In January, the Nigerian Punch columnist Azuka Onwuka wrote a thoughtful piece entitled: “While businesses struggle, churches and bar boom.” In this article Onwuka asked a profound question “why are churches and bars booming at a time businesses are hurting and dying?”
One of the things that he attributed to this trend is people’s pursuit after hope. He writes, Churches are ubiquitous because other denominations are following suit with the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s vision of having its church branches at close proximities to its worshippers, people gravitate to churches to hear messages that instill hope in them in the midst of their pervasive hopelessness. Onwuka further explained that the exponential growth in the bars is also inextricably linked to the culture of frustration, helplessness, and hopelessness in Nigeria.
While I tend to agree with Onwuka’s conclusions, I want to add my own: churches and bars are both skilled in numbing peoples’ pain. (To make myself clear, this is certainly not all churches in Nigeria, but those who preach a shallow Gospel that offers hope and requires no responsibility on the part of the hearer.) Both institutions are certificated experts at offering fake consolation in desperate times. According to the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the most catastrophic place for a person to go in times of sorrow is the bar because of its tendency to dull people’s pain. Nietzsche was also against Christianity for the same reason because he believed that the typical church sermon can make a person feel so good that they forget about their troubles temporarily only to be confronted with them later. For Nietzsche to come to this conclusion is an indicator that he was responding to something taking place in his own culture in the 19th century.
Likewise, there is something occurring in Nigeria that causes me to respond similarly. When Nigeria gained her independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1960, though there were not many churches, Nigeria could boast in its strong moral code and value system. Now that there is nearly a church on every street corner, one would think that it would translate into a greater sense of morality and genuine love for God. Instead, what we now have is endemic corruption in political and spiritual places, immorality at its peak, unethical behaviors and the list goes on.
Churches are charged with the task to improve the world with the hope of Jesus Christ and what He accomplished for humanity. However, many have joined forces with establishments in the world to give people a false sense of security in order to gain their trust, and inevitably their pocket book. Churches in Nigeria are no different. Pastors preach the prosperity gospel of health, wealth, and other material blessings. Yet at the end of the day, when the high from the sermon wears off, people find that they are neither prosperous nor filled with the truth of the gospel.
Is there a better way?
Give people Jesus, the authentic Jesus. The Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. The Jesus who also calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. The Jesus who gives us hope in this life and in the next. The Jesus who calls us to suffer for Him. The Jesus who said that in this world we would have trouble and experience all kind of persecution for His name sake. The Jesus who didn’t even have a place to lay His head at night and was born in a manger. The Jesus who went to hell and conquered it for our sake. The Jesus who sometimes allows us to experience hell on earth for his name sake and the furtherance of the gospel.
This Jesus greatly contrasts with the caricature of Jesus that many churches in Nigeria preach. One offers an illusion of happiness, the other unspeakable joy that cannot be broken even in the midst of extreme pain, difficulty and heartache. Should we chose the latter, maybe people would stop hanging out in bars after all.