Boko Haram is not just the enemy of Christians; it is the enemy of every peace-loving Nigerian.
Jesus says we can identify his disciples by their fruits. (Matthew 7:20). He then says the fruits of a man are his words. (Luke 6:43-45). So here is a sure-fire way of determining the true disciple. Step on his toes and see what he has to say. Give him a slap and listen to what comes out of his mouth. That is the value of Boko Haram attacks for Nigerian Christians. How we respond separates the wheat from the chaff. Those calling for retaliation are enemies of the cross of Christ. They are the tares the enemy planted at night among the wheat. Those calling for restraints are the true sons of God.
God calls Nebuchadnezzar his servant. (Jeremiah 25:9). Similarly, the Boko Haram must be seen as “servants” of God. God is using them to determine those who will enter into the blessings of his kingdom. God’s blessings are not only extraordinary; his means of determining the recipients are peculiar. Jesus says: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10-12).
Jesus foresaw the Boko Haram attacks and warned Christians about them. He said: “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.” (John 16:1-4). Therefore, the challenge of Boko Haram is in determining whether Nigerian Christians will be made to stumble, or whether we will remember the words of Jesus and be guided accordingly. (Matthew 13:18-23).
We have to decide whether to follow Jesus or follow Christian leaders like Dr. Sunday Mbang, former Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, and former President of CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria), who said: “If they kill Christians in their own part of the country and we kill them in our side of the country, nobody should blame anybody.” “Buy the truth and sell it not.” (Proverbs 23:23). The Lord will blame us all. Reverend Philip Mwelbish, Head of CAN in Plateau State, also said: “We have a proverb in Nigeria: if you push a goat to the wall, he will bite you. They’ve pushed us to the wall.” Someone needs to tell the Right Reverend he is wrong. Christ’s disciples are not “goats;” they are “sheep.” (Matthew 25:31-46).
We have to decide whether to follow Jesus or follow the leadership of Bishop Ayo Oritsejafor, National President of CAN, who called on Nigerian Christians to defend themselves against Boko Haram attacks. That is wrong. Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39).
The kingdom of God is not of this world; therefore Christians must not fight back. The life Jesus gives is spiritual and not temporal. That means it does not need armed protection for it cannot be lost by physical death. Boko Haram bombs and bullets cannot kill. The only thing that kills is sin. War, even when fought in self-defense, represents the triumph of sin over righteousness in believers. Win or lose, spiritual death is the result.
Jesus warns: “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24). He says furthermore: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). Therefore, CAN or no CAN, no true disciple of Jesus should heed any bogus call to arms.
Nigerian Christians have to decide whether to follow Jesus or follow Pastor Enoch Adeboye of Redeemed Church who, instead of praying for the Boko Haram, declared spiritual warfare on them. Adeboye even prayed that, “before the end of this month, all the problems of Nigeria would be over.” However, we know from Jesus, the Good Pastor, that some problems are tonic for the soul.
Public prayers in street-corners are not going to eradicate Nigeria’s problems overnight, if at all. To live for Christ is to expect and embrace affliction. Jesus says: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). James adds: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12).
Nigerian Christians also have to decide whether to follow Jesus or follow Bishop David Oyedepo of Winners Chapel who encourages his congregation to curse their enemies. He said: “I decree mysterious death in the camp of the Boko Haram sect in Jesus’ name.” However, it is life, and not death, that is decreed in Jesus’ name.
On the cross, Jesus even prayed for the forgiveness of his murderers. He enjoins us to follow his example: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45).
In times like these, Christians need to remember that God creates goodness out of evil. He brings life out of death. Therefore, the architects of Boko Haram are going to be confounded. In the same way the killing of Jesus resulted in his glorious resurrection, so also will Boko Haram attacks on Christians result in blessings for Nigeria.
Indeed, the attacks are already fostering solidarity between Christians and Moslems in the North like never before. Responding to the crisis, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, said: “What is going on is a conflict between evil people and good people. The good people are more than the evil ones. So the good people must come together to defeat the evil ones and that is the message.”
Boko Haram is not just the enemy of Christians; it is the enemy of every peace-loving Nigerian. For this reason, the attacks on Christians have provoked Moslems in the North to even greater righteousness. For example, the former FCT Minister, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai, appealed on Twitter to Moslem youths to: “form rings of protection around all churches in the 19 northern states and FCT, Abuja during Sunday service.”
In Minna, Niger State, Moslem youths formed groups to guard churches during Sunday services. Their leader, Gimba Kakanda, said: “We are protecting our fellow Christian brothers and sisters to show the world that our leaders cannot use religion to divide us.” In Kano, Moslems, under the leadership of Salihu Tanko, formed a group called “Concerned Citizens of Kano” to reach out in support of aggrieved Christians. They visit churches, giving speeches of friendship and solidarity. Clearly, this outpouring of love and compassion is not what the Boko Haram intended.
Joseph said to his brothers who sold him as a slave to Egypt only to discover he became the country’s Prime-Minister: “You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20).