Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Evolution of Boko Haram (3)

This columnist has written at least six articles dedicated to “Boko Haram”-“The Evolution of Boko Haram” Parts 1 and 2 on February 1 and 8, 2012; “Johnnie Carson, the US and Boko Haram” on April 18, 2012; “The Malian Jihad” on January 23, 2013; “The Politics of Boko Haram” on April 10, 2013; and “Amnesty and Emergency” on May 22 2013 and other articles treating the issue in part and on social media. Through all these, my position hasn’t changed-the phenomenon has religious, political, economic, social, military and global dimensions and appeasement is unlikely to resolve the crises. Boko Haram (BH) is motivated by extremist religious ideology and seeks to overawe Nigeria’s secular constitution in favour of an Islamic Caliphate governed under fundamentalist Sharia. Socio-economic conditions in the North generally and North-East in particular facilitate religious demagoguery-poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and ignorance, decades of tolerance for sectarian politics combined with hegemonic aspirations and an inclination to deploy violence for political ends, and a large, “un-parented” and uneducated youth population bereft of skills and employability whose only social conditioning has been through a bankrupt “Almajiri” system. National politics since 1999, particularly demise of late President Yar’adua and the regionalized 2011 presidential contest encouraged a climate suitable for transmutation of what was until 2011 a localized band of religious miscreants with links to regional politicians into a national terrorist organization with the objective of destroying an unwanted presidency. Given these facts, the debate over whether Boko Haram is religious, political or otherwise is silly, nonsensical and pointless! The group is explicitly religious, has patently political objectives, exploits abject socio-economic conditions and weak governance, and is able to leverage a politico-religious narrative of marginalization of faith and region! The US and Western nations have been in denial regarding BH and made utterly faulty and escapist diagnosis and prescriptions for resolving the matter-Johnnie Carson wanted Nigeria to appoint more “Northerners” to “important” positions (unaware (?) that except for the presidency (which they had until then disproportionately dominated), Northern Muslims occupied many of the most important positions in the land-Vice-President, ruling party chair, Chief Justice, Representatives Speaker, CBN Governor, Ministers of Defense, FCT, Foreign Affairs and Education, NSA, Inspector General, Attorney General, Head of Service, Court of Appeal President etc.) and to create a Ministry of Northern Affairs; Hillary Clinton refused to designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) on the faulty logic that doing so would alienate the North (curious given official Northern position that the group represented neither Islam nor the North); and Obama and Cameron tried their best to pretend not to notice BH even when it bombed the UN office in Abuja, Churches, newspaper houses and markets! Till date we retain several wrong assumptions about Boko Haram-that most of the terrorists are infiltrators from neighbouring countries-Niger, Chad, Cameroun, Mali, even Somalia etc.-but the more empirical observation may in fact be that Nigeria is now the epicenter of a West and Central African terrorist network that may in future destabilize other countries. I will not be surprised to find for instance, that the inspiration, funding and logistics for the failed Jihads in Mali and Central African Republic may have partly or substantially emanated from Nigeria. No one doubts that BH has now linked up with Al Qaeda and Somalia’s Al Shabab! Another error has been discussing “Boko Haram”, “Ansarul” (the Malian-related, more internationally-focused brand of Boko Haram) and “Fulani Herdsmen” (the domestic terrorism franchise for the Middle-Belt of Nigeria) as though they were separate groups! Recent evidence confirms as I have always suspected that all are one and the same! Two other facts are evident-the Nigerian state will be wise to investigate the linkages to Sudan in Nigerian terrorism. The media expose by a retired ambassador, Bola Dada and the recent escape of Nyanya bombing suspect, Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche to that country suggests that Sudan plays a significant role in nurturing Nigeria’s Islamic fundamentalists!!! More troubling is the likelihood that elements in the armed forces and security services may be involved in sabotaging operational strategies and information in the war against BH! Nigerian soldiers evidently believe so, going by the mutiny against the now withdrawn GOC in Maiduguri, Major General Ahmadu Mohammed!!! The internationalization of the “war” against BH in the aftermath of the Chibok school girls’ abduction and involvement of US, France (which thankfully achieved a breakthrough in regional cooperation incorporating Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad, Benin and Niger), Britain, China and Israel may be useful in addressing the problem. On the other hand, the development may signal the weakening of the Nigerian state and its possible decline! The critical question Nigeria and the international community avoids confronting is “who provides the funding and logistics for Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsmen and other terrorists groups operating in Nigeria?” Does anyone really believe that “Imam Shekau” is the “leader” of the group that has been tormenting our nation for the past three years? (I am inclined to the DSS position that Shekau is a “title” and “identity”, just like “Abu Qaqa” and is really a dispensable image rather than substantive leader) How does Shekau, who operates in the border regions of the North-East record and upload his videos and transmit them to AFP? How do the Hilux vans, rocket launchers and arms and ammunition deployed by Boko Haram get to Shekau and his men? We know where the foot soldiers of Boko Haram are, but who are the brains and wallets of Boko Haram, and where are they? While we ponder these questions, Nigeria’s President Jonathan confirms that Boko Haram has now killed twelve thousand innocent citizens!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Biblical Economics

How consistent or divergent is the Bible with conventional economics? Are there coherent theories around economics and finance in scripture that could be applied to modern society? I suggest that at least ten fundamental principles of “Biblical Economics” can be identified:- God is the source of economic prosperity: The Bible affirms (in Psalms 24: 1 and 1 Corinthians 10: 26) that “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof…” and in Deuteronomy 8: 18, “But thou shall remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth…” The implication of this is that prosperity is sustained only on God’s conditions-“seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mathew 6: 33). What then will we make of the reality that wealth is more likely to be obtained from the evil sources in today’s economy? The Bible implies that while wealth procured from evil means may bring anguish and lack sustainability, “The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he added no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10: 22). The Bible counsels against undue materialism-“the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6: 9-10) warning that “no one can serve two masters;…You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mathew 6: 24). Abundance not Scarcity: While contemporary economics is founded on the notion that resources are limited and scarce, the Biblical view is that God cannot be limited-he is the sovereign God who created all things, and who can do all things and can give his children all things! When God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they lacked nothing and had all things in abundance, until they disobeyed and brought scarcity into the world. With the recompense of Adam’s sin by Jesus Christ, Christian believers could operate under a revived dispensation of abundance since God can add “all” things once his “kingdom” is obtained. Jesus Christ declared “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10: 10) and Ephesians 3: 20 proclaims “Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” Stewardship of Talents and Resources: If God gives abundance and wealth, rather than our cleverness or dexterity, we are necessarily “trustees” of that wealth for HIS higher purpose. Christ’s parable of the Talents implies that our resources and talents are held as stewards with a concurrent responsibility to manage them to the benefit of the Kingdom. While God could and did give everything, we are “to lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” i.e. our worldly possessions were less important than our souls and after-life and “from everyone who has been given much shall much be required” (Luke 12: 48). Sowing and Reaping: In Genesis 8: 22, a fundamental economic principle is established-“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest…will never cease”! I have argued that this is the source of economic cycles-boom and bust; growth and recession seasons that recur persistently in human economies. The most popular example comes from the Bible itself-the seven years of plenty and then famine in Joseph’s Egypt. Man stands to profit from understanding economic cycles, macroeconomic principles, and political economy! While the Israelites benefited from the economy of seasons, they suffered for not projecting political scenarios-for then arose in Egypt, a King who knew not Joseph!!! This principle establishes the nexus between actions and consequences-hard work and success, policies and development outcomes, investment and prosperity, and socio-economic behavior and social conditions. Five Causes of Poverty-Laziness, Trial, Punishment, Social Injustice or Affliction: The Bible prescribes diligence and skill as (ant)idotes to poverty (Proverbs 10:5, 12: 11 and 12: 24). There are numerous scriptures in which poverty is the consequence of slothfulness-“He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich…” (Proverbs 10: 4-5); “…a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come…” (Proverbs 6: 10-11); Job’s life is evidence that it could be trial from God; Deuteronomy 28 suggests that a man’s “field”, “basket” and “store” could fail due to God’s sanctions; several scriptures imply poverty could become widespread because the rich and powerful oppress the poor; and people could be poor because of diabolical powers and spiritual wickedness in high (and low) places! Spiritual Blessings, then Physical Wealth: The Biblical perspective is that God first ordains things spiritually before they are manifested physically. King Solomon’s wealth was preceded by a promise from God; same with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-it is the blessings of the Lord that “maketh rich”. Economics has a rather different sequence though not composition-wealth is a consequence of the correct application of the “factors of production” and wealth then results in human satisfaction. Giving Precedes Receiving (More): Acts 20: 33-35 says “It is more blessed to give than to receive” and 2 Corinthians 9:7 proclaims (to the joy of Church treasurers!!!) “God loves a cheerful giver”! Throughout the Bible, God rewards those who sacrifice their possessions-Abraham and Solomon being prominent examples Save and Invest: The Bible urges Christians to save-“Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth” Ecclesiastes 11: 2 (See also Proverbs 6: 6-8 and 21:20). The essence of the parable of the talents however is that saving is not enough, investment is critical. Christians are counselled to take investment risk-“cast your bread upon the waters…” (Ecclesiastes 11: 1), based on wisdom, knowledge and understanding as well as the grace and leading of God. Our women must invest too-“she considers a field and buys it; from her earnings, she plants a vineyard” (Proverbs 31: 16) Leverage What You Have: The most important question potential entrepreneurs ask is how do they know what business they should go into? My “consultant’s prescription” is same as the Bible’s-“What is that in your hand?” as God asked Moses! I typically urge people to start from what they know, love or are passionate about, their “hobbies” even. The Bible says “whatever your hands find to do, verily do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Obey God’s Laws and Keep Your Hands Clean: The Bible expresses a causal relationship between obedience (to God’s commandments) and success, and disobedience and failure. There are specific stipulations in the Bible that relate to economics, business and finance including repaying your loans (Psalm 37: 21; not lending to the poor and brethren at punitive or excessive interest rates (Proverbs 28:8); avoiding guaranteeing debts (Proverbs 11: 15 and 22: 26-27); refraining from hoarding and excessive profits (Proverbs 11: 26); not engaging in bribery and corruption (“oppression makes a wise man mad, and a bribe corrupts the heart”-Ecclesiastes 7:7 and Amos 5: 12); paying taxes (Mathew 22: 17-21 and Romans 13: 6-7); paying employees’ wages promptly (Deuteronomy 24: 14-15, Leviticus 19: 13 and 1 Timothy 5: 18) and avoiding false measures and fraud (Proverbs 11: 1 and 20: 10, Leviticus 19: 35).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Socio-Political Christ

The natural tendency of people is to isolate Jesus Christ as a spiritual phenomenon. However he lived as a human being within a family and society, and in a polity in which there were rulers, governors, judges, the practice of politics and the exercise of political power. Given that Jesus Christ was offered to us as a complete and comprehensive example, there must be socio-political aspects of his life from which we can draw lessons and inspiration even for these contemporary times. Easter offers us an opportunity for reflection on this intricate issue in addition to our celebrations of the death and resurrection of the author of our faith. The first thing that strikes me in the context of this discussion is that the powerful people in his society always tried to destroy Jesus Christ-and this was right from his birth, even before he uttered his first words in ministry! When Herod heard from the three wise men about the birth of someone who was “born King of the Jews”, the Bible records that he was “troubled” and devised a scheme to kill the young messiah and indeed ended up massacring innocent babies in an attempt to truncate the life of Jesus. Why would a King be “troubled” about the birth of a child, except that he immediately understood that the Kingdom foretold would threaten his power base. This opposition from the “powers-that-be” dogged Christ all through his life and indeed led to his crucifixion. What that tells me is that because darkness and light, according to scriptures are irreconcilable, a true Church which is fulfilling its divine mission will always face opposition from the kingdoms of the world. The converse of that may be that any Church which persistently receives the approbation of corrupt kings and powers must ask itself whether it is fulfilling the mission of the father! Another obvious insight from Christ’s life and work was that the focus of his ministry was the “multitude”-or what you may describe in today’s language as the “masses”! He was not unduly focused on the rich and powerful, indeed asserting that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God! He was driven by compassion for the poor, sick, broken-heated, weary, weak and vulnerable-that is why he fed the five thousand; healed the sick; raised the dead; delivered the afflicted; and restored hope to the distraught and helpless. His beatitudes is perhaps his most recognized “mission statement” and it reveals very clearly his “target audience”-“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…” If Jesus Christ lived in Nigeria today, there is no doubt who his focus will be-the 60-70 percent of our people living in poverty; the 25 percent of our people who are unemployed; the millions who can’t afford a good education, decent healthcare and the simple pleasures of life. His friends were the under-privileged-fishermen, artisans, women (in that time, women were a marginalized group), children and young people (“let the little children come unto me; for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”), despised people like tax collectors, sinners, those delivered of witchcraft (!), even the convicted thief obtained Christ’s friendship right on the crucifixion ground! Jesus famously declared that he came not to those who were upright and therefore not in need of salvation, but to the sick who needed healing. Of course the dominant theme of his life’s work was love, charity, fellowship…for him the great commandment of all was to love God with all our heart, soul and mind…and the second was to love our neighbours as ourselves! Jesus Christ would have been saddened by wars, terrorism, murders, ethnic and religious warfare and all other divisions that arise out of the absence or deficit of love. The parable of the Good Samaritan suggests that even though Christ did not necessarily seek to abolish nationalities and peoples, he envisaged the possibility of universal love and brotherhood and the prospect of peace and reconciliation between “Jews and Gentiles”! Yet as much as Jesus espoused peace and reconciliation, he was also a revolutionary and the powerful people in his time considered him a “troublemaker”! He himself declared, “Do not think I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword”! He drove out the traders and thieves from the temple; he railed against the Pharisees and other “principalities and powers” of his time; he had little patience for the hypocrisy and false piety of the religious people and was loud in his condemnation of the social, political and religious establishment. I have no doubt that if Jesus Christ suddenly emerged in Nigeria today, some of our religious elite will not recognize him and would promptly reach an alliance with the politicians to crucify him a second time! Jesus was a strong leader, though he was not a politician. People voluntarily submitted to him-John the Baptist who could have argued that he came earlier; the twelve disciples who had no apparent reason to follow an unknown carpenter; the 70; his followers; the large multitude; and through the ages to this day, the Church. The life of Jesus Christ illustrates the fact that true leadership is not based on power, wealth, or position, but influence. He taught his disciples that “whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” establishing the principle of servant leadership. He also re-inforced the concept of rule of law (“I did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it”) and instituted the separation of Church and State-“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Poverty and the Flow of Capital (2)

I have emphasized the critical role of capital as a factor of production, productivity, wealth creation and poverty reduction and stressed drawing on Hernando de Soto’s writings on “dead capital” in “The Mystery of Capital”, the negative implications of sub-optimal deployment and circulation of capital which is endemic in poor and under-developed economies. In particular in the case of Nigeria, I identified four “sectors” and one socio-cultural “force” which militate against the effective flow of capital within our economy and which in my view, are significant contributors to the phenomena of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our society. These “sectors” are government/politics-prevalent corrupt and rent-seeking nature of our polity ensures that public resources are diverted to whoever succeeds in “capturing” power thus marginalizing the poor and powerless; banks/financial system-receive deposits from rich, middle-class, average, and poor customers, but by-and-large lend only to large corporations and the (very) rich thus denying SMEs (not to mention micro enterprises) capital for building their businesses; crony capitalists/oligopolistic and monopolistic firms-charge higher prices than are economically justifiable, offer less-efficient products and services than would obtain in competitive markets and based on their alliance with or incorporation in the first group (government/politics-their initial and often sustaining profits are typically from economic rents transferred from the public sector) are beneficiaries of a prebendal, possibly fascist or even feudal political economy; and large religious organisations-receive voluntary or induced “taxes” from their members (and increasingly from government/politicians as well!) and not being established or structured to act in economically efficient manners, often spend huge resources in ways that erode the productivity of capital for instance by building inordinately large auditoria, buying fleets of expensive cars or acquiring private jets costing millions of dollars, while shirking the critical role they could play redressing social ills. The socio-cultural factor in my hypothesis are destructive aspects of culture and lifestyles that prevent capital accumulation-frittering away resources on marriages (introduction, engagement, “wine-carrying”, “alaga-ijoko”, wedding, reception, thanksgiving etc.!!!), funerals, child naming, chieftaincy, birthday and other celebrations; deploying scarce capital towards death rather than life and enterprise (a professor friend once wondered why in our society, if an unemployed young graduate asked family members to contribute N250,000 towards a business idea, he was unlikely to get any response, but double that amount would surface within days if the young man’s father were to drop dead!); investing huge resources in expensive cars and dormant houses while sometimes failing to pay children’s school fees or maintaining aged parents; our inclination to discourage local production in favour of everything foreign thus exporting not just capital, but jobs…!!! The list of our capital and (domestic) productivity destroying patterns of behavior may be in-exhaustible!!! You will notice that in all these, no one has necessarily set out to do anything sinister or evil to society-everyone is simply acting in their own selfish interest or according to “culture and tradition”. Politicians seek power and privilege; banks lend to the safest and most profitable segments of the market; businesses try to maximize profits; faith institutions seek as much donations as possible, the faithful try to live by the injunctions of their faith; and our people are caught in a culture more suited to traditional pre-metropolitan societies while living in 21st century internet age economies! What we lack are visionary leaders who can transform culture and society like Lee Kuan Yew did to Singaporean society substituting an ethos of excellence and productivity for old Confucian fatalism and docility; and institutions that can moderate behavior in manners defined by an enlightened sense of common good. I have already hinted at what I think the solutions should be. Government should define as its primary responsibility the protection of the poor and helpless rather than the rich and powerful, who in any event are well-placed to protect themselves. We need a fundamental paradigm shift in politics and government that places the welfare of ordinary people at the centre of policy. Economic success would in such a paradigm be measured in terms of human development, poverty reduction, life expectancy, quality of public education and not just growth in gross domestic product and our politics and government must become more egalitarian and less-prebendal! I would advocate a self-regulatory policy by banks and other financial institutions that undertakes to channel as a minimum whatever percentage of their deposits is sourced from MSMEs back into credits to such enterprises while eliminating prohibitive transaction charges against small or retail customers. As I mentioned in the earlier instalment, we need a robust competition and anti-trust law and policy regime to roll-back the emergence of oligopolies and monopolies across economic sectors and ensure that our markets are fair and competitive. Religious institutions will continue to receive funding from adherents. But those responsible for appropriating those resources must become socially sensitive and economically savvy, and this is consistent with their duty to God and man, as they are indeed trustees of societies’ “talents” and must manage them in a manner that makes economic sense and is socially responsible. I will like to see religious organisations setting up microfinance banks, venture capital and private equity funds, technical and skill acquisition centres, industrial parks, technology-incubation centres, universities of science and technology, polytechnics, schools and hospitals such that they become agents of social justice, economic productivity, equality, opportunity and egalitarianism rather than allies of a corrupt, uncaring and oppressive state.

Poverty and the Flow of Capital

My recent three-part series, “Why Nigerians are Poor” was an attempt to distill my thoughts on poverty, unemployment and inequality over the past several years for the benefit of policy makers and the general public. I continue today with a focus on another aspect of Nigerian poverty-our sub-optimal deployment of capital and how it perpetuates endemic poverty in our society. Hernando de Soto in his seminal book, “The Mystery of Capital” emphasized the central role that capital plays in economic productivity and development noting that “great classical economists such as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed that capital was the engine that powered the market economy…the principal part of the economic whole” quoting Smith to the effect that “capital was to be the magic that would enhance productivity and create surplus value”. He argued that “the lifeblood of capitalism is not the internet or fast-food franchises. It is capital. Only capital provides the means to support specialization and the production and exchange of assets in the expanded markets. It is capital that is the source of increasing productivity and therefore the wealth of nations”. De Soto worried about “dead capital”-“assets that cannot be used to their fullest” i.e. capital that is not optimally active and productive and estimated that about $9.3trillion (as at 2000) dead capital lay in real estate held but not backed by legal title owned by the poor in third world (Nigeria included) and former communist economies. Other manifestations of dead capital cited by him include agricultural crops not backed by deeds and businesses not supported by incorporation and limited liability. As I reflected on de Soto’s concerns over the years, I have recognized that Nigeria has a worse problem with capital than he conceived in his book! We have four socio-economic “sectors” which capture capital and prevent its optimum deployment to generate economic productivity, create wealth and alleviate poverty. These are government and politics; banks and the financial system; crony capitalists/monopolies and oligopolies; and religious institutions. There is a fifth “force” which destroys capital and that is our culture and lifestyle. I will examine each of these in turn. Government in Nigeria is not primarily a system of offering social services to the citizenry, especially the poor. It does not by-and-large provide security for the common man; and it fails to prevent breach of its laws, especially by the rich, strong and powerful. In short, Nigeria’s governments do not perform, at least not successfully, the critical functions for which governments and thus politics were established. Instead politics is essentially a vehicle for seeking capture of state resources which are obtained primarily from extractive resources. It is not a co-incidence that the richest Nigerians are present, past or “present-continuous” office holders and their friends, agents and associates. Nigeria’s corruption is offensive not just because it denies the public services and infrastructure, but because it subverts the flow of capital, putting enormous resources in the hands of a few, who then hide those resources in physical, monetary or other assets within or outside the country, turning resources which should have generated wealth for all into essentially “dead capital”!!! The Banks lend money of course and in theory circulate capital-the problem is who or what they lend to! They lend to government in form of treasury bills to fund government operations (recall what happens to government resources discussed above); and to big corporations, multi-millionaires and billionaires, shutting out small and medium enterprises from the asset side of the financial sector even though their deposits are a significant component of the liability side. With this cycle of exclusion, it is not at all a mystery that Nigeria has created billionaires in units and poverty in hundreds of millions!!! This defective structure of capital (mis)allocation is compounded by our practice of crony capitalism! Our most successful businesses are in reality an extension of the phenomenon of state capture earlier highlighted. Crony capitalism (which tends to result in the creation of monopolies and oligopolies) is not based on economic competitiveness, but transfers of economic rents from government to its cronies in the private sector. The poor then suffer a “double-whammy”-publicly-owned resources are cornered by a few entrenching their poverty; and the emerging uncompetitive market structures mean they pay more for goods and services! The solution is to enact a robust competition law and policy regime!!! Finally much as I am reluctant to say this, the economic reality is that big religious institutions secure huge financial and other assets (in effect taxes on their members) which are often deployed in ways that erode economic productivity and therefore entrench poverty and deprivation. I understand of course that people must fulfil the financial obligations of their faith, but it is important that religious leaders are socially sensitive in deploying such accumulated capital. What is wrong for instance if such groups request their chapters to set up universities, polytechnics, secondary and primary schools, hospitals, hospices, technical and skills acquisition schools etc. in large numbers such that the social value of their activities offsets the economic cost of sequestered capital! Then we have destructive aspects of culture that destroy capital formation-excessive amounts spent on weddings, funerals and other celebrations, even by the poor; the tendency to consume foreign-made items whether food, football clubs, holidays, clothes, education, medical treatment, furniture, wine and spirits, and shoes! A huge amount of capital would be released for wealth creation and economic productivity if we reform many aspects of our lifestyles!!!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Strong Delusion

“And for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie”. There is a vast difference between faith and delusion, by literal or linguistic meaning and scriptural implication, even though the concepts may be scientifically proximate being both phenomenon that involve belief and occur in the minds and souls of men. My pocket Webster’s Dictionary defines faith as “belief without evidence, confidence; trust, belief in God, the Bible etc, a specific religion, anything given adherence or credence…allegiance; faithfulness” and delusion as “the act of deluding or the state of being deluded, a false, irrational and persistent belief” (to delude being “to mislead the mind or judgment of; deceive”). According to the Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible, the basic meaning of faith or “pistis” is primarily “firm persuasion” in relation to “faith in the (invisible) God or Christ or things spiritual” as distinct from “faith” in man. The word implies trust, trustworthiness, fidelity and assurance, with its elements being firm conviction of truth; personal surrender; and conduct inspired by such surrender. On the other hand, delude or delusion is defined as “to reason amiss”, wrong opinion and/or error in religion or morals. The meeting point of faith and delusion may thus be that where faith is unfounded, erroneous, false or even contrived, it may be actually delusional! The other point as may be discernible from my initial quote is that God himself may “send them” delusions! When Paul (with Silas and Timothy) wrote the second epistle to the Thessalonians, they started with thanksgiving and prayer for the Thessalonians growing faith and love, and the suffering and persecution they were enduring for the faith. Paul declared that “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled” and then warned them against some false teachers who had come to deceive the Church with wrong theology concerning the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, before providing an explanation for the conduct of the deceiving preachers and those they were successfully deceiving-because they refused to love the truth, “God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie”!!! I suspect that many today live in delusion (and captivity and oppression) rather than faith! I may of course add the clarification that I refer only to faith in the invisible God rather than in men, mammon or religion!!! In Biblical times, when God’s children had serious reproach in their lives, they put on sackcloth and wailed in the temple before God, and he always answered them. Today many utter empty words-“it is well”, “God is good”, “I am blessed” even as it is evident that they are not confronting their real issues before the true God. A brother or sister may be afflicted with poverty and lack, but instead of asking God for a fundamental intervention in his condition and changing his behavior, he develops a theology of poverty (just as prosperity is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessings, poverty is not necessarily evidence of righteousness!) and engages in “holy” begging. A sister is unmarried and over 40-there is something wrong-spiritually and with her character and behavior, but instead of making required adjustments, she is the loudest in Church and an evangelist on social media. Many are denied the fruit of the womb and instead of following the examples of valiant and faithful women like Hannah, Elisabeth, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, etc whom God answered and removed their reproach, they invent an alternative theology and rationalize their oppression and denial. Many’s dreams are frustrated and they attend Churches wondering when their problems will be resolved, but instead their problems are multiplied, while their Pastors boast to them daily of the blessings of God in their own lives. And the sorrowful child of God waits and waits… Someone told me of a conversation that was a classic example of gross delusion, three “brothers” engaged in “holy” gossip about someone whose marriage they alleged was in trouble. Knowing the three, I wondered about their locus standi-one in his second marriage after divorce; another’s marriage was childless after over two decades, a medical case of confirmed impotence and depression; the third also in a second marriage, after widowhood, and in the habit of boasting how God took away his deceased first wife with his permission!!! The three regularly speak excellent “Christianese” and continue in their delusions! God’s truth is evident and clear in the scriptures-when people refuse to believe those simple, unchanging truths, God allows them to believe in lies! According to Prophet Isaiah, God says “Just as they have chosen their own ways …so will I choose their delusions, and bring their fears on them; Because, when I called, no one answered”. There are examples concerning idolatry and homosexuality-Paul wrote to the Romans disparaging those who refused to glorify God instead worshipping images of men, birds, animals and reptiles “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness” and allowed them to worship and serve “the creature rather than the Creator”; and those who “God gave them up unto vile affections” whereupon men lusted after men, and women after women! For those of us who are neither idolaters nor homosexuals, we may of course note that down the passage, other categories of reprobation were mentioned-wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless…may God have mercy on us all!!!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Divine Healing

I have usually written on faith and spirituality around Christmas and Easter (and other times) but the last two Wednesdays of 2013 fell on Christmas and New Year days, public holidays on which this newspaper does not publish. This piece was deferred from then. From the earliest of times, God had proclaimed himself as healer-“…for I am the LORD that healeth thee”; David sang in in the Psalms of a God “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases”; and Prophet Isaiah wrote “Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound”. When Jehovah sent Isaiah to inform Hezekiah to set his house in order in preparation for death, when he prayed and wept before the Lord, God healed him and added 15 years to his life. God closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham’s wife, but when Abraham prayed, God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children. Jeremiah the Old Testament Prophet acknowledged God’s healing power when he wrote “Heal me, Oh Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for thou art my praise” One of the earliest descriptions of Jesus Christ’s ministry was one of teaching, preaching and healing-“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.” At this time, Jesus had only called four out of the twelve disciples. He then called another four and resumed his healing mission-“And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news (Gospel) of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every weakness and infirmity among the people” So he healed the leper; the Centurion’s servant; Peter’s mother-in-law; the man with palsy (paralytic); the ruler’s daughter, the sick multitude; the woman with the issue of blood; the daughter of the Canaanite woman; the two blind men; and many others recorded and unrecorded. Why was healing so important to the Trinity? Because “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” for while evil (which Jesus characterized as thieves) come to steal, kill and destroy, he seeks to restore and heal-“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”. The New Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language defines “life” as “the state of an organism characterized by certain processes or abilities that include metabolism, growth, reproduction and response”-the implication being that where these processes and abilities are lacking or constrained as tends to happen in a state of ill-health, life is circumscribed! The same dictionary links “abundance” with “richness, plenty” and “abundant” with “plentiful, copious”-evidently it is not likely that someone in poor health can have abundant life in the sense in which God and Jesus Christ intends that we should. And so when Jesus saw people suffering ill-health and therefore lacking the abundant life God wishes for his children, he had compassion on them and healed them. It was that compassion that drove Christ’s healing ministry. The scriptures confirm in numerous instances how Jesus Christ’s healing was motivated by compassion-“And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick…” (Mathew 14:14); Jesus himself proclaimed “…I have compassion on the multitude” (Mathew 15: 32); and when he encountered two blind men in Mathew 20: 29-34, the Bible records that “So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him…” Apart from the compassion which Jesus had for the sick and vulnerable (today’s Church seems to have stronger compassion for the rich, strong and powerful!), there was usually another element often present anytime Jesus healed, this time in the recipient of healing-faith. So the leper declared “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean”; the Centurion asked Jesus to “speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed”; in relation to the healing of the paralytic, “…and Jesus seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy; son be of good cheer”; the ruler who sought healing for his daughter declared “my daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live”; the woman with the issue of blood said, “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole”; and speaking to the Canaanite woman, Jesus himself proclaimed “…O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour” Compassion seems often lacking in conventional Nigerian healthcare-when doctors proceed seemingly whimsically on strike; when hospitals refuse treatment to accident or gunshot victims without police reports; or when the sick (and dying) are turned away, for lack of money.