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God is slow to anger and abundant in mercy

By Femi Aribisala

The Lord has forgiven me! No wonder, one of his names is “the God-who-forgives.”

The Lord sent me on an errand. He asked me to go and talk to an old man about Christ. I can never say “no” to the Lord, but I dragged and dragged my feet. I had known the man all my life and felt it would be presumptuous for little me to preach to him. As I dilly-dallied, I was informed he was seriously ill in hospital. Then I became afraid. What if he died?

Cost of disobedience

The Lord said to Ezekiel: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 3:18).

To be frank, I did not remember this scripture at the time. But I rationalised that God must have known about my reticence beforehand and would have sent a more receptive person to the old man as a backup. I kept on this debate until the man died. Then I knew I was in trouble. I became overwhelmed that such enormous responsibility was laid on my weak shoulders.

I then realised I could not fathom the depth of the love of Christ. The good shepherd comes down from heaven in search of one lost sheep. He searches night and day over the hills and the valleys nonstop until he is found. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Why was it so difficult for me to be like him?

Covenant with death

The more the details emerged about the old man’s death, the more grievous my disobedience became. I was told he had a covenant with death. There was apparently a ring on his finger that was a “death-repellent.” As a result, he spent months in a coma. Finally, his son came to see him and he removed the ring from his finger. When he did, the man reportedly died immediately with a snarl on his face.

I cannot vouch for the veracity of this account, but I know for a fact that people actually make covenants with death. As a matter of fact, God talks reprovingly of this in the scriptures. (Isaiah 28:15-18). But why would anyone make a covenant with death? It only shows complete lack of wisdom because death can never guarantee life.

There is a popular folktale of the scorpion and the tortoise. The scorpion begs the tortoise to carry him on his back across the river. “Are you nuts?” exclaimed the tortoise. “If I do that you will sting me while I’m swimming across and I will drown.” “My dear tortoise,” exclaimed the scorpion. “Why would I do such a stupid thing? If I sting you and you drown, I will drown with you. Now what would be the point of that?”

The tortoise saw reason with the scorpion and agreed to carry him on his back. However, halfway across the river, the scorpion gave the tortoise a big sting. As they both started to sink to the bottom of the river, the tortoise asked the scorpion in bewilderment: “But why did you do that? Now both of us are going to drown.” “I couldn’t help it,” the scorpion replied sadly. “It’s in my nature.”

It is in the nature of death to kill. Indeed, death is the only thing death can guarantee. Therefore, those who make a covenant with death are foolish. The only person that can guarantee life is Jesus. Jesus says: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10).

God says from his throne of mercy: “Your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand.” (Isaiah 28:18). Therefore, he sent me to raise the old man back to life. But, as a latter-day Jonah, instead of going to Nineveh, I took a boat and headed for Tarshish.

Fruits of repentance

I carried the burden of the old man’s death on a business trip to New York. I went to Kings Plaza in Flatbush, one of the major shopping centres, and sat down for a burger in one of the fast-food shops. It was time to have a serious heart-to-heart with God. I apologised for my disobedience and for my insensitivity. I pleaded that I was just too afraid to talk to the old man, but my fears could not justify my disobedience.

It was one long monologue. The Lord said nothing in reply. As I got up to leave, I remembered that I always have difficulty getting a taxi back to Canarsie every time I came to King’s Plaza. So I asked the Lord: “Could you please help me get a taxi?”

As I came out of the fast food and turned right, the Lord finally spoke. He said: “Femi, turn left.”

I turned left to discover the swing glass doors leading outside were actually there. Immediately I pushed them and walked outside, I was surprised to find a man sitting in a car, some ten metres away, beckoning to me. I looked behind me, to make sure he was not calling someone else. But he pointed to me, indicating I was the one he was calling.

When I got to him, I leaned through the car window, wondering what he wanted. “Where do you want to go?” the man asked. It was only then I realised he was a mini-cab driver. “I am going to Canarsie,” I replied. “Hop in,” he said.

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Forgiven

I could not believe it. I asked the Lord for a taxi and I did not even have to hail one. The driver was the one who called me. I smiled in astonishment all the way to Carnasie. The Lord has forgiven me! No wonder, one of his names in the Old Testament is “the God-who-forgives.” (Psalm 99:8).

The next day, I took another taxi, headed for a completely different destination. Suddenly, I closed my eyes and started praising God. I said to him: “Daddy, you are such a wonderful person. I disobeyed you, and yet you readily forgave me. I asked you for a taxi and you made the mini-cab driver beckon to me. You are just too much.”

Suddenly, the Lord said to me: “Femi, open your eyes and look up.” When I did, I could not believe what I saw.

I was in the taxi at the exact same spot at which the mini-cab driver had beckoned to me the day before. There was a traffic-jam and we were at a stand-still. To my right were the swing glass-doors of the Kings Plaza where I had exited the previous day. Don’t ask me how we got there because I have absolutely no idea.

“Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, his favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:4-5).

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