Another Type Of Japa – By Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer
Our attention is being called to the “Japa syndrome” in which Nigerians, especially the young, in large numbers and out of frustration, exit Nigeria to look for greener pastures outside the shores of Nigeria. But there is another symptom of the syndrome. That is when some persons exit this valley of distress by commit suicide.
For two consecutive Sundays, I was one of a panel of discussants put together by veteran radio host, Soni Irabor. His radio talk show, Soni Irabor Live, is broadcast every Sunday at 2pm on Inspiration FM. The topic being discussed was suicide. It’s either the rate of suicide in our society is on the increase or our society is only beginning to notice that some people are frustrated to the point of wanting to japa to the beyond.
Without justifying suicide, we cannot but say there is more than enough to make some people to want to end it all. Many are going through intense personal crisis living in a land of intense social crisis. For some, the pain of life has become unbearable.
Someone remarked recently that it seems life is all about pain, and that the Christian life in particular is all about pain. While populist preaching is telling us that if you are Christian, if you are a child of God all is well with you, the hard fact of life is that good men and women, good Christians included, do experience great pain.
Christians profess their faith in the Gospel, in the good news preached by Jesus, the good news that is Jesus himself. Christians have a mission to bear witness to this good news. Each of the four canonical Gospels ends with Jesus giving a command to his disciples to go out to the whole world to bear witness to this good news. But can Christians bear witness to the good news while they themselves undergo pain?
The Gospel is not an opium, a make-believe pain relieving tablet. In fact, at the heart of the Gospel is the narrative of suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of God. The good news the Gospel offers is that suffering and death do not have the final say.
We live in distress. But, even in the midst of this distress, the reign of God, the conquest of evil has begun. For now, life, as St Augustine would say, is a contention between the city of God founded in and regulated by love of God, and the city of gods founded in and regulated by disordered self-love. The Gospel is the good news of the reign of God in the midst of human distress, as the Synoptics would say. It is the the good news that light shines in the dark but darkness cannot comprehend it, as John would say in the Gospel that shall soon be read at Mass on Christmas Day. As we enter the season of Advent this week, the scriptures will be teaching us that history is moving to the final manifestation of the triumph of light over darkness, of love over hatred.
For now, we long for peace. But the peace for which we long is to be attained in the eternal Sabbath, in the everlasting felicity in which we shall rest in God if we now allow God to work in us. For now, our existence can be likened to good seeds and the bad seeds growing together on a field till the harvest. The experiences we go through in life are like a haul of good fish and bad fish. At the end of a day of fishing, the fishermen will do the separation. There is pain now. But peace begins now even in the midst of existential contestation. We shall know the fullness of peace at the end of time. Perfect peace is an eschatological gift. The season of Advent is a season of expectation of this perfect peace
Isaiah, the prophet of Advent, had the privilege of seeing this. And what he saw he expresses in the words of the First Reading on the First Sunday of Advent. For Isaiah, “God will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples; these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not life sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.” But this can only happen in the lives of individuals and nations when they walk in the light of the Lord, when they allow the God of Jacob to teach them his ways that they may walk in his paths.
It is easy for people to say that with material prosperity comes the end of the frustration that leads many to suicide. But having lived part of my formative life and some of the early years of my priestly life and ministry in a part of the world that is sometimes referred to as “countries of abundance”, I know those who live there also go through distress. It is seen in addiction to pleasures of drinks, drugs, sex, suicide. Despite material prosperity, they experience what someone has aptly described as “metaphysical homelessness” of nihilism.
It is quite possible to have more than enough bread and still be haunted by the emptiness of hedonism. Hedonism offers a false promise and jilts the human person. But the emptiness of hedonism can make one see the importance of God, the importance of his word, the importance of his sacraments, of the Church, and of priestly ministry.
Unfortunately, history shows that there are priests who don’t behave ourselves, and who, by their clerical misconduct, conceal the good news that the Gospel is. Watery homilies, sexual misconduct, clerical arrogance, treating the laity with disdain, these show that we priests too are wounded by original sin and are prone to sin. But the mercy of God triumphs over the mystery of iniquity. That is the good news. In the mystery of his love, God had ordained that the efficacy and sufficiency of his grace is not dependent on the spiritual and moral condition of the priest.
No place in the world is settled. Neither the global north with all its prosperity, nor the global south with its material poverty. Their problems may be different. But the global village in which we live propagates the doctrine of metaphysical homelessness through social media. Particularly, sex and the instinct of consumption without boundaries are symptoms of this generalised distress, and many citizens of the global south are not insulated from this ideology of believing that happiness is to be found in the maximization of production and consumption.
Some societies preach the doctrine of sexual repression. But that is not effective either. Repressed sexual emotions find expression in violence. At a time ancient Greeks were at war, Plato and Aristotle philosophized not on the need to repress emotions but on the need for wise discipline of emotions. Without wise discipline of emotions, we either become harsh or hedonistic, and that will bring war.
Peace is hard to achieve because human distress is primarily interior. That is why our desire for peace is very much dependent on our willingness to cultivate a rich interior life, willingness to allow our spiritual and moral life to be nourished. We can manage our tendency to sin through virtue, good laws, and grace. That is the good news in the midst of our human distress.
For now, humanity groans. The whole of humanity groans in the groans of the suffering and crucified Son of God until the eschatological, “It is finished”. But even as we groan, we rise with him if we are in union with him.
For now, we contend with our sinfulness and the sinfulness of others, finding consolation in divine mercy, in God’s love for us in spite of our sins.
For now, life is a gift and a burden. We overcome the burden and enjoy the gift when we enjoy God who is love. We overcome the burden in the midst of friends whose love show us that God is love, friends who show us by their love that the love of God as the love of our best friend.
© Father (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale, OP, was pioneer Vice-Chancellor of Dominican University, Ibadan, Nigeria.