FEATURE ARTICLE

Felix AmadiTuesday, June 6, 2017
[email protected]
Maputo, Mozambique


Forwarded by: TEMPLE CHIMA UBOCHI

THE QUESTIONS FOR HEAVEN

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways; says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9)

CLEARING THE BUSH:

hen I was admitted to study philosophy at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Owerri, Imo State, my father was a lax Christian. He didn't attend church services, though didn't prevent any member of his household from attending. As a matter of fact, he scolded any of us that went late to church insisting that we should be in the church seated at least 10 minutes before the commencement of the celebration of mass. But with gentle persuasion, I 'convinced' him on the need to attend church services for he believed in the doctrine of "Uka di na Obi" (loosely translated: that the worship of God is deep rooted in one's heart, not necessarily requiring communal fellowship).

As a follow up to his "conversion", I gave him a Bible and a breviary for further spiritual enlightenment and empowerment. One Sunday while I was on mid-semester break, he stormed into my room demanding to know who wrote and compiled the books of the Bible. Before I could offer him any meaningful answer, he asked whether I prayed Psalm 137:5-6 "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skills! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, If I do not remember you, If I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy". I tried to explain to him that it was the desperate lamentation of the Israelites while they were in exile. He demanded to know why anyone in his right senses would be praying such dangerous prayer in our contemporary era. None of my honest explanations could convince him into believing that Psalm 137:5-6 was meant for him. Knowing him to a larger extent, I am very sure he doesn't pray that part of the bible till date.

Like my father, so many people these days are confused about some of the contents of the Bible, their meaning(s), direct implication and application on their lives. My father's "refusal" to accept Psalm 137:5-7 as having direct relevance in his life today is very dangerous because it raises the question of whether the contents of the Bible should be accepted in totality in one's life or as something with situational relevance based on one's immediate condition and predicament. Both the Old and New Testaments contain stories and submissions that beg for critical and practical elucidation in our time. While these biblical stories and submissions may not present comprehension problems for biblical scholars, they most times prove incomprehensible to the less erudite and non theologians of our society who are thrust daily between an ardent faith in God and the astronomical challenges of every strive for survival. Fortunately, I am not a theologian by training and therefore feel most qualified to seek further enlightenment on some of these confusing and less intelligible stories and submissions in the Bible. I am open to rebuke, criticism and correction as the case may warrant, for I am an ardent student of everyday learning.

At this juncture, it is noteworthy to point out that this essay is not an exercise in atheism, nor is it a deliberate attempt to doubt the authenticity of the Bible as the True Word of God. Rather, it is a personal and curious search for a deeper understanding of the meaning of the belief in God. I am not an atheist and have no intention of becoming one in the foreseeable future for the wonders and complexities of the universe point to the existence of a Great Architect of this natural order. The wonders of the universe are not a chance product but an attestation of a cause and effect relationship that presupposes the existence of a First Cause, the Uncaused Cause-God.

Unlike my father, my confusion propels my sense of curiosity to seek deeper answers or alternative viewpoints to some of the biblical stories and submissions that elude person grasp. For the sake of this write up, I will point out 3 less comprehensive assertions in the Bible that I struggle with the 'why' of them.

1. SATAN AND THE ENORMOUS POWER(S) AT HIS DISPOSAL:

It is a common belief in Christendom that God created the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24) and that unmistakably includes Lucifer, who later became Devil or Satan (Ezekiel 28:12-15, Ephesians 3:9). It remains eternally confusing to me that a Loving God sent the devil packing from the heavenly abode while leaving at his disposal enormous power(s) which he is using to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). I was taught that salvation should be won not gained on a platter of gold. But a Loving and All-knowing God should have known better that this Satan was the same being that desired His Glory, made desperate and significant moves towards achieving this inglorious feat, stopping short thanks to the military prowess of Archangel Michael and his cohorts. A Loving and All-knowing God should have known better that sending this devil away with enormous power(s) at his disposal to a world where His "Beloved Children" inhabit who aspire to make heaven after death MUST pose a problem too mountainous to solve.

Some people have argued that God's Grace is enough for us to defeat the devil and his angels. In as much as it is never my intention to glorify the devil with this write up, it is still my objective and realistic belief that a being (devil) who was not afraid to confront the abode of grace will definitely find it easier dealing mercilessly with the children of the Giver of Grace. To attest to the kind of problem humanity faced due to coming down of Satan to earth, the bible declared thus: "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath because he knows that he hath but a short time"(Rev. 12:12). I am not interested in the length of time the devil has got to operate, but on what he does within whatever period of time he has, for success doesn't necessarily depend on the length of time but the proper management of one's time.

What is the divine rationale behind this arrangement of sending the devil to co-inhabit with us while at the same time setting stringent paradigm for making heaven (the Ten Commandments)? I am constantly baffled as to the reason for the above because for all I know and have researched on, I cannot come to the conclusion that humanity engineered or aided Lucifer in any way in his quest to become like God, "For thou has said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the Mount of the Congregation in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the Most High".(Isaiah 14:12-14). From the above biblical quotation, one can deduce that Lucifer's quest of being like God was purely a personal ambition without any human collaboration or aid. So hauling the devil down to our world with enormous power(s) at his disposal, while at the same time expecting us to make heaven is the same as a teacher setting a difficult examination question with the sole intention of massive failure on the part of his or her students! Who takes the blame?

Many people argue that the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve paved the way for the entrance of sin in the world. My question is this; between our first parents (Adam and Eve) and the devil who first inhabited the garden? If Adam and Eve were the first occupants of the garden then where did the serpent come from to tempt them? When did Lucifer become Satan? Was it before or after the creation of Adam and Eve? And if the serpent was already on the ground before them, wouldn't it be plausible for one to argue that owing to the 'prima' habitation of the garden by the devil, who is sin personified, the garden must have been tainted if not corrupted before the coming of Adam and Eve?

Another question that arises from the 'doctrine of my grace is enough for you' in the Bible is this; is there or can there be salvation outside Christianity? I ask this question because of the statement of Christ thus; "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). This is a statement of exclusivity to people of other religions who don't accept Christ as their Personal Lord and Savior. St. Paul reinforces this doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ when he wrote thus; "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). What these statements of Christ and Paul point to is that there is no hope of salvation for anyone who is not in Christ. Then why should the Catholic Church be championing the course of ecumenism while knowing fully well that many of these other religions in the league of ecumenism don't see Christ as the Only Way or even The Way to the Father? And if ecumenism is a worthy course, does it not render absurd the notion of Christ as the Only Way to the Father?

2. JESUS CHRIST AND THE THIRD TEMPTATION:

According to the Gospel of Mathew, after Jesus had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, He was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. In fact the third temptation of Christ is stated as thus; "Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me. Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only"! Then the devil left Him; and behold angels came and began to minister to Him". (Mathew 4: 8-11). My source of confusion here doesn't bother on the devil's demand of worship from Christ but on Christ's response to the demand. For me, there should have been a two-fold response or answer to the devil's demand of worship from Christ and the juicy wealth transfer conditionality. In addition to the response of who deserves our worship, I expected Christ to have rebuked the devil as to who truly owns the wealth of the world for the Bible asserts that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell in it (Psalm 24:1). So, I don't understand the source of the wealth the devil promised to give to Christ if He had bowed down in worship to him. Or is the devil just claiming ownership of what is not rightfully his? Even at that, the situation warranted a rebuke and a refute from Christ at least for posterity sake.

The one-sided answer that Christ gave to the devil further empowers the proponents of the belief that the wealth of this world is under the control of the devil and his cohorts and if one must make it big in this world, one must in one way or the other identify with the devil and his agents. Thus the Honore de Balzac's aphorism that "Behind every great fortune lies a great crime"! The proponents of this school of thought cite the biblical appellation of the devil as the "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4) as a weighty proof of their stance.

If the devil owns the wealth of this world as he alleged in the 3rd Temptation of Christ, what hope is then left for the many fervent children of God who genuinely toil daily in the pursuit of wealth? I think it is this kind of thinking that the devil is the "god of this world" that gave rise to the "Gospel of Escapism" in today's Christendom as popularized by the lyrics of the late James Travis "Jim" Reeves' song "This world is not my home. I'm just passing through...". Rather than adhere to the biblical injunction of "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it... (Gen.1:28), Christians are busy putting on their spiritual parachute to fly away from this world. A people whose only preoccupation is how to fly away from this 'wicked world' will hardly make any meaningful difference in their immediate world. It is with little wonder then that one see children of God take the back seat in world affairs thus empowering ungodly men and women to promulgate and enforce laws that are anti-faith. One of the dangers of the 'Gospel of Escapism' is that it breeds a people with a mediocre mentality and 'I don't care' attitude.

I am not saying that people should not prepare for the life after death. All I am saying here is that a people who cannot control the affairs of their immediate world will always be trouble in their immediate and material world. Rather than be in a 'rush' to leave this world, the Christian of today should strive to leave his or her footprints on the sands of time. After all, Jesus lived for 33years but the impact-oriented life He lead is being felt today and will continue till generations to come. Posterity will not forgive any man or woman who having the power and opportunity to effect positive changes in the world chooses a life of insignificance all in the name of going to heaven. Heaven, I strongly believe is the homecoming of over comers, not the abode of 'I don't care people'.

3. ANCESTRAL CURSE\ BLESSING VIS-A-VIS PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

I once participated in a debate with the central theme thus: "Is Man a Determined or Free Being?" The proponents of man as a free being argued that the power of choice in man makes him a free being whose actions are subject to blame or praise. They argued that the fact of judgment makes it imperative that the judged must be a free agent who chooses a pattern of behavior that can be subjected to criticism or praise. On the other hand, we, the proponents of man as a determined being argued that man's life in the world follows a set of led down rules that he didn't choose or designed. For example, no one chooses who becomes his or her parents. No one chooses his or her country of origin. No one chooses the sex he or she was to become. We are simply creatures of conformity to the rules of nature. Therefore any action of man had been pre-programmed in him or her and not the result of personal choice. We argued that what people call choice is an unconscious response to the unseen forces of determinism.

I recalled this debate on freedom and determinism because of my confusion as regards ancestral curse and personal responsibility in the Bible. It is stated in the Bible that the "sins of the fathers will be visited on the children (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:6-7). In fact, examples abound of people who were blessed or cursed not by any personal act of steadfastness or sin but through affinity to a lineage that is blessed or cursed. Mankind has not recovered from the effects of the curses God placed on our first parents (Adam and Eve) due to their sin of disobedience to Him. The curses placed on Adam and Eve are still the reason for man's daily struggles today though it can be safely said that none of us living today met Adam and Eve in person, encouraged or engineered them in any way to disobey God. But because we partake in their blood lineage, we became "co-offenders" and God in His Infinite Wisdom and Might disbursed punishment to all and sundry.

Again if one peruses through the Bible, one will discover that the good standing Solomon had was because of the covenant God had with his father, David. It is mind boggling that Solomon even in his unprecedented promiscuity, racked in unquantifiable abundance and pleasure. His kind of lifestyle is one that should have provoked divine wrath, but God in His Infinite Wisdom chose to honor His covenant with David. The fact of ancestral curse and blessing are prominent in the Bible that if for example one comes from the lineage of Gehazi, one is automatically cursed from birth with leprosy (2 Kings 5:27). I am still at a loss as to why God did not dim it appropriate to limit Gehazi's punishment to himself alone without having to involve his descendants who were not co-offenders in real time.

When you juxtapose the fact of ancestral curse and blessing in the Bible and the contents of Ezekiel Chapter 18:19-20, one is bound to be confused for it reads thus, "Yet say ye, why? Doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right {and} hath kept all my statues, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicker shall be upon him".

The above biblical quotation is more intelligible to me than the collective punishment/blessing of ancestral curse/blessing. But as a Christian, how can one explain intelligibly these seemingly contradictory points of view of ancestral curse/blessing and Ezekiel 18:19-20 as contained in the Bible to a non Christian or a lax one? Or are there two sources of inspiration to these seemingly contradictory viewpoints?

DRAWING THE CURTAIN:

God is God even if one doesn't believe. The question hinges not on whether God exists or not but on man's approach to the understanding of the nature of God. We all tend to analyze the 'Beingness' of God based on our subjective parlance thereby limiting who God really is to the microcosm of our world.

The fact of death places a limitation on man to speak with finality on who God really is. When the Catholic Church opposed the Copernican theory of Heliocentrism as opposed to their earlier held stand of Geocentrism, they could have believed to be speaking the 'mind of God'. But time and research proved them flatly wrong.

One Christian Sister gave a testimony in one church I attended recently and narrated how she was saved by God from the hands of kidnappers who wanted to use her for rituals. According to her, when she was brought into the gathering of these occultic men and women, she remembered that she had a pocket Bible on her. On raising the Bible and shouting the name of Jesus, there was confusion and the leader ordered that she be taken out of their presence. What a miracle! I doubted the truthfulness of her story because I couldn't imagine her captors bringing her into that gathering with her hands and legs not bound (for security reasons), to have given her access to reach her pocket for her bible. What if she had pulled a firearm instead of a pocket Bible? Her captors must have been stupidity in human form.

I have no doubt that God performs miracles daily in our lives but I dare to ask: now that the Bible has been digitized into smart phones and other modern electronic gadgets, will the raising up of a smart phone containing the Bible and other applications (holy and unholy) and declaring the name of Jesus still produce the same result that the pocket Bible had in the gathering of these occultic men and women? What is really the Bible; the booklet on which the letters are written and the screen on which it beams, or the spirit of the letters which one can carry daily without necessarily needing a booklet or a smart phone?

What really produced the miracle of this Christian Sister: the presence of her pocket Bible or the faithful declaration of the Mighty Name of Jesus Christ? The answer might seem simple and obvious but the daily application of this answer in real life and time sets one on a new path in the journey for a better knowledge and relationship with God.

I Rest My Case.

THE THANX IS ALL YOURS!!!

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