Nigeria has been in the news quite frequently due to the kidnapping of over 200 girls by an Islamic militant group called “Boko Haram” which literally means means “Western Education is Sin.” I recently asked my grandfather about the roots of Nigeria’s current ethnic and religious strife. My grandfather worked for the State department for over 30 years and spent much of his time in Africa.
I’ll start by quoting him on Nigeria’s present crisis being rooted in ill-conceived borders established through colonialism, and then I’ll proceed to make some comments in regards to how the gospel of the Kingdom is Africa’s sole hope for tribalism and strife.
My grandfather explained that, “In the case of Nigeria, the continent’s most populous land, the political problem has its roots in colonialism. The British colonized ‘all the lands drained by the Niger River’. Not really but almost, and made them into a single colony for administrative purposes. They really represent three separate countries. Islamic North, Christian South and Christian East. On Independence African countries faced this problem, and jointly decided too much blood would need to be spilled if they tried to reset borders, so they kept the colonial, unreal, borders.”
Interestingly, Nigeria’s current issues related to imposed borders from colonial times almost seems to mirror some current Middle East issues that stem from how the land was carved up and allotted. I don’t think the Kurds and the Sunnis (or the Shiites) will ever see themselves as a homogenized Iraqi citizenry no matter what map lumps them together.
This touches on a critical fact endemic to human nature. The stiffest borders are in the heart and it is where our hatred for all things different stews. I think this is why the “Kingdom of God” as Jesus preached it (and as Christians often fail to live it) is the only hope for a world that habitually seeks to dig the trenches between ourselves deeper and wider. In that sense I’m of the opinion that one of the most powerful verses in the Bible is Colossians 3:10-12:
“And put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–a renewal in which there is no distinction between Gentile and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Only the Creator and Lord of life can take a heart of stone and infuse it with compassion, kindness and gentleness towards one’s perceived “enemy.” I almost find it amusing that Paul mentions the “Scythians” who in the 1st century were the most hated of all the Barbarians threatening the Roman empire. It is almost as if Paul was trying to think of the most extreme example a skeptic could come up with: “Surely not the Scythians? Surely we have a right to hate them! Surely we have a right to harbor animosity towards them?”
“Nope–not even the Scythians,” Paul would say.
Of course in my opinion having a Jesus-inspired Kingdom ethic founded on self-sacrificial love rather than swords and treating former enemies as one’s “neighbor” is impossible in the natural. It is just not in our “DNA.” As Paul implies it requires a “new self renewed in knowledge according to the One who created him.” In that sense it goes back to why Jesus said, “Unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom” (John 3:3). It is not easy seek the Kingdom above all else, but it is worth it. Yet whenever the Church considers it not worth it to “pray for your enemies, bless those who curse you and do good to those that hate you” (Mt. 5:44) simply because it’s not easy, we stop mirroring our professed Savior and start manifesting Caesar. We end up with Crusades and Inquisitions instead of Christ crucified.
The way of the cross or the way of Caesar, it was a choice Christ made that surprised the first disciples and still surprises us today. Every generation desperately needs to head the words of 1 John 1:1, “Whoever claims to live in him, must walk as Jesus walked.”