In life, we often encounter unpleasant experiences. Sometimes, they can be very painful – even hard to endure. Take for instance, what Christians are facing these days in Nigeria – insecurity, attacks, kidnapping, killings, and the most shocking of all, the recent kidnapping and brutal murder of Catholic priests and other ministers of God in an unprecedented manner. Moved by such things, our hearts can become quite weak, and cold: Why does God permit this persecution? In fact, sometimes, we are tempted to ask – Where is God? Why now? What hope is left for Christians in this West African nation? And how should the people of God react?
Well, in the face of human suffering, rather than asking why, Jesus swung into action and healed all kinds of sicknesses – He raised the dead, consoled the afflicted and comforted the broken-hearted; he forgave sinners, liberated those in the power of the devil, and welcomed the oppressed and rejected (Cf. Matt. 9:35). More concretely, in the Gospel of Luke 6:22-23, Jesus said people will hate and defame his followers on account of the Son of man and likened their suffering to that of earlier prophets.
It is crucial for Christians to know that sometimes God allows human-suffering so as to show his ultimate will in stirring human affairs. That is why Jesus invites his followers to not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul but rather, “fear him who has the power to destroy both the body and the soul in hell” (Cf. Lk. 12:4). As is replete in biblical history, God wants every believer to realize that man’s destiny is in God’s hand. However, where human beings deliberately decide to play God by taking the lives of others, beyond karma, divine retribution awaits them.
It is instructive to note that, despite the targeting and killing of God’s ministers today, the gospel message will continue to be preached until eternity. Even though the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs and the early Christians were persecuted, and killed, the message of Christ remained an irresistible recipe on the menu of a world in search for peace and salvation.
The best place to find consolation in times like these is the Holy Scriptures. For it instance, the book of Deuteronomy instructs: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (31:6). With such warm assurances, the Christian in contemporary Nigeria should know that he/she is not alone. The Historical Jesus who walked through Nazareth and the Jesus of Faith who abides with us would not leave us orphans (Cf. John 14:18).
Despite the persecution of Christians, the message of the Gospel is traversing the length and breadth of every continent with enthusiastic young men and women giving their lives to become priests, and religious. Indeed, this is a sign of great hope for the Church especially in Africa and Asia. It is in this light that St. Paul states: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Rom. 5:3). He further urges believers in Christ to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer” (Roms. 12:12).
As a way out, Christians must take to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. In committing everything to God, their supplications would engender heroic action. While God fights for his elect, it is incumbent on Christians to stand up for themselves in legitimate self-defense. After all, the bible says, “God helps those who help themselves!” (Hezekiah 6:1). In the end, light will trump over darkness, truth over falsehood and good over evil.
In conclusion, the scripture offers words of comfort: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The God of peace has the power to transform every situation in the country towards good. As security agencies recommit themselves to the ideals of securing lives and property, Christians must rely on the Holy Spirit for respite. Indeed, there is a future for everyone in this country, and our hope will not be cut off by a few evil-agents.
Philip Langish, a seminarian of Bauchi Diocese, is a final year theology student at St. Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.