it has altered life as we knew it and brought world economies to their knees. We are yet to know the extent of the devastation this will cause before it is over.

John C. Lennox made the following observation some months back, and now with rising cases in Europe and around the world, his observation may turn out to be nothing short of prophetic:

It is hard to grasp that this pandemic has the potential to be the worst ever, and that our current estimates are likely to fall far short of the reality. Its scale and scope sound like something out of a dystopian movie. And yet it is really happening…

Lennox 2020, 7.

As I see it, what is most unfortunate about this phenomenon is the fact that the world is caught up in a deadlock politicking such that the seriousness of the pandemic itself and the huge losses (and potential losses) to humanity is drowned in all the excitement. It is hard to bypass the politics to get to the real issue.

Miraculously, Africa has so far been spared the devastation healthwise, but the economic hardship has caught up fast. As a continent, we have preexisting conditions upon which, I fear, the pandemic could capitalize to destroy us.

Indeed, the pandemic, just like in humans, relies on preexisting conditions of nations to ruin them. It is a fact that those with good leadership (like New Zealand, for example) have managed it better than those without. Yet, sadly, the lack of a worldwide coordinated response can have an adverse effect on everyone.

the beginnings of darkness

When the news first broke out about this viral outbreak in Wuhan, some thought it was a punishment on unethical China. But it’s succeeding widespread and devastation in the global North, a part of the world with the most sophistication and facility, left us all stunned and agitated.

Politicians began weaving conspiracy theories that put them (as usual) at the center of the event. For them, the world exists only in relation to them. Health organizations and professionals (and in fact, countries) fought for a lead in tendering a solution to make a name for themselves.

Prophets and preachers took to virtual streets on television and social media, denouncing humanity for its rebellion and calling for repentance. Others seized the opportunity to propound or promote deadly conspiracies, escalating fear but offering no tenable solution.

It didn’t take long before the weight of the unfolding misfortune hit:

Never before have we experienced the lockdown of cities and even countries, the closing of borders, the banning of travels, the shutting of all but essential services, the banning of large sports gatherings, and the silent towns and cities that shout of fear and self-isolation.

Lennox, 7.

A feverish excitement has dominated the scene such that the loss of human lives—directly or indirectly related to the pandemic—are overshadowed. Even among Christians, hope for a suffering humanity is not the focus. Those who advocate for the sanctity of human lives are now suddenly apathetic.

Certain groups of Christians, in particular, have found great excitement in denouncing the world and its scientists as though we ourselves deserve mercy and everyone else deserves damnation.

In Africa, COVID 19 has a rather comical twist. We all had such high hopes that our greedy officials would finally learn a lesson or two; that they would seize the opportunity it offers to become more imaginative and innovative to fix our dysfunctional systems for the benefit of all.

But as it turned out, we underestimated the depth of their greed and corruption. They are no more capable of disinterested reasoning than the leopard is capable of changing its skin. They have managed to convince themselves that their personal comfort is better than our collective existence.

The pandemic became (especially in Nigeria) a means for our officials to further enrich themselves from relief funds. It has given them more reasons to keep borrowing (from China, a horrible decision that will haunt us in years to come) yet conditions in the country are only getting worse.

To some (perhaps most), the initial reaction to the pandemic was denial, and then panic, then defiance—coming from suspicion and a sense of victimization created by conspiracy theories. It does not seem to occur to many that by trivializing the pandemic or its devastation, they are casting contempt at the (very real) sufferings of many.

Finger-pointing, blame-shifting, spiritualizing, and politicking have continued, making the situation worse than had humanity come together with the single-minded purpose of finding a solution (or perhaps I am giving too much credence to humanity’s ability to work together).

When there is suffering of this magnitude with no clear answers on origin and/or purpose, speculation becomes a normal human response.

In order to cope with anything, the human mind must make meaning either by reasonable explanations (philosophical, scientific, theological, historical) or plain superstition.

Many of us have prayed, we have hoped, we have waited for the time a miracle will appear, whether by a scientific discovery or some form of supernatural intervention. Yet we are still here, unable to find certainty for any kind of future.

The main question, however, is: will Christians submit to any scientific solution (like vaccines) when it becomes available?

My aim here is to raise observations and counter some popular Christian thoughts that have come to my knowledge on the subject, especially on the ongoing human efforts to find a solution.

Believe it or not, these thoughts are an extension of popular conspiracies from some forms of European nativism or “cultural Christianity,” which is not the same as the religion of Christ. This is why I believe it demands a response from those of us with a contrary view.

Some Noteworthy Revelations

On a positive light, COVID 19 has revealed a lot that can prove helpful if we care to listen. For example, it has revealed the devastating effects of human activity on our planet.

Whether or not we believe in climate change, it’s been recorded that air (atmospheric) and water pollution have decreased and wildlife has been rejuvenated because humans were forced to stay indoors.

personally, it makes more sense to think that human activity affects the earth one way or another. If the earth could care for itself without human intervention, which means human activity cannot interfere with its natural course, there would have been no need for the explicit command in Genesis 2:15 for Adam to take care of the garden or the stipulations in the Torah about how Israel was to live in the land that God was giving them.

But there are more serious revelations. Beyond the fragility of world economic systems (including the almighty capitalism), healthcare systems, educational systems, organizational cultures generally—all of our social structures over which we had such confidence—COVID-19 has revealed the limitation of the seemingly human invisibility through the instrument of science.

In spite of our milestone achievements, human knowledge is limited and extremely slow in its power to invent or reinvent itself to meet new and urgent challenges.

However, when we speak of the limitation of human knowledge, we do not speak in contempt or disdain of any kind. Human knowledge is indeed vast and almost immeasurable. Humans have created the world that we live in with all its glamor, comfort, and convenience.

Human knowledge thus is beyond what we may easily dismiss in contempt. Christians can choose to embrace this while ascribing all glory and dominion to God who has given humanity (created in His image) such wisdom.

But it is in the fact that such vast knowledge is still quite limited in so many ways that should make us acknowledge and revere divine omniscience.

Coronavirus has revealed also that wealth and power are not so invincible after all, even if the wealthy fare better under the infection. We need more than economic success to secure our collective existence.

Individual freedom has been revealed to be limited. There is a meeting point between personal freedom and communal responsibility. Absolute freedom is not attainable for anyone.

Another disturbing revelation, at least as I see it, is the vacant position of world leadership which rendered the ability for global cooperation against the pandemic impossible.

Admittedly, I was among those who criticized the United States for being a meddler (or a bully if you like). But even I miss the United States that used to be.

The America we once knew would have followed this virus to China (just like it followed many potential pandemics to their origins) and quelch it before it became the menace that it now is to the entire world.

Obviously, it would’ve been of immense benefit to America itself had this virus been stopped sooner. However, many who saw America’s recession from global leadership and scrambled to fill the gap (for no less selfish reasons) had little time to do so.

They were suddenly swamped by the pandemic and the need to secure their own homes. It is indeed tragic to watch countries scrambling to curb the plague in isolation from others.

If hope no longer comes from America or from any “world-leading” country in the global North or East, where can it be found? Can it be found independently in science or in some miracle beyond science? What would that miracle look like? What should we expect?

prophesies or Propaganda?

There is no doubt that hardships force us to ask fundamental questions about the overall meaning of human existence. We cope with pain or distress, in particular, when we are able to establish any purpose at all to them, or when we can establish a timeline within which we must endure. Some form of certainty becomes the light we seek.

But while inspirational thinkers and speakers are rethinking their ideas about the true meaning of life and how to cope with this present darkness, with many turning to mindfulness, meditation practices, and other forms of mental health solutions, there seem to have occurred an unnatural wedlock between Christianity and some form of European nativism.

For Christians, religion is the main source of consolation and hope, stemming from the belief in God’s sovereign purpose in all things that he allows. Christian prophecy therefore must speak about purpose and endurance for the people of God.

It should answer the questions: What is God doing, to what end, and how must we respond? This is usually to be deciphered from God’s holy word such that conclusions must have solid grounding therein.

The prophesies we hear these days seem to emanate from QAnon (a far-right conspiracy group). They tell us who is responsible for our woes to heightened our suspicion and turn us against those who have dedicated their lives to help us in times of crisis such as this.

It is from this suspicion that we begin to receive our revelations and prophesies. We align our Bible studies along this way of thinking, confusing ourselves and those who listen to us. We steer up dicension and make coordinated response impossible.

Does faith and hope in God mean a reliance on some esoteric revelation and the rejection of human solutions? This lack of clarity about purpose and what hope in God may entail is where the confusion lies.

Should we wait for a miracle cure from heaven since science shouldn’t be trusted? On the contrary, can science be considered a form of a modern-day miracle without taking away from or doing any damage to the Christian faith? It was Justin Martyr who once said:

Whatever has been uttered aright by any man in any place belongs to us Christians…

cited by Michael J. Anthony, 2001. 19

Mostly, where you find a semblance of faith, reason is dangerously absent, and vice versa. Where can we find faith and reason spoken together and consistently enough to spur faith and confidence in the God of all knowledge and wisdom, who has created men in his image to exercise dominion on earth?

We have indeed become a people itching to hear sensational revelations, prophecies, or some elevated knowledge that feed our suspicious minds. It is disheartening to see the world become sobered by the pandemic, reasoning and speaking more sensibly than some popular Christian voices.

God’s word in itself has become too plain for many. Sensational interpretations that depend on some esoteric knowledge (deeper truths) or revelation are more appealing. Christians treat prophetic knowledge that has only an interpretative connection to God’s word as though it is the word itself.

Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

I intend to conclude by arguing that we can trust the authenticity of scientific knowledge and to show why the claim that any vaccine is the mark of the beast stated in the book of Revelation is unsustainable.

why we may trust science

Science, like every human endeavor when carried out without acknowledging God’s sovereign authority, has its extremes and Christians do well to watch out against any of its solutions that are clearly against stipulations of our faith.

For example, abortion is a scientific solution to unwanted pregnancy. While there are extreme cases where a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother with no chances her baby will survive (like in Ectopic pregnancy), an abortion that is carried out simply for the mother’s convenience cannot be an option for Christians.

But to claim that a scientific implant (microchipped vaccines) can turn out to be the number of the beast spoken of in Revelation, no matter the sophistication of the argument, is unfounded.

The number of the beast is a sign of willing allegiance, even if the wearer is coaxed or forced to receive it. The wearer receives it consciously; they will know what is going on.

I believe that what has led to the mistrust of science at the present moment is the belief that science can be used by satanic forces to do us spiritual harm. This assumption is based on a conspiracy, stemming from a misconception of some passages of the Bible.

This view accords science more power than it has over the believer by insists that science can take away your salvation without you even knowing it. But, as I shall discuss shortly, there is no ground for such a claim in the Bible.

Meanwhile, Gresham Machen, a staunch and dependable conservative apologist, argued decades ago that the modern age is irreversibly scientific, a reality conservatism cannot deny. He observes:

The past one hundred years have witnessed the beginning of a new era in human history. It may be regretted, but it certainly cannot be ignored, even by the most obstinate conservatism…

Modern inventions, and the industrialism built upon them, have given
us a new world to live in. We can no more remove ourselves from that world than we can escape from the atmosphere that we breathe.

Machen 1923, p.2

Voices of adversity among Christians against scientific solutions have dominated the discussions about coronavirus. What may not be obvious is that such opinions have existed among Christians of every generation.

There are groups of Christians, for example, who do not believe in medical science and do not go to the hospital. Some do not believe in family planning and some forms of scientific innovations. All these are doctrinal convictions that should remain as such.

Accordingly, every generation of Christians has produced voices of reason to balance the arguments. For example, John Calvin, in his day, reasoned thus about general human knowledge:

Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observations and artful description of nature?… Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of all the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are.

Cited by Steve Wilkens, 2014. 25

The microchip technology has been with us for some time now and Christian skepticism about it over the years has proven unnecessary. I remember the outcry from Christians when the idea of a cashless economy and chip-imputed credit cards was introduced.

Yet we are still here and have no stories of any demonic operations specifically connected with the invention. Technology will continue to be with us and evolve. Perhaps it’s best to get used to the fact.

Why the mark of the beast is not likely to be a microchip vaccine

In Revelation, as far as I can see, the mark of the beast is not given to individuals without their knowledge. People will choose to take the Mark of the Beast and to worship its image because they have been deceived by the many signs and wonders performed by it (Rev. 13:11-14). It is a trap for those who choose comfort and ease over patient-endurance.

Second, those who want to save their lives and escape adversity from the beast (not being able to buy or sell: Rev. 13 vs 15-17) are in danger of worshipping the beast and its image. The mark of the beast will not be given to people unconsciously; it demands an active denial or denouncement of Christ.

According to John’s Revelation, one can keep from receiving the mark only by having their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. This implies that those who have already been sealed with the mark of the Lamb have been protected (Rev. 7 3).

“This,” according to John, “calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people,” (Rev. 13:8,10), not a careful avoidance of chip-infused vaccines.

The whole argument about chips in vaccines or on the forearm or forehead being the mark of the beast is coming from a certain interpretation of these passages to back some conspiracies rather than what the Bible says directly.

With the way we are going, political demagogy is more likely to trap many Christians into the worship of the beast and accepting of its number than chips in vaccines. It is a battle of allegiance rather than some secret initiation into satanism.

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Corinthians 11:14-15

Children Have the Right to Know, to Mourn, and to Ask Questions: They May Teach Us How to Believe.

It is a masterpiece of the devil to make us believe that children cannot understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words?

D. L. Moody

A few days after we lost Anya, we gathered for family evening prayer, and Arum, my second youngest, was asked to pray. In his brief but heartfelt prayer, he said, “God, thank you for taking good care of Anya in heaven.” I felt great relief that he believed what we told him, even though I was struggling to have the same faith.

Our children continued to pray (as they’ve always done) during our devotions and spoke openly to God about their anger, their fear, their confusion, and their hope in his mercy and grace to help us as a family in our grief.

Let me focus for once on how my children are dealing with their grief, and you will find that theirs is a more encouraging situation than what mine has been. In my writings so far, I have only mentioned their devastation at the time the incident happened and mainly from my own side of the story: my concerns about what would happen to them—whether they were able to cope with it or not.

While our children found it difficult to articulate how they felt to us directly, it was a blessing to hear what was going on inside them and how they were processing their grief through their prayers and their comments, reflections, and questions on the Bible passages we discussed during family devotions.

Going through the book of Job together was especially helpful, but so also has random family talks about collective memories—especially memories of Anya—and things we can do to keep and make her memory impactful. Random things like future plans—college ambitions and career paths for them—occupied our talks. We have become closer, learned a lot, and grown as a family through these talks and reflections.

Not long ago, during one of our devotions, our two oldest talked about how relocating to our home country—and everything that has happened so far—has made them better people than they were prior, specifying ways in which they have changed. The oldest exclaimed in the end, “Gush! I am ashamed of what I was and the things I thought mattered.” The fact that they are able to tell that they have changed fascinated me greatly.

They spoke about how much they have grown in their perspectives about life. Yes, our children were heartbroken and it took them a while to finally get a grip on their sorrow. But they, like us, are only going through the ups and downs of grief, perhaps with better faith than us.

A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that by posing myself as an “averter of ills” between God and my children, I have inadvertently accused God of being irresponsible by thinking he would allow anything to happen that would destabilize my children mentally and emotionally.

How could I have thought that of him, that he was thoughtless in what he does/allows to happen? How could I have thought I cared for my children more than God did? I was acting as though I needed to shield them from his cruel hands—the same hands that made them/ brought them into existence, and has carried them to this point!

As parents, not only are we prone to shield our children from anything we believe will harm them but we also often underestimate their ability to cope with the messiness of life. We forget that God matures them through trials as he does us. Of course, we don’t go about creating trials in order to mature them, but when God directs trials or allows them to come our way, I believe that he has our children in mind too.

This is a general concern among those called into full-time ministry. We often wonder how our children can cope with the demands that ministry places on us. We wonder at the logic of dragging them into difficult choices God is asking us to make. It is an old debate (with so much written on it) as to whether children of full-time ministers of the gospel are themselves called.

Children have a better capacity to believe and take God at his word without asking too many questions. No wonder Jesus would say “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” (Luke 18:17). Children receive the kingdom in total faith, not only when the “science” adds up.

I was particularly afraid for Arum who was closest to Anya and whose grief was so heart-wrenching that I feared for his health and mental/emotional stability. Arum was beginning to exhibit some disturbing signs of trauma. Yet, it was Arum, in the midst of his torment, who could pray and thank God for taking care of his sister in death!

It was this attitude of trying to protect my children from God that made me unable to accept that Anya’s death was going to work out God’s purpose in my family’s life (either as individuals or collectively). Why her, I wondered? Didn’t she have her own life to live? Should she be sacrificed for our sakes? It didn’t feel right that any good will or should come to any of us from her death.

But you see, this view of things is what individualism is; a view of the human person as an entity whose existence is wholly independent of those of others. This is a view promoted by secular humanism.

Christianity, on the other hand, has always projected a different understanding in which the human being is both an individual, unique and unrepeatable, and an integral part of a community. John Zuzioulas discusses this subject expertly and extensively in his book Being As Communion, 1997.

Nothing captures this reality better than the image of the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet one God. We are called to personal faith in Jesus and personal relationship with the triune God, yet we are also “in Christ” as one man, the body, the ekklesia. Each one has a function to carry out for the sake of the body, children included.

This is true also in our human existence. We do not exist for our individual selves only but for others, either in our families, churches, or communities. Human existence is collectively for the good of the human race. COVID-19, I believe, reveals the limitations of individualism. There are times that the entire race must set aside differences and act in agreement against obliteration. Communities that were unable to act thus have suffered the most from COVID-19.  

If Anya was brought into this world to live only for four years and four months and be taken to heaven at this time for our sakes, there is nothing untoward or unusual about that in God’s scheme of things. Jesus came into this sinful world to die so humanity may live. Many a martyr have laid down their lives for the sake of the church. This is how God works.

As parents, we like to shield our children from all evils; we like to put “Parental Control” on spiritual matters like we “PG” tv programs! We have kids’ Bibles and youth Bibles, attempting to simplify God’s word for their young minds. This is good and beneficial, but sometimes it explains away some things we perceive as shameful, traumatic, or difficult to understand.

For example, the Bible speaks plainly about bitter resentment, jealousy, murder, sex, greed, and all the shameful exhibition of human depravity. But today, we want to keep our children shielded from all the negativity and evils of this world. We try to create a paradise here (a bubble), inadvertently promoting some desirable ideals that are not collective human reality. When they become of age and have to face the overarching reality of human existence, they don’t know what to do with it. The inconsistencies sometimes push them away from the faith

We forget that our children, like us, have the inbuilt human capacity to cope with stress and to reconcile the presence of evil through the instrument of faith. Above all, we forget that they are children of God, like we are, with whom God relates to directly and by whom he plans to continue his work of preserving the world. The future of Christianity is in their hands.

Oh that my children may “know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). God is my witness that there is nothing I desire more for them in this life.

Though it is very difficult to see them suffer, though I desire to spare them from the troubles of this life and shield them from tragedy of any kind, yet I believe that for them to live truly, they must live for Christ and his purposes. I would rather that they endure the present pain for a better future as people grounded in faith, spurred by the joy that is set before them; before us: eternity with the Lord.

THE SOURCE OF EVERLASTING JOY

I had hoped that the heart of reality will be such a kind that we can best symbolize it as a place; instead, I found it to be a Person.

C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 1986.

From where does joy come and how may one get it? Is joy merely a feeling, unavoidably attached to given events (happenings), like happiness is? Is it found in some particular places, specific experiences, or is it a state of being, quite detached from happenings and more an encounter with a Person?

Let me venture to speak of joy in its proper place as a spiritual reality. I am not refuting that joy is something one feels, but I must testify it is more than just feelings. I felt I have betrayed the real source of joy in my previous reflection by not speaking directly on how I have experienced joy.

I tried to avoid this particular dimension for two reasons. One, it wouldn’t sync with everything else I wanted to say without presenting a seeming contradiction or overstretching the article, making it impossible to read.

The second reason is, even though the spiritual realm is much bigger (or the primary reality there is) more than our material realm, spiritual experiences themselves are highly subjective. God meets us differently. Yet, to experience God as joy or the source thereof is at the heart of every genuine experience of an encounter with him.

The Christian tradition within which I grew up emphasized God’s transcendence in such a way that relating with him seemed strictly on the basis of obedience and reward or disobedience and punishment. I still remember how exhausting and uninspiring such a religion was for me.

But when I first encountered God (at the point that my faith became personal), he revealed himself as Love, and the bubbling joy that washed over me (and has washed over me many times since) made the very concept of joy deeply connected to him. Take away this connection and I’d be completely at my wit’s end. This reminds me of the song by Jesus Culture “Love has a Name.” Indeed, Joy has a name, Jesus!

Although there are many pleasures in this life that can induce a sense of joy, deep misfortunes can render these pleasures unenjoyable. This is the point at which life becomes unbearable and many either end it or deteriorate into meaningless existence.

Ordinarily, it would be impossible for me to experience joy in my present situation if joy were to be merely a feeling based on happenings. Let me illustrate by speaking of my situation beyond the obvious. Sorry; it might get a bit too personal.

What is obvious is the fact that I have lost a beloved daughter at a time when the world seems to be caving in, with nothing exciting happening or having the possibility of happening in the near future to divert me or produce hope for the foreseeable future.

What is not so obvious is the struggle that has characterized my life for a long time to this point. The past eight years were gruesome, dotted by occasional joys from God’s abundant blessing in the broadening of my mind and invaluable friendships. But last year appeared to be my worst yet. I had come to the end of my endurance and was hoping God will bless me with peace and rest.

I was drowned in fear and anxiety, typical with a major transition, especially over my children who are caught between two worlds at war with each other. How was I not to feel guilty for taking them away for so long and creating in them strangers who may never fit in their home country?

Anya, in particular, kept me in constant anxiety over how poorly she fared healthwise. My own sense of calling was drowned in this struggle. I wondered how God’s will in leading us first to a foreign country and then back home at this time will play out in my children’s lives.

I have been in this place many times before, a place where it seems impossible to move a single muscle of faith in the attempt to do anything. I have felt like the character Much-Afraid in Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds Feet On High Places, abandoned by the Shepherd. But in spite of the excruciating pain, I cannot deny the Shephard’s good intent.

I remember praying the Jabez prayer (1 Chronicles 4:9-10) at the beginning of the year 2020 (this past January), asking God to show me mercy and take my pain away. I asked him for relief in specific areas of my life.

Little did I know he was going to answer my desperate prayers by crushing me with a kind of pain I was yet to experience. For me, losing a child at this time of great anxiety and much prayer for their safety is like being hit on a tender wound. A mockery of my faith.

I have long learned the futility of placing faith in some random religious promises that I do not sense God giving to me directly. My faith and that of my husband seem bizarre at times. While many good Christians exercise their faith in the freedom to make convenient choices for themselves and their families and requesting God to bless it, we seem reduced to doing “God’s specific will,” which sounds at times like empty super-spirituality.

Does a relationship with this Supreme Being necessarily one of such reliance as though we have no commonsense to make informed decisions? What right have we now to claim he led us since the road has ended in such calamity? How can we be confident that this will not cause a shipwreck of faith for our children? Can we trust that God cares enough to shield them?

But God’s word says he leads through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalms 23:4)! We knew what we bargained for when we believed. As C. S. Lewis will say:

“I had been warned—I had warned myself—not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accepted it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for.”

Lewis 2004, p.36

It is not the first time God has seemed to betray us; not the first time he allowed things to go wrong at the very moment we expected him to prove our case. He has vindicated those who disagreed with our decision!

But we have no doubt he led us home at this time, and Anya’s death, as painful as it is, may only prove that the devil is enraged by our obedience. Now, that sounds cocky. Why would God allow satan to strike such a blow? What would Anya’s death accomplish for God? I do not know.

What I do know (which it took me a long time to accept) is that her assignment in our family is done, it was time she returned to the One who sent her—whether she died of preventable natural causes, or the devil has something to do with it is not what is at issue.

Am I happy now that I know this truth? No. Not at all. And I don’t know when I shall find happiness again. But I am joyful in God’s overarching plan, no matter how painful the present moment is. This brings me back to the subject of joy.

A Christian finds joy in God because of who God is and in the fact that life is not altogether bad because God’s goodness still remains even in a fallen world. S/he also knows that life does not end here. There is a bigger reality and God, who is all-loving and caring in spite of what he allows us to go through, is the heart and soul of that reality. No situation catches him unawares or can thwart his purpose.

I may have lost a child now, but I shall see her again. I may be bone-weary at present, but the day of perfect rest is coming. I may be hungry, sad, sick, discouraged now, but the day is coming when all of these will be set right. In short, I have hope; hope in an eternal future of bliss with the God who is Joy.

Sincerely, I don’t know how those who have no such hope cope in this world of pain. Suicide does not surprise me; it is the ability of the human being to carry on without God and without hope in this mean world that I do not understand.

Although this experience of God as Joy is very personal to me, I believe it is a genuine Christian experience because it has been the experiences of many before and after me, both in the Bible and in history. The Psalmist captures this for me very well when he says:

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”…

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
 with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

– Psalm 16:2, 11.

The whole Christian life is Testimony. We begin by placing our faith in the work of Christ for our sake; this is where the relationship begins. But from thence we begin to have experiences of divine presence and divine work in our lives which confirm to us that what we read about God in the Bible is true, that it didn’t just happen to Abraham, Peter, and Paul but to me also. When I look at life through this lens, I can have true joy in the midst of sorrow.  

JOY IN THE MIDST OF SORROW: LEARNING TO LIVE IN A PAINFUL WORLD

No situation, however wretched it seems, but has some sort of comfort attending it.”

Goldsmith

The following day after Anya died, we all sat down in the living room and were talking about her, about all the funny things she used to do and say. We were laughing hard. If someone were to walk in and see us, someone who had no idea what had happened, they would think Anya were sleeping or perhaps gone to play with a neighbor’s child. There was no way they would know she had just been buried the day before.

Could one find joy in the midst of such great sorrow? Yes, if the person involved is Anya. But beyond Anya, I believe the same truth applies to life generally. There are ways we can still find joy right in the midst of this present darkness—a world of COVID-19—not only when it is over. Who knows when that would be or what else lurks ahead?

I have often wondered at this human paradox; the co-existence of opposite realities and contrasting emotions within a single life at a given time. There are many human experiences, not often put together, that go on at once. These are realities (or resulting realities from the interaction of two or more opposing realities) that feed the crafts of the poet and the philosopher.

These spaces between opposing realities must also be what gives deeper meaning to the message of the preacher. Ignore it and your message will become abstracted, falling flat on the surface of human experience.

The memories of Anya as a person can only fill me with peace and joy. She was so enjoyable. But at the same time, I feel great sorrow for the same reason. A memory can bring a smile to my face and the next minute I am reduced to tears by it.

The presence of sadness or grieve does not mean a total absence of joy (and vice versa), even when one of the two takes preeminence over the other at a given moment in time. In a fallen world, the two can coexist. To find joy in God is not to tune off from life’s challenges and problems; an impossible thing to do anyway.

Anya was the sweetest and the most innocent person closest to me. My memories of her are of her smiling, giggling, or running around. She loved life and went all out to enjoy it; hers was a vividly outgoing and fun-filled life. She loved people unreservedly, especially other children. They were all her friends!

Of course, Anya was a human child with human faults. She was such a handful little tornado (a nickname she earned from a sweet friend of mine). I don’t miss the extra work she incurred for me, but that wasn’t what defined her; her sweetness was. Even for difficult children, parents know that what defines these children is not their difficulty but their personhood and the sweetness attached to it.

What defines life is not so much its difficulties, but the little joys that make life itself a gift. Like a quiet walk in the woods, or falling in love, or lying still on a stretch of warm, flat rock, listening to the flowing stream and exquisite bird songs. Or a cup of scented tea before bed, or a good book. Or a heart to heart chat with a good friend.

Some of these may seem like descriptions of the pleasures of a privileged life, I know. But the underprivileged can also be joyful; they have pleasures to enjoy in spite of their difficulties. I should know. I have often wondered at that. The poor seem the most happy sometimes. They have easy laughs and love jokes. I’d be happier if only my mind would be quieter and not think too much.

Anya had her manners in place and good emotional intelligence. She would always say “I am sorry” without any of us demanding that she apologized. Sometimes I would be so angry I won’t respond, but she won’t stop saying it until I did. “Mummy, I said I am sorry.” She had her “please,” and “thank you” in good use.

One very funny memory of Anya we have is, when she helped you and you forgot to say thank you, she would say, “You’re welcome!” reminding you that you needed to say thank you. That used to crack us all up. I have never felt sorrow in her death for her own sake; it is always for our own. She had nothing to lose by dying; we did.

I am relearning in a whole new way the default setting of a fallen world. Little successes here and there, sporadic joys and happiness produced by what is left of goodness in an otherwise chaotic reign of evil, can be quite deceptive for a moment. We keep expecting the world to be good and life to be fair all the time, but is this even a fair expectation given what we know?

A majority of the world’s population has always suffered what the whole world is now suffering as a result of COVID–19: the instability and suspense, the uncertainty, difficulties, and anxiety; the fear that your life or that of a loved one may be cut short and the accompanying feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness that torments the soul as a result. Welcome to the world of the deprived and destitute!

I am not saying we should not pray for fairness or even advocate for it. Why else are we in the world as salt and light? But we do so remembering the default setting of this fallen world like Jesus did. He stepped into a messy world to bring hope. Jesus gave hope to many through his miracles and his teachings without expecting the world to be good; he inspired hope in an otherwise hopeless world.

In a fallen world, life can only be generally difficult. We are caught between this paradox of good and evil, light and darkness, peace and war, joy and sorrow. The two realities are opposed to each other, but it is the presence of the one that distinguishes the other. We understand goodness only as it compares to badness or evil. Only in heaven and in hell do the two exist exclusively.

God’s gifts of love, friendships, family, good neighbors, and friendly strangers give us joy in the midst of sorrow. The poor know that. They have learned that joy can be found without material wealth and the comforts it can afford, places it can take you, and the things you can achieve. Joy is found in God and the gifts he gives in the midst of our sorrows. The truly destitute cannot afford to be irreligious even when they are inconsistent in their piety.

But this does not make the poor and needy immune to their suffering. Some eventually end their lives in hope of a permanent escape from their misery. Nor am I suggesting that the present pandemic has made life easier for the poor; it can only complicate an already difficult life. Nevertheless, the pandemic has given the privileged of the world a window into the brokenness of human systems.

I can’t escape the memories of Anya, or escape being saddened by them. She left a scar, not only in my heart but also on my body from her birth through cesarean section. Her two favorite stuffed animals and a pair of shoes I refused to give or put away, some clothing items yet to be given away, hairpins and beads that I sometimes find in my purse, or in a drawer, or at a corner somewhere in the house; pictures and videos of her on my phone…  

The things that remind me of Anya are innumerable.  The water dispenser—which I almost couldn’t use for a while because we have had quite a scene over the way she liked playing with it. Some kitchen items too. I remember her brother refusing to use a particular cup because it is “Anya’s cup.” She preferred to use it more than the other cups. These are painful memories because they remind us of someone very precious that we no longer have with us, yet they are joyful memories of the happy times we shared with Anya.

The very house itself from the gate—no, from the turn one takes to join the street from the main road—reminds me of her; of her funeral procession. And every new memory comes with a new round of grief. I feel guilty eating the things she used to enjoy as though she misses them.

For a while, I couldn’t pass by her school; couldn’t bring myself to see the playground on which I spent many hours with her. The sight of her teacher when she came to condole with us reduced me to sobs, just like the mere memory of her school and how she loved to be there subjected me to whimpering.

Things that caused her sadness upset me because they remind me of her misery. I am still unable to listen to the music we used to listen to together. Her light approaching steps rang in my head for quite a while, mostly when I was in the kitchen, in the bedroom or outside in the yard, places she often came to meet me. There were times I turned around quickly, expecting to see her approaching while still knowing that I would not see her approaching.

I have felt her presence sometimes in the early days of my grieving and even spoke to her once, begging her forgiveness for my negligence. You don’t have to believe me, but I know she heard me. Peace flooded my heart immediately. It was the last time I felt guilt over her death, even though I still experience regrets. Many times I have felt the urge to pray for her and I do, every time.

I do not attach any theological significance to these experiences. But I believe that the human mind is capable of experiencing other realities that are beyond the mundane, everyday experiences of our material existence. I am not referring to notional realities or mere imaginative power (though I have a surplus of it as a fiction writer). I mean that there are immaterial/metaphysical realities we can experience with our minds and spirits beyond the confines of scientific and logical positivism. Perhaps I should stop here; I am beginning to ramble.

In a world of COVID-19, I am resolved to find joy in family, friends (true ones), good neighbors, and in good memories. I find peace and joy also in nature. Have you noticed that the universe is still the same? Nothing has changed about the natural world.

The lilies and vibrant plants blooming from the abundant rain and the sassy afternoon sun remind me that, in spite of the way it is ravaging the human world, there is a world that COVID-19 is yet to touch. If anything, the lockdown (restricted human activity) across the world has only rejuvenated nature. We can find some joy in that fact.

THE MYTH OF MOVING ON AFTER LOSS

Will there come a time when I no longer ask why the world is like a mean street, because I shall take the squalor as normal? Does grief finally subside into boredom tinged by faint nausea?

C. S. Lewis 2004, 36

Does grief ever pass? Can we say of it, “now I have gotten over it,” or “now I have gotten over the worst of it”? I thought so at some point. I think I was wrong. And I think one should never place such an expectation on oneself or on others.

About a couple of weeks after my loss, I had to write a short bio of myself for a website. Then came the moment I needed to state how many children I have. That seemingly simple decision rocked me silly. I couldn’t proceed for a day. I did all my crying and came back to it. Still, I was stuck.

I knew I had to decide how to move on. I toughened it out and typed three children. Panic seized me. Everything in me revolted. No! I have four children! I erased the number three and replaced it with four. It felt better.

But do I have four children? I ended up writing something to the effect that my marriage to Isuwa has been blessed with four children, but Anya had gone to be with the Lord. There! That sounded a lot better, I had my peace.

I had to remind myself many times after, for sanity’s sake, that Anya is still a member of the family who has only changed places; I am still unable to accept or explain her absence any other way.

How well this new way of viewing things—of defining my family and myself as a mother—has worked out for me and for how long it will continue to do so, I am yet to decipher beyond the fact that it gives me comfort and mental stability. But, does it mean I’m stubbornly holding to my old life and refusing to move on?

If by moving on it is meant continuing with the daily routine of existence, then, of course, life moves on after loss; it never stops. For example, that very morning we had to decide what to do with Anya’s body: whether to bury it that same day or keep it in the mortuary until our state’s COVID-19 lockdown—which was starting at midnight—was relaxed. That would be after a week. We also had to break the news to her siblings, one of the most difficult things Isuwa and I have ever done.

Later on, we had to make burial arrangements by first informing family, friends, and the church: digging a grave (deciding the place for the burial, to begin with), getting a coffin, bathe and dress her up, receive guests who were trooping in to condole with us. Indeed, life moved on. It had to.

But, if by moving on we mean setting aside the interruption that a loss brings and continuing with life where we left off, then it is impossible. It is even rude to tell anyone to move on in that sense. My life the way that it was ended the very moment Anya was pronounced dead.

Everything in me cries for the life I knew before that moment, yet I cannot return to it let alone move on with it. My life has been altered forever. This is a different life, a new reality that will, no doubt, soon become my new normal, but it is new alright.

Come to think of it, my life was altered when I first became a mother, and more specifically when I became Anya’s mother. It was a rocky beginning; I didn’t like that I was pregnant at that point in my life. I was terrified. Yet, needless to say what joy she brought to me later on. She became my light, my therapy from a difficult life of living and studying in a foreign land.

Grieving is a process, but it is neither a predictable process nor one that ends. I have stopped trying to make sense of it. It is intellectually impossible. I won’t even give myself time, however much, within which to heal (since I don’t know what healing will look like). I’d rather endure the unbearable suspense; one day I am hearty, the next I am back in a ditch.

The week before last I lived in a state of mental and emotional torture, a cyclonic storm that turned my world into chocking darkness. Nothing could divert me; no novel was good enough, not even Tolstoy with his literary charm could suck me into his universe of unending drama. Reading my Bible helped some.

I wrote a poem to describe sadness, hoping to gain a mental grasp of the world I had tumbled into. Writing the poem did work some magic. Perhaps grief belongs more in the world of poetry where words operate by a different logic.

The book of Job in the Bible makes that apparent. I watched my husband go through his own suffering wordlessly. I hope and pray that my children are too young to dwell too long in the valley of grief.

When I read C. S. Lewis’ description of his recurring grief in the early days of mine, it didn’t make the kind of sense it now does:

Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again; the mad words, the bitter resentment, the fluttering in the stomach, the nightmare unreality, the wallowed-in tears. For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it? How often—will it be for always?—how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again.

Lewis, 56-67

Both C. S. Lewis and Jerry Sittser describe their losses as amputation, a helpful description. The wound may heal, but the missing limb never grows back. We only learn to live with the inconvenience, the damage never fully amends.

The stump remains both as an aesthetic predicament and a painful reminder of an irreplaceable loss. I should know that. Twelve years ago, I lost the tips of two fingers on my left hand to an accident.

Sittser, who lost his mother, wife, and daughter in the same accident, writes:

Our sense of personal identity depends largely on the roles we play and the relationships we have. … My awareness of this amputation of the self comes to me like a reflex. Even after three years of widowhood, my psyche is still programmed to look for people who are no longer there. I crawl into bed at night and wait for Linda to cuddle with me.… .What defines me as a person—my sexuality, my intellect, my feelings, my convictions, my plans—still searches for her like a homing pigeon for its roost. But the self I once was cannot find its old place to land. It is homeless now.

Sittser 2004, 81-82.

I fear what losing a spouse must be like. I remember how thankful I was that I had Isuwa to grief with; to comfort me. I couldn’t imagine that he was the one who had died. Not that Anya is less important to me than her father, just that she was more dependent on me than I was on her.

My love for Anya is maternal, what C. S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves (1960) calls Need-love; the love of a child to its mother, and Gift-love; the love of a mother for her child. It is no less strong—in fact, it can be stronger—than romantic love. The loss of a child has ended many marriages. My maternal desire to protect her at all costs has been the source of my misery at her death.

I remember people who have been through loss such as mine telling me that it never goes away in the sense that you get over it and move on. I cannot say how many times I have wished they are wrong. An elderly woman, whom I admire and respect very much, came to greet us and we got talking. She referred to losing a nephew over 15 years ago, then became emotional and couldn’t speak much until she left. I panicked that my pain was never going to go away. I can already see how they are right.

Losing a loved one comes with variations of injuries, depending on the attachment formed with the deceased and perhaps also the condition under which they depart. Some losses are fatal; the one left behind is not able to survive it. But most are simply life-altering, and because most times losses are unexpected, the alteration is sharp and quick.

Anya’s demise was so unexpected. I have never been least prepared for anything my entire life. We all know that death is inevitable, but we expect to bury our parents, not our children, just as we expect that our own children would bury us. It was less than 22 hours from the time Anya complained of having a headache to the time she died. Nothing warned me.

I have always envisioned Anya by my side, even standing beside my deathbed when I finally die. I expected that she would be home with me when her older siblings grow up and leave (there is six years gap between her and my second youngest). Despite life’s uncertainties, I did not see her leaving me this early.

I have experienced a shrinking in my heart since Anya died, a certain incapacity to extend myself beyond my immediate family. I feel emotionally tired. This I know will pass someday. But her death has opened up a new world, a new reality that was closed to me before: a community of loss.

My heart now gravitates in that direction. Losing Anya took me back into the pain of people I know who lost loved ones but whose pain I was unable to understand or experience. I have a cousin who lost her husband barely a year after marriage. She was pregnant with their first child. This was more than twenty years ago, but I found myself mourning afresh for what she suffered.

I remembered those whose family members were wiped out by Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria, leaving them as sole survivors. Goerge Floyd’s murder, reminding me of the misfortunes of black people. The surge in bizarre rape cases in Nigeria and around the world, bringing to mind the sufferings of the female gender, young and old alike.

Several such incidents came to mind and I wept and prayed for the people. I have found extraordinary grace to pray for those who are suffering all manner of losses more than I have ever done before. I felt quite what C. S. Lewis is saying when he says,

If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came. It has been an imaginary faith playing with innocuous counters labelled ‘Illness,’ ‘Pain,’ ‘Death,’ and ‘Loneliness.’

Lewis, 37

But maybe that is how it is. I don’t know that we can quite understand the sorrows of others without experiencing severe sorrow ourselves. It is like birthing; no woman can truly understand the pain of labor without undergoing it herself. Jesus became our great high priest who is able to feel sympathy for our weaknesses by suffering what we suffer (Heb. 4:15).

Tragic loss isolates the sufferer from others, but it also creates in the sufferer an inexplicable connection with those who suffer like they do. Will I someday forget all these and move on? Not possible. Loss changes the sufferer for good; they never simply move on.

The irony is, I don’t even want to go back to the way I was before my loss, except if that would bring my baby back. I have received comfort from others more than I deserve. I may get over some specific painful memories of Anya, but I hope to continue to be bettered by her loss. Hopefully, I may become a better comforter myself.

I do not ask my cross to understand,

My way to see —

Better in darkness just to feel Your hand,

And follow Thee.

J. R. Macduff

BEYOND DEATH: My Grieving Journey

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

1 Corinthians 15:19

That fateful morning, exactly eight weeks ago, when it became clear to me that my baby was dead and that God was not about to answer my prayers to bring her back, what came over me was a kind of despair I’ve never felt before.

The only Person who could save me—save my daughter—from the power of death, and save her siblings from the trauma that would follow, seemed aloof, his strong hand lifted from holding and covering us, leaving us exposed to the elements of a fallen world and the taunt of the enemy.

Death had the upper hand, its power so strong, it’s sting excruciating. Its terror paralyzing.

Death, it appeared, had the final say and there was nothing I or her wretched father, or anyone who loved her could do. At first I thought God was punishing us by taking her away from our careless hands. I felt we were to blame for her death: if only we had been more attentive and acted quickly!

I felt a mixture of relief and grieve. I was relieved that now she was in the safest hands possible and didn’t have to be at the mercy of my poor parenting skills, but also sorrowful that I had failed her terribly and disappointed God who had entrusted her to me.

fear…

However, my intense sorrow was soon to turn into intense fear. What next? Who next? Since I couldn’t see God’s hand still covering us, my reason for confidence was gone. I would never have believed I could fear death. I have wished many times that I were dead. Death meant rest from problems. It meant being at home with the Lord. I looked forward to heaven, to rest, to death. But now death haunted me.

Perhaps for the first time I felt the intensity of the horror of death. Death is nothing to look forward to even as a passage to heaven. Death is punishment, a necessary evil, the dreadful river to be crossed before we get to the yonder shore. Yes we long for heaven, but death couldn’t be desired. Jesus wrestled at the face of a brutal death; even when he knew the outcome, he did not downplay the sting.

Christians in my tradition have been taught—consciously or unconsciously—to downplay the power and devastation of death, almost the same way Halloween downplays death and the world of evil. Somehow we have come to believe that to mourn like those who have hope means not to mourn at all.

I wonder that Jesus, in John 11, did not dismiss Mary’s grief with a wave of the hand since he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead anyway. It seems pointless that he should weep with her and the others. His gesture shows that he recognized and respected her suffering even when it was to be for a short time.

Like Job’s friends, we are either embarrassed, angry, or disappointed at the bereaved’s prolonged grieve. We think that we should celebrate death rather than dread it, and are quick to commend those who seem to snap out of their grief speedily. I have learned that sometimes the option is not ours.

It is also assumed that the spiritually strong are above despair. Like Eliphaz says to Job, “Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees. But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed,” (Job 4:4-5). But that’s exactly what it should be! We all need comfort in our troubles. To be honest, I was ashamed to admit I was despaired or afraid, I who knew the truth. Or was it simply grief that felt like fear?

After the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis writes about a similar experience thus:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

Lewis, A Grief Observed, 2004, 3.

I bless God that such a man could be so vulnerable as to put these words in writing for my sake! My own fluttering went beyond my stomach; it coursed through to the tips of every blood vessel down to my feet. One minute I am animated, the next I want to be alone and cry. A sort of darkness invaded my life. I had peace only when I was asleep; every waking moment brought back memories I wished were a nightmare I could wake from.

The valley of doubt…

A few days later, another thought gained an upper hand. I began to wonder about my baby’s state. Was she in heaven or in some intermediate state which I could not quite envision, and who will take care of her there? Or was that the end; had she disappeared into oblivion? Was I ever going to see her again?

Unlike many people feel when bereaved of a loved one, what I felt towards God was not anger. What I knew and believed about him would not permit such an emotion. He is absolute power and absolute goodness. And he never make mistakes. The only other explanation had to be that perhaps there wasn’t even a God to begin with, let alone the kind I had come to believe in.

Strangely, I decided that it didn’t matter whether I saw Anya again or not. It felt safer to maintain that she was now free from every harm and all the disappointments that await the living. She had passed through the worst; she was safe now, whether in oblivion or in heaven.

Before you judge me for my moment of doubt, consider that most of the time, our beliefs are nothing more than convenient judgments of what seem most plausible given what we know. In this case, faith is reasonable even when it is inexplicable.

There is no such thing as an unreasonable faith; we reason ourselves to faith. Another way to put it is, sometimes our proclaimed belief is a blind embrace of a truth we had no reason yet to question.

But when what is at stake is very precious; when our very life or that of someone very dear and close to our heart depends on it, belief automatically comes under intense scrutiny until it can prove that it is worth our trust. C.S. Lewis captures it more succinctly when he says:

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

Lewis, 23.

Reading C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed helped me greatly. At least it helped me make meaning of my suffering by ascertaining that my doubt and fear was not peculiar to me. I was such a wreck that I could not pray. Isuwa had to pray with me and read the book with me. But I read my Bible consistently because it was the only time that my fear subsided, which was strange because nothing in it gave me any particular comfort or the assurance I desperately wanted about the present state of my precious baby.

Believers, I know, will go to heaven and be with the Lord on the Resurrection Day at his Second Coming; but where would they be in the meantime? I dreaded that my baby could be floating alone with no one to care for her until then. Or was it?

I couldn’t comfort my children beyond just saying, “I am sorry.” The  usual optimistic statement, “God will protect/take care of us,” with which I encouraged them in the past was now meaningless. Why didn’t God protect their sister from dying? The words escaped me a few times, though, and the hollowness horrified me. For my children, their silent stares told me they didn’t believe me anymore than I believed myself.

Although C. S. Lewis helped me to understand my fear, his moment of doubt about the state of his dead wife left me momentarily shocked and embarrassed for his own sake. At the same time, the embarrassment mirrored my own, but I am not the great Christian thinker and apologist that he was.

Couldn’t his great intellect help him understand better? But, of course, active minds have greater propensity for wandering thoughts. They are good at casting doubts on fixed belief. Yet, when it is settled, they are belief’s most ardent defenders. He writes,

After the death of a friend, years ago, I had for some time a most vivid feeling of certainty about his continued life; even his enhanced life. I have begged to be given even one hundredth part of the same assurance about H.

Lewis, 8.

H is what he uses in place of his wife’s name in the book. Where was she, he asked? Was she free of pain, he wondered?

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.

Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore,’ pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There’s not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn’t be like that. Reality never repeats.

Lewis, 25.

C. S. Lewis never said there was no resurrection or after-life, he simply doubts that we understand that reality right. Suddenly I started a desperate search of my own to find for myself what the Bible actually says about these things. My own doubt was more than his own. While he was able to reason out his, mine was jumbled thoughts of a wretched soul.

I read the entire book of Revelation within a few days. Even though it assured me of the presence and power of God and of life after death, it said nothing of my daughter’s present state. If anything, it filled me with dread. I felt that God was too powerful to care about our petty emotions. Or about my tiny Anya. Well, he killed his only Son! Who was I to challenge him about her death or present state?

This possibility, however, did not nullify for me the fact that God is good. His “Goodness,” whatever it means, might only not be what I understand goodness to be. Then came the strangest bout of doubt I have ever experienced: could I then trust such a God, a God whose goodness could turn out to be so cruel and mercilessly painful? A God who cared only about his purposes and not about what I feel?

Over and over, the thought returned that perhaps my baby had gone to oblivion and that I and the rest of the family will do so when we die, which means it will not matter at the end whether or not we would see her again.

The crux of the matter

 It was at this point that I felt a sharp, albeit, gentle rebuke and a stern warning. Almost as if God decided to come out of his self-imposed silence and distancing in order to save my drowning soul. To doubt the truth of the life-after, I was told, is to doubt the central message of the gospel. It is to doubt the reality of both heaven and hell.

If there will be no resurrection and no life after death, Christ died in vain and the Christian gospel is null and void. Paul addresses this matter passionately in 1 Corinthians 15 (a passage I was led to) then also 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and several other passages.

Petra’s The Grave Robber

To believe that my baby is not lost is not simply for my comfort, it is the central message of the Christian gospel. Paul says if it is only for this life that we have hope in Christ, then we are of all men most miserable. Our ultimate hope is not for this life but for the one to come. In fact, what is seen—the present life—is temporal, it is what is not seen—the life to come—that is the real thing; eternal.

Jesus came purposely to save humanity from eternal death; he did not come to make this present life permanent. His miracles were not the purpose of his coming, even though it demonstrated the presence and power of God, and made life bearable for that moment. He came to defeat death which he did through his sacrificial death.

Jesus’s miracles always pointed to something beyond this earthly existence. When he fed people physical bread, he invited them to accept him as the bread of life. When he offered them water, he claimed he was the living water. When he raised the dead, he claimed he was the resurrection and life and those who believe in him will never die. Yet physical death is inevitable for the moment. It is the last enemy to be defeated.

Jerry Sittser, in his A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, captures it powerfully:

In his earthly ministry, Jesus performed signs and wonders as signs of God’s presence on earth. The deaf were made to hear, the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to live again. But sooner or later those who had their hearing restored went deaf again—if not before death, then obviously in death. Those who received sight went blind again, those who were made to walk went lame again, and those who were given life died again. Suffering and death won out in the end. In other words, Jesus’ miracles were not the ultimate reason for his coming. His great victory was not his miracles but his resurrection. The grave could not hold him, so perfect was his life, so perfectly sacrificial his death. Jesus conquered death and was raised to life by God to a life that would never die again. The Easter story tells us that the last chapter of the human story is not death but life. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees it. All tears and pain and sorrow will be swallowed up in everlasting life and pure, inextinguishable joy.

Sittser 2004, 165.

This is an important truth for a generation of Christians who believe that genuine faith or the highest demonstration of it is in performing or experiencing miracles. If Anya had received the miracle of healing, she would get sick again someday. If God had answered my and her father’s desperate prayers (later, her grandma’s too) and brought her back to life, she would still die again in the end.

Death always triumphs over mortality. Anya’s fate (or victory if you wish) awaits us all. As C.S Lewis will say, “What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared.”

Without fully understanding the gloomy darkness and hopelessness associated with death, it is hard to appreciate fully the redemptive work of Christ which dealt a deathblow to the power of death. Death is not synonymous with rest; it is darkness and torture.

Physical death can lead to rest only for those whom Christ has already paid the price for their release. Death cannot hold down those whom Christ has set free, but until that final victory, death remains a horror.

Yes, I will see Anya again. Wherever she is right now, I know she is in God’s hands like she was when she was here and even before she got here. That she has gotten rid of her mortal body means she is free of all the suffering that is associated with our mortality.

But when I am finally reunited with Anya in death, it might not be in the same manner like it was here on earth. I may still be her mother, but she would no longer need my care and provision and protection. It will be a new relationship or, at least, a new understanding of the old one. I don’t know what it will be like. At present, she is like a beacon, beckoning me to my eternal home, keeping me focused on the things that truly matter. That will do for now.

Remembering Anya…

I woke up this morning with a project in mind: to make cement cast flower pots. Somehow, I am finding peace being outside again without Anya and the knowledge that she wouldn’t come running out and calling “mummy! What are you doing?”

It felt like I was doing something wrong every time I tried to get busy. Something in me wasn’t just ready to move on. For example, I couldn’t go out to sweep the yard because I always expected to hear Anya calling from the living room window: “Mummy, I can see you!” then she would run out to me.

Sometimes we ran around the house—her idea. She was such a runner! I had to really run to keep up with her. Her long legs and height gave the sign that she was going to be a tall, gorgeous lady; a black beauty. I looked forward to being the proud mother of this future charming young woman.

She would always use a phrase from one of her favorite TV shows, Blaze and the Monster Machines, to initiate the race: “Let’s blaze!!” and then she would take off in full speed, leaving Arum and me scrambling to catch up. We would go around the house twice, yet she would still want to go on.

However, this morning, as I dipped my hand into the sand and let the grains run through my fingers, I remember Anya’s powerful connection with nature. She wasn’t what some will call a “sharp” kid; she was too naïve and too trusting of other kids; every kid was her “friend.” And too quiet (in the sense that she had few intelligible words).

She wasn’t like her big brother, Atsen, who had clear speech before he was two years old, and said some of the coolest and most impressive things for a child of his age. Anya learned to speak good sentences only after she was three and almost four. School helped her to learn to speak more clearly.

When she started school for the first time after we returned to Nigeria, Anya was three months short of four years. By Nigerian standard she should have started school already and should’ve learned her numbers and letters, plus how to write them. But Anya, who had lots of educational toys she loved to play with and had picked up her numbers and letters from them, didn’t see why she had to say or write them.

For Anya, school was for play and she could play and dance all day long. But whenever her teacher asked her to work, she would say she was tired. Worse still, when kids made fun of her for not knowing anything, she would laugh with them rather than be embarrassed or offended. Was she too young to understand or she just didn’t care?

On the playground, Anya could neither defend herself against bullying kids (she had little social intelligence in that regard) nor get the swing started—something most Nigerian kids her age can do. She needed mummy or daddy to enjoy the playground and mummy or daddy was always there with her at the playground, while waiting for her older siblings to close for the day.

But Anya had a kind of keenness of mind that is uncommon in children her age. It didn’t escape my attention. Anya was able to pick out things she’s interested in from a distance and from among a cluster. That always blew my mind! It was bad when it was a book or a TV kids’ show character in a toy section of the store, because I would most of the time be forced to buy it (I was hardly able to resist her). But it was always fun when she was picking out nature’s hidden beauties.

Anya was not restricted from watching TV; the TV ran almost all day, but she was never addicted or distracted much by it. She was more an outdoor person and very particular about the things she loved. She loved books, though, and loved for them to be read to her. The house was always littered with books that Anya would not let rest on the shelves.

There was something about leaves, dried or fresh, that captivated her. Something in her recognized peculiar ones; she could have a leave collection and you would love it. She was also very much attracted to flowers, to snow, to a body of water, and to grass. The sky and clouds fascinated her. She picked out any little unusual appearance and called attention to it saying, “Look!!”

Above all, Anya had a thing for the moon that was exceptional. Many times she called my attention to many moons when the sun was still shining—mostly crescent moons that were barely a slender silver mark on a bright sky: “Look, moon!” There were times I couldn’t see the moon she was pointing at. I would say, “Where is the moon, Anya?” and she would say, “There, mummy! Look!” It always turned out she was right.

The night before Anya died (on April 8), there was a full bright moon that was spectacular, so beautiful I had to call attention to it on Facebook. She was too sick to gaze at it with me. I called her father and showed it to him. He watched it with me for a little bit and went away.

I didn’t mind; I knew who it was that would’ve stayed with me to watch it to our hearts’ content. The only other person in the family who shared my love for nature. Was the moon there that night to bid her farewell and her blind mother could not see that it was doing so?

A Case for Christian Romantic Sensibilities?

People have asked me what the novel Silent Wail is about (probably hoping that I could tell them so they can walk away satisfied that they now know what it is about without having read it themselves). And each time that I tried to answer, I failed horribly.

True, I don’t yet know the full extent of what I have written. I only wanted to be honest. “I write to discover what I know,” says Flannery O’Connor, and it is true for me in this case. 

I could say that Silent Wail is about marital fidelity, or family values, or vulnerability, or any of those kinds of things. However, even though the novel speaks about these things, they are hardly what the crux of the story is about.

Silent Wail is an attempt to say something about the human soul and its quest for love and intimacy (which often plunges us into fierce temptations) that cannot be captured in simple expository writing. The meaning of a story is in the whole story; it takes every word in it to say what it means.

Perhaps you should never write a story if what you want to write about can be said adequately in a sentence or two. Flannery O’Connor—my newly found inspiration—says it better: “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way.”  There are some truths about human nature that have no simple way of saying them.

For all the reasons that I could have written this book, I did not write it for money or fame. Nobody makes money from writing a novel unless you are J. K Rowling. As for fame, I think the reverse is true.

When I say that I write to undo my reputation, it is perhaps more true in my writing of Silent Wail than in any controversial opinion I have dared to make public. And I am long reconciled to the fact that once you have dared to put out a piece of writing, the meaning that could be attached to it is totally out of your control.

Strangely, it is for that reason—that there is no single meaning to what I wrote—that I wrote it. Stories have the exceptional blessing of multiple (and multilayered) meanings.

Rather, I felt compelled to write (in spite of the fact that romantic fiction does not enjoy the fortune of respectability among Christians) because the issue I am addressing is of the severest concern to me and very urgent.

Flannery O’Connor commented in a letter to a friend about her first novel, The River—and I absolutely concur—that: “I don’t think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else,” (cited by James K. A. Smith in How Not to be Secular, 2014).

I am greatly concerned about the apparent disregard for marriage and family that is now in vogue even among Christians, and I believe that this should be of the gravest concern to us all.

We have proven beyond a doubt that Christians are as sensual as everybody else, and the only ways we have found to deal with our infidelities is to cover it up or treat it as a non-issue.

Personal salvation (and its attending assurances) has become a license, so to speak, to disregard communal responsibility; the pursuit of righteousness for the sake of the love of neighbor—whether that neighbor is my spouse, child, in-law, church or community member, or even a stranger.

Moral law, as we may well know, is not for the benefit of God; it is for our benefit as humans, and perhaps more importantly, for the good of those who mean the most to us.

Another thing that bothers me is, whereas there are some among us who totally disregard sexual purity (or staying married to one partner for as long as you both live), there are those who wish to deny that misplaced desires do occur among serious believers or that it is important enough to be talked about authentically.

We think that human sensuality and spiritual sensibilities are opposites and so we have become dualists who disconnect matter from spirit, casting away the former as if we can truly be free of it.

I am of the scandalous conviction that spiritual and romantic sensibilities belong in the same realm. Our soul is not as segregated as modern science has made us believe it is, nor can we truly step away from ourselves in order to “objectively” practice spirituality.

Why would the Bible say of God that he is husband to Israel and the church as the bride of Christ? Why in God’s world is the book Song of Solomon in the Bible, traditionally read by Jews in celebration of the love of YHWH at Passover?

Paul refers to the union of a husband and wife, an analogy for Christ and the church, as “profound mystery” (Eph 5:32). I think that Christian maturity is in the ability to reconcile our spiritual sensibilities and our natural passions.

The great Christian thinker, C. S. Lewis, explains this mystery of the human passions in his book “The Four Loves,” (originally a radio talk that drew some criticisms for its openness about sex). But you see, we are humans, susceptible to these passions.

Whatever happens between a man and a woman to make them fall in love (Eros) remains a mystery (Proverbs 30:18) and it is not always a case of lust (Venus). Also, there is nothing that says once people are married they cannot find themselves drawn to other people who are not their spouses (which we now refer to as temptation).

What I do not understand is why we don’t talk honestly about it while emphasizing that such attractions should not be indulged for the sake of other loves (ref C. S. Lewis). Other loves should restrain us.

Silent wail is an attempt to address, as authentically yet as sensitively as possible, our humanity; not so we can escape it, but so we can live with it victoriously.

I tried to show that Christians are just as human as everybody else and that our ability to live righteous lives does not consist in our not being tempted in the same manner that other humans are but in our ability to overcome all sorts of temptations. Temptation itself is a tool God uses to mature us rather than something we can avoid if we are mature.

I believe that marital infidelity is a grievous sin, but we have blurred the line between the temptation and the sin itself so that those who are struggling with the temptation already feel condemned and cannot, in all honesty, talk about it. We have encouraged isolation and secrecy which further exacerbates the problem. 

I tried to explore in Silent Wail why married people may end up in the place of marital infidelity. No Christian (I hope) marries their spouse with the thought of cheating on her/him in the future, nor do people usually think ahead to divorce their spouse and marry another before the marriage ever takes place. It is often a slow, unconscious process. So, can we find that delicate balance where we can help one another live beyond reproach yet without hypocrisy?

Silent Wail is meant as a conversation starter for couples who have things to talk about but do not know how to begin. It is for groups of friends who want to start an accountability group to help one another stay faithful to their spouses.

I hope very much that older Christian couples will be inspired to mentor younger couples. We must do more as the Church to escape the bombardment of immorality we “breathe in with the air of our time.”

Most importantly, Silent Wail is for those “silent wailers” out there. I hope that this book will provide you the comfort of knowing you are not alone and that you can break the silence and find healing for your soul. That you will know there is a way of escape that God has prepared for you for the taking.

May the story also provide for some of us the needed space to privately come off our spiritual high horses and examine our failings so that we may deal with them honestly.

What the Bible Says About Dressing for Women: My Theological Reflection

The debates about decency and propriety in dressing for women among Christians is not a question of whether the Bible says so, but what the Bible means by what it says.

Several Sundays ago, my family was rushing to church, trooping along with a crowd of worshippers when a church guard, who noticed that my 13 year old daughter was in trousers, stopped us. He said she would not be allowed into the church on that account.

I became numb with incredulity. What major Christian doctrine was at stake to warrant such a stance by a church that is supposedly “international” in its reach?

In another church service recently, my attention was caught by a style of sewn blouses worn by several women. The clinging blouses were cut low and broad at the back. It was like an unspoken display of a variety of female backs: light, dark, fat, thin, and in-between. I caught myself wondering how I would look in one such blouse. Oops!

Not given to such observations in the past, I knew this must be glaring to catch my attention. Or perhaps I was looking at it with fresh eyes, having been away for a while. I became uncomfortable for the sake of the men. But why didn’t anyone care, I asked myself?

In Nigerian evangelical circles, it seems decency or the lack thereof boils down to trousers or the covering of head. This is treated as a core Christian belief such that those who break it are termed heretical in some places and banned from the church.

While that action is a problem in itself, the question I am exploring is: who decides what is decent and appropriate? Is it context, or Scripture, or both?

If culture decides, then the dynamic of culture demands constant adjustments of our convictions. For the Nigerian context, trousers may have been foreign, like hair extensions and make-up, but they have come to stay.

On the other hand, if there are scriptural principles that determine what is acceptable for Christians, then these principles are binding for all Christian women in every culture at every time, irrespective of fashion and styles of the day. Why the fuss about trousers in particular?

In an increasingly global culture, the challenge for the church to go beyond cultural preferences to biblical principles on every matter is urgent. Although culture is important, Christian doctrine must be based on Scripture rather than on culture.

How Important is this Debate?

While most young people have settled this matter for themselves and have moved on to more serious questions about postmodernism and its attending vices; questions that border around core Christian convictions, spiritual leaders are still playing hide and seek (without convincing biblical explanations) on what women should or should not wear.

My concern is, if young people cannot trust that we are being truthful, knowledgable, and open on mundane issues like dressing, how can they trust us on issues that have far reaching consequences for their faith?

Homosexuality, gay marriage, transgender issues, nudism, cloning and genetic engineering, are among many disturbing issues that need urgent attention and answers from Christian leaders—in Africa as in other places.

If young people think that we do not know what we are doing, they may simply act cautiously around us while keeping to their doubts or contrary views—which, I think, is what is happening with the dressing debate.

I decided that a biblical reflection on the matter will be helpful for Christian women who, in the midst of all the noise, are sincerely seeking to know the mind of God concerning their appearance.

Whether in worship together with other believers, or generally in the way they carry themselves in society as holy women, called and sanctified for a meaningful kingdom existence in the world, women must do so from genuine faith, without fear or hypocrisy as men-pleasers rather than God.

What the Bible Says and How it Applies to Us

Nobody doubts that the most important thing about this debate is what the Scripture says on the matter. But a mere reading of Scripture itself does not always translate into understanding the will of God.

Jesus confronted the Jews once with a troubling reality:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

John 5:39-41

So one can be a diligent student of the Bible and yet miss what the Bible is saying. One can be always learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 3:7).

This is possible because, as surprising—or even alarming—as it may sound, the way we see the world and construct meaning or reality is not directly but indirectly, through so many filters.

When people talk of objective truth as though it is something that is readily accessible, they sound naïve at best. God alone knows truth objectively; we, unfortunately, access it only subjectively, even if we all arrive at the same truth.

Paul says we comprehend the thoughts of God through the Spirit we received from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Cor. 2:12).

But apart from God’s direct intervention through the Holy Spirit, there are other factors (filters) that could interfere with our understanding of the revealed will of God. One of such filters is human culture (or social orientation).

God does not bypass human culture to reveal himself, why? Because he created us in such a way that our senses (perceptions) and meaning-making function only within given cultures. In this case, culture is critical to understanding God’s revealed truth.

However, how we understand the relationship between faith and culture can constitute a hinderance to understanding what the Bible actually says about a matter.

God first revealed himself through the Jewish culture, yet it was these same cultural traditions, emanating from beliefs and worldview originally based on God’s previous revelation, that became a stumbling block for the Jews, hindering them from accepting God’s further revelation in Jesus Christ.

When the gospel enters a culture, it does not stand on its own as a separate entity. It diffuses into the core of the culture thus impacting its worldview. When Scripture informs a cultural practice, that practice becomes dogmatic and not merely cultural. This is when it becomes binding on Christians.

On the other hand, mundane cultural practices, which may have grown from practical wisdom of living in a particular environment over time, may change with new discoveries, developments, or cross-cultural experiences. Though we are not of this world, we are still living in it and part of the changing cultures of the world.

Now, problems arise when we make culture the ideal which we try to use Scripture to support. When such happens, we become resistant to cultural change on faulty grounds. We then find ourselves lifting verses out of their wider context to support our views. When those verses are confronted with other facts of Scripture, contradictions or inconsistencies ensue.

  • Old Testament Laws

Now, to the matter at hand. There is no place in the Bible where trousers, as a style of clothing or fashion, is mentioned.

In Deuteronomy 22:5, Scripture forbade cross-dressing between males and females, a popular passage among those who advocate that women should not put on trousers. Yet, there are questions we must answer about this passage, if it is to remain as a valid argument.

One, there are several laws stipulated in this passage, which Christians do not adhere to today. For example, why do we pick out cross-dressing and ignore cross-breeding? If some laws apply to us today as laws, then all the others should apply as well. James says whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles at just one, is guilty of breaking them all (James 2:10).

Two, let’s assume that it is a binding principle that cross-dressing is wrong. Men weren’t wearing trousers in those times but cloaks and tunics; “gowns.” Fashion has changed since then and men now wear trousers. Today, women’s fashion has also moved on. Not every trouser sold in the market are men’s clothing; there are women’s trousers and men will look ridiculous in them.

So fashion determines what is men’s clothing and women’s clothing. Yes, fashion is cultural and changes with time. Only God knows what men’s outfits will be tomorrow. Besides, there are cultures in which men tie wrappers (e.g., South-Eastern Nigeria, India) and others in which men wear skirts or kilt (e.g., Scotland, East Asia). Insisting that trousers are generally men’s outfit is ignorant at best.

  • The New Testament Injunction

The New Testament has presented us with guidelines regarding appropriate dressing, particularly for women. This is where we get our principle(s) for appropriate dressing. Paul said to Timothy,

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

1 Tim 2:9-10

While all these words relate, the standard for measuring appropriateness or decency is modesty. Wikipedia, for example, defines modesty as:

a mode of dress and deportment which intends to avoid the encouraging of sexual attraction in others. The word “modesty” comes from the Latin word modestus which means “keeping within measure.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modesty

We all agree that there is no fashion called “good deeds,” so Paul wasn’t being literal here. His emphasis, as I see it, is that a woman’s good deeds calls the right attention rather than her physical appearance.

Elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes—a typical church fashion for Africans—are mentioned here, which, to me, exemplify things that call attention to self. No article or style of clothing is picked out as bad in itself.

Decency is not dependent on a particular fashion but on accepted standard of morality. There are decent and indecent trousers, just as there are decent and indecent skirts and gowns and wraps. An excessive exposure or display of sexual appeal by a woman (or a man), for example, is indecent for all Christians, regardless of culture.

If a woman dresses in trousers with the intension of drawing illicit attentions to herself, she becomes guilty of unholy motives just as a woman who wears aso-ebi or skirt or make-up for the same reason.

Peter echo’s Paul’s injunction,

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands.” 

1 Pet 3:4-5

The overriding principle(s) for dressing we can take from these passages is modesty. A woman must be careful not to be extravagant in her physical appearance with the intent of calling the wrong attention to herself.

Now to the matter of veiling. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul begins his instructions about the covering of head for women by first establishing the issue of authority: the man has authority (the head) over the woman just as Christ has authority (the head) over the Church.

Could it be that his instruction about the covering of head has something to do with marriage? Are all females under the authority of all males or only wives to their own husbands?

There is so much about cultural expectations here. In most cultures of the time, veils were mandatory for married women, not for girls. Veils were symbolic of a woman’s marital status as well as a posture of decorum and respectability.

In that culture, long hair was a disgrace for a man as shaving was a disgrace for women. But women today, especially African women who cannot keep up with hair-dos, shave their hair—in fact, with relief rather than disgrace.

In verse 15, Paul concludes that long hair is given to the woman as her covering. So, is he arguing that long hair is the covering or a veil? I do not presume to know exactly what Paul is saying here, I only want to acknowledge the uncertainties surrounding the passage, which gives room for myriad interpretations.

Churches have their positions on this matter, which is totally okay. Some interpret it to mean that all women (including female children) must cover their heads in corporate worship, some believe that long hair in itself is the covering, some don’t care. Let every church practice what it believes without looking down on another.

My denomination, Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), elects female elders in spite of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which says that a woman should be quiet, should not teach and not assume leadership over a man.

In COCIN, women lead prayers during corporate worship, serve as elders, lead worship, and sometimes preach. But other evangelical churches don’t do that because they understand the passage differently.

Most Euro-American evangelicals who allow women to put on trousers and sit in services with their heads uncovered, do not allow women to play any public role in corporate worship (except perhaps singing). I thank God I am a COCIN member!

Yet there are churches that have gone farther than COCIN to ordain women as ministers. As uncomfortable as that makes me, I cannot pass judgment on the practice because it does not temper with the rudiments of our faith.

The issue of head-covering and the forbidding of trousers did not begin in Africa. These were issues even in the West. It became a “cultural” issue in most parts of Africa because of Islam and the teachings of Western missionaries who brought the gospel.

Is this still a cultural issue today in Nigeria or modern Africa generally? Not so much. Many women, even in evangelical churches that forbid women from wearing trousers, wear trousers to work/offices, to schools and other places, or simply to stay at home. But they will not wear them to church.

If trousers as a fashion is sinful, is it sinful in itself or when it is worn to certain places? If it is sinful in itself then very few women are without guilt. Most wear them for sports, exercises, certain kinds of jobs, or travels. 

Whatever it is, let everyone follow their conscience on these matters without demonizing those who think differently. I will not go to church in Nigeria wearing trousers or with my head uncovered. For me, it is a matter of “weak conscience,” because many still have a different orientation on these matters.

Will I speak about the matter when it comes up? You bet I will talk about it and call it what it is: a toothless dogma without Scriptural bite.

Am I advocating that women should start wearing trousers to church with their heads uncovered? I will never do that. Women must strive to be in submission to their own husbands in all matters, to their consciences, and to their church authorities, but they must do so knowingly and willingly, without hypocrisy.

Do I think that Christians should become radical about their positions to the point that they keep women out of churches because of it? No, I don’t believe so. This is evil, and must be challenged.

People come to your church not because of your pastor but because of Jesus. Will he who did not stop a sinful woman from clinging to his feet—to the criticism of Simon the pharisee—stop them from coming in (Luke 7:36-50)?

Wherever people may be coming from or whatever their beliefs, we have no authority to stop them from coming into a church. It is not a cult group, it is a church. Churches can have rules for their members, but should not close a church door at anybody.

I believe that whatever their convictions, churches should back their positions with Scriptures without condemning those who think differently. This way, we will elevate human souls above our personal convictions and respect other Christians who don’t think like us on matters that are not essential to our core beliefs.  

Finally, as Paul will say:

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”     

2 Timothy 2:19