This a continuation of our last post on the recent religious crises in Nigeria. As you can see from the title, our preoccupation in this post is to briefly look at what the Bible says about what should be the attitude of a Christian to his neighbors. So, this post will basically be addressing Nigerian Christians (as well as those in similar situation world over) with the aim of giving an evangelical voice to the incessant Muslism-Christian unrest in Nigeria.
One important thing Christians in Nigeria must realize is the fact that God is aware of the presence of other religions in our World and especially in Nigeria. Religious diversity has lived throughout the ages and this according to Mbillah, “is not without the knowledge of God”. The argument here is not to say that God is responsible for these religious diversities but the fact remains that the existence of these diversities is definitely not without his knowledge. The understanding of the above should lead us to two theological facts that should drastically changed Christians’ attitude to the Muslims in Nigeria. One, Christians must always bear in mind that human being are created in God’s image- the imago Dei When God says, “let us make man in our likeness” (Genesis 1: 26), the meaning is that God plans to make a creature similar to himself. The main issue here is that, all human beings are made in the image of God irrespective of the religious beliefs and practices. Grudem argues that, “God created us in his image for his glory and so, our purpose in life is to glorify him.” Any disregard to this arrangement is violation of divine order. Therefore, respect and sanctity for human life must always be maintained. Any Christian involvement in violence with Muslims as a way of revenge, or for whatever reason is definitely acting against the purpose of God for mankind. Thus, the image of God in humanity is critical to our understanding of what makes us human and its implications should inspire us and set the parameters for our view of all humanity. Secondly, another issue that should change Christian’s attitude toward the Muslims in Nigeria is the issue of general revelation. This implies that “God has given us enough general revelation to condemn us of our sins but not enough to save us”. Christians must learn to understand that God has revealed himself in many ways to mankind and Islam must be seen and regarded as one of these ways. In fact, the Bible itself teaches God reveals Himself to men generally, in nature, in history, and in their moral consciousness (Psalms 19; Romans 1). If the Christians in Nigeria have this background in mind, their attitude will change for the positive even towards our neighbors or any human being for that matter.
Thus says the Lord:
- The Bible warns that “evil should not be repay with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). The Circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross and that of Stephen in the early Church set us an example (John 19; Acts 7: 54-60). In the two instances, never was violence employed by the early Christians to fight back or to avenge the evil done the Church. Rather they submitted everything to God. The early Christians drew even enemies of the Cross to Christ by their good dispositions toward them. According to John Stott,
Stephen’s martyrdom later had a great deal of influence on Saul and it supplemented the influence of Paul’s teaching. Not only did it deeply impress Saul of Tarsus, and contribute to his conversion which led to his becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles, but it also occasioned ‘a great persecution’ which led to the scattering of the disciples throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).
- The Bible makes it clear that God abhors violence (Gen.6:11, 13; Mal. 2:16). He instructs us to avoid it and turn from it: “Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right (Ezek. 45:9; see also Jer. 22:3). Jesus pronounced specific blessings on those who bring an end to violence, saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt.5:9). Yusufu Turaki corroborates this truth when he says, “human beings tent to meet violence with violence, sword with sword, and evil with evil. But violence cannot be addressed on its own terms.” Turaki noted further that “the Bible recognizes this when it speaks of someone’s violence coming ‘down upon his own head’ (Psalm 7:16) and it states that all who draw sword, will die by sword’ ” (Matt. 26:52).
- By contrast, Jesus calls on us to meet violence with peace (Romans 12:17-21), sword with forgiveness, evil with good (Luke 6:27-31), and wrath with love. Jesus and his disciples modeled non-violence by not retaliating when they suffered violence (1 Pet. 2: 20-24). Turaki argues further that,
Jesus’ approach to violence was based on his knowledge of the nature of God, as the sovereign judge and ruler, and on the nature of his mission. He did not fail to retaliate because he was weak but because he deliberately chose to demonstrate God’s power over human circumstances. He also dealt with the root cause of human violence, which is evil and sin. Thus he patiently endured the violence of the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Roman government until he overthrew both by his resurrection from the dead. The way of the cross brings eternal liberation and eradication of evil.
- Above all, the antidote to a retaliatory attitude is love. The Bible teaches that we should love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-36). Indeed the heart of Jesus’ teaching is love. Jesus forbids treating others spitefully but he commands us to love everyone, even our enemies. This does not mean that the Muslims are our enemies but that we have no excuse for not loving them. For Paul, loving others is the single most important characteristic of the Christian life and the heart of the Christian living. Everything one does is to be an expression of love (1 Cor. 16:14). When Christians in Nigeria allow the love of Christ to prevail in their hearts, they will soon realize it is the best way to cub Christian-Muslim crises in the society. Besides, the role of the Holy Spirit in the maintaining peace and order between Muslims and Christians in Abuja cannot be over emphasized (Acts 10:1-48).
- Nigerian Christians must realize that to prevent future occurrence of face-off between them and the Muslims much is expected of them. According to Paul Martinson, “successful encounter requires genuine interest in the other person, willingness and ability to share information about oneself and one’s traditions, and openness to being questioned. Of course the most important ingredient is to accept and treat the other person as an individual on equal terms: as a person with a personal history, with personal hopes and expectations, with personal fears and hurts.”
In our next post, we shall attempt to offer recommendations from our experiences on this topic towards achieving peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, before we change our gear to another area of interest in African Christianity.
Please note that the picture inserted was culled from: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=266744645810
 Johnson Mbillah, “Interfaith Relations in Africa” From the Cross to the Crescent: A PROCMURA Occasional Paper 1, 1 (2004): 1-4.
 The Latin phrase imago Dei means “image of God” and is sometimes used in theological discussions in place of the English phrase “image of God.”
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 442-4.
 Grudem, 441.
 Erickson J. Millard, Introducing Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 170.
 John G. Stackhouse Jr., “Afterword: An Agenda for Evangelical Theology of Religions.” No Other Gods Before Me? Evangelicals and the Challenge of World Religions, ed. John G. Stackhouse, Jr., 189-201. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.
 H.D. McDonald, “Revelation” In The New Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J.D. Douglas et al., 843. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.
 John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 143.
 Yusufu Turaki, “violence” In Africa Bible Commentary, ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo, 1043. Nairobi: WordAlive, 2006.
 Yusufu Turaki,
 Yusufu Turaki,
 Gerald F. Hawthorne et al, Dictionary of Paul’s Dictionary (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 576-577.
 Paul Varo Martinson, Islam An introduction for Christians, 17.