Truth often comes to us in unexpected circumstances. It was purely a business meeting. A sales person from one of the financial houses I have dealings with, stopped by to see me in my office. She informed me that she was my new personal banker. I had some difficulty figuring out her Muslim name and that led us to some lively banter on religion. Then she exploded with what I have always considered the true understanding of the essence of religious worship. “What matters is not your religion, whether you knock your head on the ground or you lift up your hands to heaven: what matters is truth, justice, a clear conscience before God,” or words to that effect. Her passion and insight immediately struck me as being akin to that of the man that our Lord Jesus Christ told that he was not far from the Kingdom of God. I borrowed a leaf from our Lord and told her quite categorically that I believe she was not far from the Kingdom of God.
Here is the story of the encounter the man had with Jesus from the Bible.
Mark 12:28-34 (HCSB)
28 One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which command is the most important of all?” 29 “This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 “The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no one else except Him. 33 And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more ⌊important⌋ than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to question Him any longer.
What our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ revealed here is that religious devotees can come real close to the Kingdom of God by capturing the true essence of man’s devotion to God, which is that when we love God, we must love the people we meet daily in our path of life who are our neighbours. The apostle James was one of the earliest disciples to emphasize that faith must produce good works in order to validate itself. The apostle Paul noted in his letter to the Romans that the true essence of the law of God is love.
In a society like Nigeria the public arena is full of men and women of diverse religious persuasions who must come together to build a nation under God ruled essentially by the fear of God. I have always passionately stated that what the Christian needs in the public arena is not doctrinaire religion but the testimony of a transformed life. Why brandish the Bible if you have no qualms about stealing and embezzling public funds? Why brandish the Bible if your prize can be found in money, sex and the allurements of power? We must come to the public arena with strength of character that has been nurtured by years of consistent obedience to the Lord and the teachings of the Bible. Our charge is to be living epistles in the public domain, which others can read and be drawn to our Saviour.
When it comes to nation building, we must seek out and partner with men and women of other religious persuasions who are not far from the Kingdom of God as our Lord Jesus Christ once described them. These are men and women who come to the public domain inspired and empowered by the fear of God to reveal great inner strength in the pursuit of truth and justice for all without fear or favour. They manifest hard work, patriotism, inspiring morality, integrity, discipline and the pursuit of basic freedom for all, which virtues and more help propel society in the right direction.
It would be utterly prejudicial to think that men and women of integrity with a servant spirit can only be found among one religious group alone. How often do we hear of kleptomania being a ravaging disease that is seen and felt across the religious, tribal and ethnic divide? We are witnesses to how the perennial rigging of elections has been effectively carried out under the very noses of professing adherents of various faiths.
Somebody has said that corruption has managed to do what so far has proved elusive, which is bring Nigerians together no matter their tribe or religion. Nothing else it is said has been that successful in bringing these humongous barriers down.
This is why we must admit that God is able to raise partners in the pursuit of the common good from people of diverse religious persuasions who must come together to passionately work for, freedom, justice and equity for all. The common language they speak would not be that of doctrinaire religion which is divisive, but rather the language of hard work, patriotism, freedom, truth, justice and fairness to all and for all and these have no religious colour but rather testify to the knowledge of God in the life of man in the world.
All religious zealots must be told that freedom of worship under the law is a tenet of our constitution which must be powerfully defended by men and women in authority. There must be no sacred cows. Those who desire to show how much they love their God must come into the public arena to prove it not by sermons or violence, but by works that reveal integrity, patriotism, justice, equity and the preservation of basic freedoms for all.
Anyone who truly knows God must also know that He is more than able to punish those who offend Him or violate His eternal laws. What history has revealed quite clearly is that religious wars are not often about religion nor are they about God but always about money and power. They are always conducted by partisan men and women who in their myopia seek personal or sectional advantages to the detriment of everyone.
We are called to be partners with God in the pursuit of justice and equity with godly fear in the world. We should be humble enough to admit that God must have partners who may not necessarily share our religious beliefs nor would they worship the way we do. As Christians we must seek these men and women out prayerfully and join with them to build a nation under God where no man is oppressed but where men and women are taught and encouraged to love and serve their nation with joy and pride, making sacrifices for the common good as people thirsting for the Kingdom of God. The public arena is not the place to judge the manner of the thirst after God by the individual. It is certainly the place for the individual to prove the genuineness of his or her thirst through the pursuit of what is good and acceptable before God and man.
True nationalists would always speak a common language of truth and justice for all and would strive together to uplift all their people from ignorance, poverty and disease. They would reveal a deep desire to establish a modern society that will glorify God on the earth through hard work, order, discipline, loyalty and commitment to the cause, integrity and the passionate pursuit of the common good.
Let men and women all over Nigeria who desire to partner with God for the common good arise irrespective of state, tribe or religion. Let us put the cauldron on the fire for it is time to meet and blend. Let the heat burn up our selfishness, our greed, our sins. Let us ask the great and mighty God to help us build a prosperous nation in the fear of God.