The Ministry of Reconciliation: The Kingdom Antidote to Violence
by Prof. Danny McCain, Director, Centre for Conflict Management
and Peace Studies, University of Jos
Surely there are few things if any that are more important in this world than to establish and maintain peace. This can only be done in Nigeria if we break the cycle of violence and poverty. Although I am the director of the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies at the University of Jos, the area of peacemaking is not a part of my professional training and expertise. Therefore, I am not an expert on things like violence, terrorism or banditry.
I am a theologian. I learned very early in my career that God calls people to be specialists in various things and gives to those people special insights and abilities in those areas. Since that is true, I will not attempt to approach the topic of violence and peace from the viewpoint of an expert. I will leave this up to people like my colleagues at the Centre. I will attempt to address this topic from the viewpoint of one who has spent a lifetime studying the Bible.
Four key words are used in the theme of this conference: Violence, Poverty, Terrorism and Banditry. They are all related and overlap.
- Violence is negative behavior, usually involving some kind of weapon where bodily harm is done to another person or group of persons.
- Poverty is lacking the basic necessities of life to live a meaningful life.
- Terrorism is using violence to intimidate innocent people and force them to conform to a particular ideology. Terrorism uses violence to promote a specific cause.
- Banditry is the practice of illegally taking the possessions of other people. It may be done with or without the use of weapons.
Violence, terrorism and banditry often lead to poverty but poverty can exist without any of these causes. Poverty, caused by other issues, often pushes people toward banditry and violence.
Many of the people doing the actual fighting for Boko Haram come from serious poverty. Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State of West Africa Province) often guarantee young men food which satisfies their physical needs and promises them important positions that satisfy their need for meaning and success. So poverty fuels violence, terrorism and banditry.
A world filled with violence, poverty, terrorism and violence is not the kind of world that God created. In fact, God’s original world God was the exact opposite of these things.
- It was a world filled with beauty. There was nothing in this world to disturb the splendor and attraction of that place.
- It was a world filled with abundance. Adam and Eve had all kinds of fruit and other foods and was no hunger or poverty in Eden.
- It was a world filled with peace. There was no violence or terrorism or banditry or even the kinds of disagreement that lead to such things because everyone there and everything there was in perfect harmony with God. Everything was perfectly submissive to the will of God.
The Impact of Sin
Unfortunately, we know that sin entered into that world and that sin created big problems. In fact, it created at least three kinds of problems.
First it created a breach between humans and God.
The first hint of this is when Adam and Eve heard God in the Garden, they hid themselves from him (Genesis 3:8). They knew they had disobeyed and that he would be disappointed with them. This is further illustrated when God asked Adam and Eve why they had disobeyed. This breach between God and the humans is dramatically illustrated when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden (3:23) and thus out of the presence of God.
Second, it created a breach in the human race.
At first, we see only a small hint of this. When God asked Adam whether he had eaten the forbidden fruit, Adam said “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). Here Adam is justifying his actions by blaming others. And the hardship that produced poverty and the sinful way of thinking led to the first example of violence in the world. Cain was not happy that his brothers’ gifts were accepted by God better than his own so, in a fit of anger and jealousy, he killed his brother (Genesis 4:8).
Third, it created chaos in the whole world.
As a result of this breach with God, the earth, including its environment was spoiled. God said, ‘”Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17-18). This is the kind of earth that the rest of humanity inherited from our parents. It is a world filled with misunderstanding and disagreement which often leads to jealousy, conflict and violence. Adam and Eve and their descendants had to learn to live in an atmosphere that was completely different from what God had originally planned for them. When they were driven from Eden, not only did that create hardship and poverty in the world but it encouraged violence that laid the foundation for banditry and terrorism. Thus, poverty and banditry and violence and terrorism have spread all over the world and most of us have experienced these things. This is the theological explanation of how poverty and violence and terrorism and banditry entered the world.
All of us have experienced the disruptions and distortions that took place as a result of humanity turning its back on God. In addition, most have experienced banditry, violence and terrorism.
I attended a boarding school during my secondary school years. One night we saw the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle outside our hostel. We soon learned that a teenager had come on campus to steal a part from a vehicle. He had jacked up the vehicle and was working under it to remove the part when the jack collapsed and the vehicle fell on him, crushing the life out of him. All of the students in that hostel received a sad and shocking demonstration of the serious consequences of banditry.
About 15 years ago, the university sponsored a party across the street from my house for a group of 15 students from the US who had been visiting for three weeks. The electricity was off when we returned home. We had taken some chairs from our house so several young people helped us carry them back. I was the last one to enter the house. When I did, a young man came in behind me with a gun. He first of all shot at me and then he told me to get down on the floor and kicked me in the face when I was attempting to do so. There were at least four thieves that came into my house and several more that remained outside. So I know what it is like to experience the violence of armed robbery.
I have lived in Jos since 1991 which covers the period of the five major episodes of violence that the city has experienced in the last 20 years. Some of these were a result of ethnic and political tensions but some of the bombs that exploded were placed there by religious extremist Boko Haram insurgents. So we have also experienced terrorism first-hand as well.
I am sure most of you have experienced similar things. I do not need to convince you that there is banditry, violence and terrorism in Nigeria nor do I need to convince you that this often leads to poverty.
I will now look at violence and terrorism from a Biblical and theological perspective.
This excerpt is a part of a presentation that was given by the author to the Integral Mission Consultation at the Carter Conlon Conference Center, Jos, Nigeria on 27 April 2021 with the commissioned title, “Breaking the Cycle of Violence and Poverty in Nigeria: Pathways to Overcoming Terrorism and Banditry.” Look out for the next part!
Professor Danny McCain is an Africa Study Bible contributor and a true champion of God’s Word through African Eyes. Learn more about this incredible biblical resource on this link:https://bit.ly/Africa-Study-Bible-about
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