Presumptuous Sins (3)
‘Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression.’ Psalm 19:12-13 (NKJV).
HAVING received this knowledge, I knew that we have no right to criticise any church or religion in any way’ … Very special people with important missions have been placed in all countries, in all religions, in every station of life, that they might touch others’ (Betty J. Eadie, 1992)
In What is A Man: 3000 Years of Wisdom on the Art of Manly Virtue edited by Waller R. Newell (2000) is a story titled, “Was a Time When Our Forefathers Owned This Great Island’ in which the native American leader Chief Red Jacket is recorded to educate a group of Christian preachers on the validity of the religion of his people as well as the idea of a God – ordained variety in Creation. Red Jacket said to the white men who came to convert his people to their different denominations of the same faith:
‘Brother, you say there is but one-way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you all can read the book?
‘Brother, we do not understand these things: we are told that your religion was given to your forefathers, and has been handed down from father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us; it teaches us to be thankful for all favours received, to love each other, and to be united: we never quarrel about religion.
‘Brother the Great Spirit made us all: but He has made a great difference between His white and His red children: He has given us different complexions and different customs. To you He has given the arts; to these He has not opened our eyes. Since He has made so great a difference us in other things, why may He not have given us a different religion? The Great Spirit does right: He knows what is best for His children…’ (cf: Romans 12: 3-6; 1Cor. 12: 4-30).
I believe that on such belief- based issues as culture, politics and religion, no one should claim to occupy the pedestal of superiority. The Yoruba people say that ‘Bi a se nse ni ile wa, eewo i’bomiran’ meaning that the custom of a certain place is an abomination elsewhere. For example, some people regularly consume cow meat – including the ponmo – and with gusto to boot. Elsewhere, they revere cows as holy animals. Some people consider lizard a delicacy, others do of dog meat; but some other people will not even think of it.
In the realm of political culture, we see that it is presumptuous, arrogant, and prejudicial of the quality and efficacy of other political systems to assume that one size -say western-type liberal democracy-fits – all peoples on earth. It is presumptuous to think that every man who takes an oath of office will abide by it. No, for as the Greek tragic dramatist Aeschylus said, ‘It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath’. It is presumptuous – and in fact erroneous- to hold that Africa is a dark continent and Africans are primitive. If, for a moment, we could grant credibility to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, pray, who designed and used the first tools (technological devices) and where? Africans did in Africa. Who developed agriculture and domesticated animals? Africans did in Africa. And it is from these fundaments that subsequent achievements derived. Isaac Newton, a great scientist but neither presumptuous nor arrogant, admitted that ‘if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. Indeed, if these had not been done, early man would not have survived starvation and many dangers of the environment to be able to migrate over time to other continents. In sum, there would have been no human race at all.
Presumptuousness can be dangerous, as an example from everyday occurrence shows. To presume – as many road users do – that the other driver will slow down or stop for you can result in a collision and all the attendant inconveniences.
Presumption – read prejudgment – can be erroneous on the one hand and costly on the other hand. Consider, for example, the expectation of the complainant in parable of the workers that were paid equal fees even though they worked for different numbers of hours (Matt. 20:16). Prejudice from an attitude of pre-judgment can be costly. By their ‘unbelief’, (‘Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary…’) the people of Jesus’ hometown denied themselves the miracles that He could have wrought for them ‘and He could not do mighty work there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them’ (Mark 6:1-6) NKJV. I would in the Book of Job go so far as to accuse Job’s friends – Eliphaz the Ternamite, Bildad the Shunamite, and Zophar the Naamite, of ‘presumptuous sin’ by their wrong deduction from and conclusion in respect of Job’s situation (Job 4-11). It is no wonder that God chided them (42:7-8).
Presumptuousness can yield the unexpected and disappoint the one who is presumptuous. Consider the case of the early Church of which Prof. Henry Chadwick was quoted in the September, 2012 edition of Awake! to write that ‘the expansion of the Church seemed an extraordinary chain of improbabilities. Nothing could have been less likely to succeed by any ordinary standard of expectation…Persecution, so far from driving the Church underground, had the opposite effect [such that as unlettered, ordinary people of fled from their oppressors, they took Christ’s message to new areas]’ (Acts 8:1-5). Think about the brief but bold and articulate speech of Peter, an uneducated fisherman, to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8-12); take the conversion of a certain persecutor of Christians called Saul to a prosecutor of the faith called Paul (Acts 9); Consider that the Jews, to whom the gospel were first preached rejected- and still largely reject it whereas, in fulfillment of the Great Commission, the West took Christianity and ‘ran with it’. See how, lately, Africans are literally taking the faith back to their teachers in the West. It is easy to presume that each of these situations could not possibly yield their respective outcomes. Paradox, it seems to me, rules the affairs of men. But, I should also add, only because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts nor are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
It is presumptuous to expect – as prosperity preachers claim – that the Christian will necessarily be blessed with great material wealth, good health, and other good things of life that every one wishes. I am not aware that God promises any man a problem-free life – not even Job, ‘a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil’ had it (Job 1: 8). And apart from, Job, not even His beloved Son, Jesus Christ was saved the peculiar challenges that were key to the completeness of his earthly assignment. The point should be made though that indeed, God blesses His beloved in myriad ways; but not necessarily in the way each person may desire. The Christian’s is blessed in any of countless ways that God deems appropriate – moral wealth, spiritual wealth, intellectual wealth, material wealth, leadership qualities, courage, even the gift of intuition. The challenge is to want what God wants for us, key into it and reap from its abundance.
These notwithstanding, the man of faith will face life’s vicissitudes like any other human creature of God. But we are assured no one will be allowed a burden beyond him, and by His grace and our cooperation, the believer will survive and triumph, here and beyond here (1 Peter 1:7; 4:12-13).
It is presumptuous to think that godliness resides only in a ‘financially prosperous’ church, one that is focused more on material growth (things seen), than on spiritual prosperity (things not seen); that the size of the congregation or the size and sophistication – gadgetry and other dazzling devices – of the Church house – signs of what Norman Franz (2001) calls the Nimrod Spirit in Money and Wealth Transfer in the New Millennium, is evidence the presence of God (cf: Mat 6:5-8; 16-18). Conversely, it is prejudicial to think that a financially poor pastor or a small congregation indicate the absence of God and His blessings. After all, when he lived, how materially wealthy was the Master, Jesus and how numerically large was His congregation? It is presumptuous to think that clamorous, noisy prayer and a merriment style of worship indicate religious fervour; that, every Church leaders is righteous and possesses oracular authority; that all pastors are truly called and anointed to serve in the vineyard of the Lord; that everyone present in a Church service worships in spirit and in truth. It is presumptuous to think that every devotee of religion lives by that ubiquitous Golden Rule. It is presumptuous that anyone outside a particular faith will go to Hell. On the contrary, the Most High, we learn in 1 Sam. 16:7 and Jer. 17:10 considers not outward appearances.
Presumptuousness precludes forgiveness – or should I say – it encourages the Spirit of Unforgiveness for the reason that the presumptuous one has his mind conclusively made up on the matter. This being so, if he reads his Bible well, the presumptuous person should not expect to receive forgiveness for The Lord’s Prayer states inter alia: ‘forgive us our debts, As we have forgiven those who are in debt to us ’ (Mat 6:12) (TJB).
• TO BE CONTINUED
•The original version of this paper was presented at the monthly Surulere Prayer Breakfast Meeting.
• Mr. Onaiyekan is a Visiting member of Editorial Board of The Guardian.