I do not intend to answer that question. It is even beyond the scope of this column. It is one of the philosophical questions that philosophers have, over the years, devoted much attention to. Being a philosophical question, it does not admit of easy solution. Needless to say, therefore, that there have been as many verdicts on it as there are philosophers. The question is posed advisedly. It is only being used here to draw attention to one of God’s mysterious ways that have continued to defy human understanding.
I am constrained to reflect along this line, having read and listened to various accounts of what transpired at St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, Anambra State, where worshippers were murdered in cold blood five days ago. What I find striking in the accounts was that the gunmen (or is it gunman?) opened fire when the worshippers were saying or about to say “Prayer of the Faithful.” For Catholics, this is one of the most important moments in the celebration of the Holy Mass. Why did God allow the murderers to strike at this crucial moment? Why did he allow at all the massacre of the faithful who had come to worship in his temple? Humans are bound to pose questions such as these. They are bound to ask God why.
It is situations such as this that have brought philosophers and thinkers at loggerheads with the mysteries that surround human existence. They have been decidedly at war with the religious indoctrination, which counsels the faithful to trust and obey. The faithful are only asked to believe. They should not ask probing questions.
Edward Morgan Forster, the Irish novelist, rejected this religious indoctrination when he declared that he does not believe in belief. He asked God to help his unbelief. Forster was not comfortable with the doctrine of belief because, in believing, you have to suspend logic and common sense. Forster said he would rather do away with belief than be uncritical in his analysis and dissection of issues bordering on God and human existence.
If Thomas Hardy, the English novelist and poet, were to be alive, he would package what happened in Ozubulu as an evidence that man is alone in the universe. He would have argued that those who are looking up to a saviour are wasting their time. He would have told us that, if God created man, He must have forgotten him in the universe. This is because the basis of survival is hardly there. For Hardy, therefore, man is inhabiting a blighted star.
If we rely on our human understanding, we would all be students of Forster and Hardy. We would not just believe. We would ask why; why those who stepped out to pray to God were cut down rudely. Why did God not offer them protection? How do human beings comprehend the fact that they are not safe even in the presence of God? Questions such as these, we are meant to believe, can only be answered by those who do not believe. If you believe, you know that there is a purpose for everything. We cannot, therefore, query God. He knows, as William Golding, English novelist, playwright and poet, would tell us, why things are what they are. As the Omniscient One, God knew ahead of time that a massacre was going to take place in Ozubulu. Yet he did not prevent it from happening. This is what worries the likes of Hardy. Why did God permit this evil? They are bound to ask this question.
Situations such as this worry the faithful. Significantly, those who were cut down at Ozubulu were saying the prayer of the faithful. If we are children of belief, we would just take it that the victims of the massacre are already in heaven. We would say that God called them home at the right time. God called them at the moment of spiritual purification. That moment in the celebration of the Mass is a moment of devotion. It is a moment of reflection. It is the time for those who are not in a state of grace to strive to be in the mood to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ on whose command the Mass is being celebrated. For us humans, it is the most inauspicious time for any form of distraction. But it happened at Ozubulu. The piety of that moment was disrupted. But nothing ever distracts those who believe. They will always give all honour and glory to God, regardless of what happens. It is only those who do not believe, those who do not have faith, that will question the will of God concerning the Ozubulu massacre.
But if we decide to worry less about what God did or decided not to do at Ozubulu, we cannot but turn attention at some point to the state of security in the land. Killings in places of worship have become commonplace. They are now routine. Nigerians were shocked to the marrow when the phenomenon was still new in the country. St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, readily comes to mind here. On Christmas Day in 2011, the church was blown up by Islamist terrorists. Scores of lives were lost. There was outrage in the land. Sacrilege had taken place. The temple of God had been violated. Then the nagging question propped up. Why did God permit this evil? Nobody had any answer. The faithful cannot question God. They have to continue to trust and obey.
As it turned out, the St. Theresa incident did not end up as an isolated case. The terrorists had gone on rampage. They continued to ravage places of worship. On one occasion in Mubi, Adamawa State, gunmen opened fire through the window, killing many worshippers in a church. The incident was so telling that Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, held then that when you have got a situation where a bunch of people can go into a place and open fire through the windows, you have reached a certain dismal watershed in the life of that nation. But this time, they did not open fire through the windows. They walked right into the church. This is desecration of the first order.
That is the situation in the land. Soyinka’s dreaded dismal watershed is here with us.
Unfortunately, this has a very destructive effect on our devotion in places of worship. The way things stand, people will be going to church feeling afraid. Some will even stop going to church on account of this. Places of worship are no playgrounds. They are no recreation centres. People go to church because they want to get closer to God. Going to places of worship, strictly speaking, is about spirituality. But when you begin to entertain in your mind that death is lurking in the shadows, then you are bound to lose concentration. When this happens, the essence of going to church is defeated. This is part of the problem. If we begin to live in fear to the extent that we will be afraid to go to church, our problems as a people will be compounded. Government and religious organisations must step in at this point. The times have changed. They must put security measures in place to protect worshippers. We cannot take certain things for granted anymore.