By JESUTEGA ONOKPASA
About a quarter of a century ago, while Femi Aribisala’s wife, Karen, was my teacher at the University of Lagos, a colleague of mine came to me and self-importantly announced: “God made all things; sin is a thing; therefore, God made sin.” I asked him whether he had ever heard of a thing called a spaceship and another called space travel, and whether God made either.
Then I asked him if his car had been made by God and since the exhaust fumes from an automobile is also a ‘thing’, I asked him if God made exhaust fumes too and indeed, made car accidents as well, since there is such a thing as ‘car accident’ known to man.
I further asked him if indeed, it was God who made cars, since cars are ‘things’, and that if there had been no cars in the world; if there were cars but no one bothered to drive them; if indeed, they were driven but no one ever made a mistake on the road, no car ever developed a fault or some other factor didn’t intervene, whether such a thing as ‘car accident’ would exist, the creation of which we could then judiciously attribute to God! Needless to say, by this time the fellow was gaping at me, quite vacant as the assertion “God made all things; sin is a thing; therefore, God made sin” is completely meaningless!
While this fellow was not at all a favourite of mine at the time and I have neither seen nor heard from him for more than two decades, Dr. Aribisala, on the other hand, is a true favourite of mine, easily my preferred pastor (even though I am proudly and eternally Catholic) and certainly the Nigerian preacher I have the most respect for. Yet, my attitude to Aribisala is a most complex one and relies on an approach solidly anchored on the intellectual maturity that enables us to hold on to the good in our fellowmen without discounting the bad; allowing the bad to deface the good; or, relying on the good to gloss over the bad.
Thus my assessment of Aribisala is that he is indeed a committed child of God with a deep and abiding passion for the Divine and as such, always a prime target of the Devil, just like every single one of God’s children. As such, while I have encountered some truly divinely inspired insights in Aribisala’s perspectives on God, I have, while taking them to heart, nevertheless come to an understanding of his more outlandish assertions regarding the Divine and Holy Writ as the product of flaws associated with inadequacies that are intellectual, sentimental and indeed spiritual, residing in him.
Thus while in many of his articles, the divine inspiration is almost palpable, in others, such as his rather unfortunate vituperations against Saint Paul (a man that God, Himself, waylaid, apprehended and took into custody on the way to Damascus; whom God later took up into Heaven and brought down again; and, who, amongst the servants of the Christ, is the greatest contributor to the spread and establishment of Christianity), his theological inadequacies are clearly exposed.
Quite apart from the fact that his psychological makeup renders him a rather exuberant fellow with all the pitfalls and drawbacks pertaining thereto, Aribisala’s problem is also one that arises from a Christian experience, still in its infancy. This should not be a surprise at all for the things of the spirit have little to do with the age of the individual or indeed the amount of time in which he or she might have been a Christian. Spiritual understanding, while capable of being aided by scriptural study, meditation and indeed, the sheer age of the individual is ultimately not at all dependent on the effort of the Bible scholar.
The knowledge of God comes to the Christian entirely as a gift from the Holy Spirit in whose exclusive jurisdiction reside initiation into the mysteries of God. Therefore, where a cleric with even as much as half a century of deep and sustained theological training and study might end up moping with regards to a knotty question pertaining to the word of God, a mere teenager, favoured by Heaven, will stand there delivering an awesome exposition of Divine knowledge (Mathew 13, Luke 2:46).
My father, B. E, Onokpasa was born in 1928 but was converted to Christianity about a decade later by a gentleman called Paul Todo, the first man of my village to become a Christian. Much later, in the late fifties and early sixties, when my father was already a university graduate, he would often turn to Paul Todo for interpretations of biblical verses that tested him.
Since Paul Todo was illiterate, my father would read and translate the verse into Urhobo for Todo to even hear it in the first place! Then Todo would offer his perspective as to its meaning. My father, suspicious that an illiterate man might not be able to adequately interpret the Bible would often later relay Todo’s interpretation to a priest or even the Bishop of Warri at the time. In absolutely every instance, they either completely agreed with Paul Todo’s interpretation or indeed declared it to be better than their own understanding of the verse!
Dr. Aribisala, unlike my father’s mentor, Paul Todo, is a well read man. Nevertheless, any psychologist reading through his pieces will, with the compliment of the trained eye, immediately encounter the profuse exuberance and single-minded haste rushing through his thought processes and conclusions. Aribisala is a man who encounters what is clear to him is a signal from God and allows himself to be swept along with it, having not yet grown into the spiritual maturity that compels the seasoned Christian and the adept theologian to unyieldingly insist on subjecting every such idea to unrelenting interrogation. Theologians might come by an idea pertaining to the Divine, ruminate on it for years, indeed decades, and before ever publicising it, would have disseminated it to their peers for vetting and validation first.
To suggest that God created the Devil as an evil being and not as a good angel who of his own volition turned rogue and fell into the status of an infernally evil opposite of what he had been, is to attribute the one feat that God is incapable of achieving to Him: God simply lacks the capacity to create that which is not good. Hence, at every milestone during His epic of creation, he stands back, assesses the work of His Hands and sees that it is indeed good and to His taste (Genesis 1:31).
Now, that God cannot create evil is not any detraction from his omnipotence and ability to do all things. Evil and indeed, everything not good are not things capable of being created but always arise as a perversion of a pre-existing thing which God created and created good. Thus, when it is said that God can do all things it is meant that He can only do all things good for good is all that is capable of being done, evil being the undoing of good!
Of course the idea that God created evil as a device by which His children should come to appreciate good is utter nonsense and is without logical or scriptural basis. Indeed, this is one of the most deplorable claims I have ever encountered from Aribisala! Apart from refuting the Fall of Man bulwark of Christian thought, it also calls into question the merit of Christ in saving us.
In any case, good is good on its own and of itself just as sugar is sweet by itself and does not have to rely on the bitterness of bitter cola to prove its sweetness. Similarly, the birth of your child is a joyous occasion in and of itself and your neighbour’s son does not have to have just died for you to be spurred into celebrating your daughter’s birthday. This is of course quite apart from the fact that the notion of God being responsible for the origin of wickedness and evil would thereby elevate evil to the status of an original principle and therefore integral to God who is all good and can never be diluted or tainted by evil.
Furthermore, fingering God as the culprit as to the ultimate source of evil actually puts the very idea of the existence of good into question! Good and evil are not opposites at all. Only good originally exists and evil is merely derived and created once there is a perversion of, or a deviation from the good.
Once anything happens in the universe that is inconsistent with the will of God, evil is thereby and therein immediately birthed. Indeed, by failing to grasp this most fundamental picture of the nature of spiritual reality, I am rather quite perplexed and compelled to wonder whether Aribisala is in any spiritual condition or intellectual position to pontificate in the self-assured style and manner he is fond of.
Moreover, the biblical verses Aribisala relies on for his surprising assertions are clearly poorly understood by him. Every mature Christian realises that the words in the Bible that are to be relied on as the word of God are the words of Christ, Himself, quoted in the first person and even at that, only to the extent to which such words may be taken as reasonably emanating from Him. Everything else in the Bible is not the word of God until and unless it has been tested against the words of the Christ and is found to be consistent with it.
The Bible is a most interesting book. When Moses began what was effectively his patriarchal career (even though he is technically classified as a prophet) in Egypt, he found his newly discovered people, the Hebrews, to be a rather difficult bunch to lead even by the example of onerously self-denying servant-leadership.
Once when he happened to kill one of their Egyptian oppressors in the course of protecting them, they labelled him a murderer. In spite of the incomparable feats he achieved, leading them across the desert, they consistently undermined his position, questioned his leadership, challenged his authority and altogether addressed themselves to him as if he was their chief tormentor rather than the gallant and benevolent saviour God had sent to their rescue in answer to their lamentational supplications through generations of servitude under the merciless yoke of the Egyptians!
This is what led to the mosaic tradition of attributing law-giving to God rather than to man with Moses and the prophets after him preferring to quote God in the first person as handing down the jumble of laws and traditions that crystallised into Judaism, having realised that their spiritual wards would never obey the law or take the words of their prophets to heart unless they perceived them to have directly and indeed, in specie, emanated from God, Himself! Thus, when much later, some people came to Jesus, challenging him on the question of proper divorce, He responded by attributing the law to Moses and thus by implication, not to God, before effectively invalidating it upon His authority as the Son of God and therefore Almighty God (Mark 10:5)!
What is the Holy Book of Christians is not the entire Bible at all but essentially only the New Testament and anything in the Old Testament must be consistent with the New and further with the culture of Christ for it to qualify as part of the word of God.
Thus when in the Old testament, it is said: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven…” (Psalm 32:1), this is clearly the word of God for it is consistent with the messianic office of Jesus and the restorative faculty of the Holy Spirit. However, when in another Psalm, it is said: “Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little children against the stones…” (Psalm 137:9) not only is this NOT the word of God but, because it trumpets a sentiment that is in fact diametrically and irretrievably opposed to the nature of God as exemplified in the culture of Christ, it is written off by true children of God as a diabolical perversion from the pit of Hell, itself! While engaging fellow Christians as a brother that has attained the degree of teacher, Aribisala, must as a matter of course know this.
Unlike what Aribisala apparently envisages, God is not a control freak. Indeed, unlike what many baby Christians assert, God is also not a dictator but is in fact, a fanatical democrat totally devoid of any despotic tendencies. God does not command us; he invites us to the banquet. When we aggrandise ourselves and subordinate the will of God to our preferences instead of submitting ourselves to Him, God does not punish us; our sins merely operate to extricate us from the embrace of the Holy Spirit and thus exposed, we become meat for the Devil!
When we oppose ourselves to God, God does not fight back; it is nature itself that rebels against us, aghast that we rebelled against such a Presence as benevolent as The Great Provider! In practice, our relationship with God is not a top to bottom vertical configuration but in truth, a horizontal interface in which He comes down to our level to the extent to which a Jacob could, in desperation, wrestle with Him (Genesis 32:22-32) or elevates us to His environs whereby He might say to us “Come let us reason together”(Isaiah 1:18).
By creating us with free will, God equips us with agency and it is for the purpose of being able to align ourselves with Him in such manner that being free not to do so, we earn merit when we say yes to Him.
In such a reality, it is enough for evil to immediately arise once we reject God or howsoever distance ourselves from Him and it is not necessary for evil to have pre-existed the misapplication of free will with evil as an original entity more or less contemporaneous with God!
Any suggestion to the contrary is rather rascally and had Aribisala applied himself with greater rigour and due diligence to his philosophy and logic, he would not, on account of biblical verses that no settled Christian or worthy scholar takes literally, have come to conclusions that effectively fuse light and darkness (which can never meet) into a self-contradictory unity (Matthew 12:22-28). As for attributing everything that happens in this world to God, that is probably some other religion; it is certainly not Christianity!
Had God created the Devil as a dastardly evil Satan and not as an originally awesomely noble and good Lucifer, God would have denied him free will, withheld agency from him, and rendered him an automaton, indeed, a mere robot, neither capable of merit nor liable to blame. Unfortunately, similar inconsistencies regularly rear up their heads in Aribisala’s writings.
One I found to be particularly distressing was an assertion in one of the more lamentable servings in his Vanguard column in which he had rather pontifically proclaimed that he loves his wife Karen, not because of herself but merely accidentally as an expression of what is essentially his love of God. Of course this is utter nonsense when measured against the culture of Christ for the will of God is actually the very and exact opposite; it is only if he loves Karen in and of herself, and with absolutely no reference to God that Aribisala can then say he actually loves God (1 John 4:20)!
Over the years, Dr. Femi Aribisala has written many fine articles to the glory of God. Along the way, he has also written several that are of little utility to the Christian and quite a few capable of leading astray.
Yet, going forward, I shall continue to read Aribisala for a man must not be perfect to be considered a child of God or inspired by the Holy Spirit. At any rate, and thanks to God, I am mature enough to isolate the good, the bad and the ugly in his writings. The article ‘God is responsible for all the evil in the world’ is not just one of the bad articles of Aribisala but probably the very worst and for such a fine gentleman as Aribisala, it is a rather ugly article, indeed.
My parting advice to Aribisala will be that he should realise that as someone focused on God, and just like all who dearly love the Lord, he will always be a favourite target of Satan, yet arguably more so since he occupies a niche in which he disseminates the gospel potentially to millions on a regular basis. For that reason, he must be especially watchful against pride, one of the greatest enemies of the Christian.
Onokpasa, a lawyer, wrote from Warri.