By Julius Ogunro
At 82, Pele has lived an eventful life, one full of honor, admiration, and respect. It’s the kind of life men would choose had they the chance to determine their fate. So as he comes to the end of his life, it is fitting and proper that he does so with grace and dignity. The decision therefore to commit him to a hospice where he will receive palliative care is the right one. The man needs to rest and mentally prepare for the end, and not be exposed to invasive surgery and experimental medicine to seek an elusive cure for the multiple diseases plaguing him. At least in the hospice, he can be surrounded by friends and family who can provide him with loving attention as he makes his way toward the departure lounge.
His situation reminds me of another patriarch who was also at the end stage of his life. I saw Michael Ibru, the patriarch of the Ibru family, in the Christ Embassy Church in Lagos I used to attend around 2011/12. He was in a bad shape and shuffling desperately to his seat as the service was about to commence. He was alone and obvious that he had suffered a stroke. He was around 82 years old at that time, a very sick old man.
I mentioned this experience to my friend who attends the Mountain of Fire Church. He told me that he had seen him too in his own church in similar circumstances. It was then that it hit me. The man was shopping for a miracle from one Pentecostal church to another! I could not get my head around it. Here was a man at the sunset of life, that was successful in all forms and shapes, who had influenced his siblings to start up several thriving conglomerates in all sectors of the economy, and yet was such in a sorry shape in public and perhaps had become a pawn for unscrupulous religious leaders!
How could his family have allowed him to go through such public humiliation? Didn’t they know that death is an inevitable end to life and there is a time to thrive and a time to die? Why should an over-80-year-old man not spend the last days of his life surrounded by friends and family but be shopping for a miracle from one church to another in the most degrading manner? Didn’t he and his family know better and truly believe that he can be healed and thus get a new lease on life?
In the end, whatever ailed Ibru got the better of him as he died at a medical facility in the United States on September 6, 2016. He was 85.
This attitude mirrors that of the average Nigerian Pentecostal towards death and sickness. Unlike the more established and orthodox churches that have evolved and have thus adopted a more pragmatic attitude towards sickness and death, the Pentecostals, who mostly hold a literal interpretation of the bible, appear to think that both can be resisted and defeated at will.
Their fundamentalism is expressed in phrases such as ‘there is nothing God cannot do and the ‘spiritual controls the physical.’ If you truly believe that there is nothing impossible before God (even death in old age) and that the spiritual is superior to the physical and material world, you are likely to reject any prognosis by doctors about one’s time coming to an end and hold on to the claims of your faith despite contrary evidence. You will tend to be unrealistic and hold on to the promise of healing despite the metastasize of a stage-4 cancer and possibly deny yourself the last comforting moments with your family.
I find this attitude to be mystifying and somewhat ironic. The Bible which is the sacred text for Christians is suffused with passages about the inevitability of death and the vagaries of life. ‘’There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…”, according to a passage in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Furthermore, the Bible contains generous assurances to faithful Christians when they die. Jesus promised his followers crowns of victory and big mansions in heaven, which is described as a place of joy, health, and peace for all eternity. This contrasts sharply with our world which is plagued by sickness, war, and finally death. By clinging desperately to life even at old age when one’s life mission is complete, don’t these Christians unwittingly demonstrate unbelief in the promises of their own faith?
In conclusion, I believe faith can be a good thing and a powerful tool for a peaceful, productive, and stable life. In the end stage of life, it can provide the warmth, comfort, and strength to confront the inevitability of death. It shouldn’t make us unreasonable and hold on desperately to life. To do so is not to express faith but unbelief.