Bassey Ubong @ St. Stephen’s African Church Cathedral, Uyo. April 2019
Jesus of Nazareth was a philosopher of the realist school of thought, a school identified more with Aristotle of Greece. Realism looks at life ‘the way it is’ rather than ‘the way it should be’ which is the preoccupation of idealist philosophers led by Plato of Greece. Realists are also pragmatists.
The Encarta dictionary published in 2020 defines tribulation as great difficulty or affliction or distress. Of Latin origin (tribulare) which means afflict or press or rub, tribulation in Ibibio worldview can be likened to rain which falls on every roof when it visits any community. Individuals, families, groups, and nations experience difficulties associated with their economies, health, emotions, and other forms of deprivations which can range from the mild to the existential such as wars, pestilence, pogrom, earthquake, famine, economic crunch, and so on. The key issue lies in management which implies deemphasis on why individuals and groups should experience tribulation.
A second consideration lies on tenure of a negative event. Tribulations go or expire with the passage of time with bearable effects if managed with wisdom and care.
In the Old Testament the classic and most quoted case of tribulation relates to Job. Job’s ability to rise above the various tragedies of his life depended on the way and manner he handled the different crises in his life.
In the New Testament, the encounters of Jesus of Nazareth represent another classic case of tribulation.. From the knowledge that torture and crucifixion were realities in His life which must have generated tension, uncertainty, and dread in the human part of Him, through denial by His most trusted aide and betrayal by His treasurer and disciple, to trial, condemnation, mockery, torture, and eventual crucifixion, Jesus had more than His fair share of tribulations.
Some thinkers believe no human being can go through life without facing tribulations, or as some people term it, a “journey through the wilderness.” The wilderness (or harsh terrain) come in various forms and ways and lasts for varied periods. For instance Israelites passed through various difficulties for forty years during the Exodus.
The primary issue for consideration in this piece relates to the way people manage their journeys through the wilderness or situations of turbulence. We put forward some models here.
1. The Ostrich Model – the African Ostrich is recorded as the largest extant land bird. It has a long, slender neck and a massive body which ends with two powerful legs of which a well-aimed kick can kill a lion. But when it feels vulnerable such as when a pride of lions attack, it hides its head in the sand and leaves its massive body to be preyed on by the predators. Individuals, groups, and nations can be the ostrich. When someone or group runs away from tribulation the concept of ostrich applies. The worrisome part has to do with exposure of self to destruction. This model of management of tribulation should be seen as defeatist.
2. The Barricade Model – in some instances when people, groups, and nations experience tribulation they shut themselves away from the world. Sometimes the individuals and groups may stop sources of help from reaching them. The current government in Venezuela does this to a large extent. Several people stay away from family, friends, associates, and religious groups and hide themselves to nurse their wounds alone. This is also a defeatist model which could generate more tribulations including depression.
3. The Easy-Way-Out Model – someone who faces difficulty may take to alcohol to ‘drown’ the thoughts of the tribulation. The fall-out could be health problems including incurable diseases such as liver cirrhosis and cancer. Other people go for quick fixes such as patronage of juju priests or miracle workers. The idea of dependence on quick fixes which generate future demands for disastrous sacrifices are well known.
Imagine people who take the easy way out by way of suicide. Such persons commit crime against God, society, and self. This should always be made known so as to discourage intending suicides. Suicide is a fatalistic model which no child of God should give a thought to.
4. The Bull-by the-Horns Model – there are persons who dare tribulation sometimes in a violent way. They rely on their personal abilities and resources. This model appears to be better provided extremes are avoided. The case of Brexit in Britain fits into this model. The Prime Minister at the time, Mrs. Theresa May believed she could face both her Parliament and European Union as a person. She realized her mistake and involved the opposition party but as the curtain drew to a close she lost.
5. Divine Mandate Model – this may be a political slogan but it is a common sense approach to handling knotty situations. The individual or group experiencing tribulation must first realize the existence of a problem. The next level is to recognize that the most permanent and long-term easier approach to managing tribulation is the divine. Here faith – however it is defined or explained – must be brought into the field of play with works as an indispensable member of the playing team.
The ‘Passion’ of Jesus can be applied here as a case study. To understand the argument we assume the person involved as a composite of two natures – human and divine. The divine component without doubt had full consciousness of the impending string of tribulations while the human component based on religious authority as documented by the prophets for centuries, knew of the tribulations to come. While the divine component was prepared (“the spirit is willing,” Matthew 26 verse 41a), the human component objected and faltered (“but the flesh is weak” Matthew 26 verse 41b). The human component requested reprieve (“Let this cup pass from me” – Matthew 26 verse 39a) but bearing in mind the divine mandate model, Jesus surrendered the final decision to God the Father (“Not as I will, but as You will” – Matthew 26 verse 39b). If Jesus had decided to use the bull-by-horn model, He would have decreed angels from heaven to come in with flaming swords to take Him away from the war front when Judas handed Him to the hangmen (Matthew 26 verse 53) but He succumbed to the will of the Father. One should ask followers of Christ today why they do not allow Christ to assist them to handle tribulations more so scripture says “The battle is the Lords” (2 Chronicle 20 verse 15) and in Exodus 14 verse 13 God said to His children, “Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will shew to you today for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever” (THB, KJV).
When tribulations come both faith and works should be employed but in the final analysis, the will of God should take precedence, reason? Some tribulations may prepare individuals and groups for greater assignments and greater achievements. Can there be a greater story of tribulation to jubilation than that of Joseph? From a dungeon in a desert to the palace in Egypt, from slave to Prime Minister, from an outcast to maker of history. Jesus the Christ rose from the status of an outcast at Calvary to the King of Kings and Lord of lords and most talked about and celebrated and venerated of all human beings throughout history. Can one think of the possibility of such glory if He had not travelled the way of the Cross?
Which model of tribulation management should one adopt? Is it the one which multiplies tribulations in the long run although easier at the beginning? Suppose tribulation is part of the divine master plan for someone’s life which like the way to the cross may lead to the actualization of a glorious destiny (Matthew 26 verse 54)? The choice sits before us like a hungry cat with barred fangs. Which model should the individual/group adopt? May the good Lord guide each person and each group in the choice of an acceptable model to adopt.