Discipline and the sextape imbroglio: The divine-human angle
Roughly, a week ago, the socio-media was literally on fire because of a leaked videoed sex. Nigerians are great news connoisseurs, paradoxically of salacious news that make ears tinkle, and they like to be the “first to comment”, as our iconic Wole Soyinka once wittingly quipped. I have always struggled not to be the “first”, “last” or “in-between” to comment, but not this time. I read many of the comments and preachments with amazement and a certain measure of bemusement. They sound so Nigerian where everyone is a counsellor, a judge, a preacher, a Bible puncher and a theologian. The authorities in Babcock University have been pilloried as “insensitive”, “callous”, “unforgiving” and “unloving”. Those word pictures do not paint a loving mosaic. But curiously, the operating word in the angst many expressed is “love” – that word laden with emotions. No wonder, I could detect a tinge of emotion as some lashed at the University and apportioned blame for failing to demonstrate unremitting love in the way the unnamed student’s case was handled. For many, rather than wield the big stick and expel the young lady who could not express her libido in a socially acceptable manner, the university authorities should have preached a little more love. Afterall, what is the gospel all about? Is it not to love the unlovable? Since so many of the commentators have elected to ventilate their views, using the Bible as a basis for their theological and ethical homily, I think I should also be allowed the same indulgence.
I was baffled to read the mode in which Jesus was cast by many of the commentators – One who would never discipline the erring or call sin by its right name because he must be seen to be loving, all the time. It immediately reminds me of a book I read sometimes ago, titled, The Jesus I Never Knew, authored by Philip Yancey. Quite a thought-provoking book! A Jesus who was never angry, always grinning from ear to ear, a Jesus who hobnobs with sinners, dining and wining with them and whose large-heartedness easily acclimatizes and accommodates hypocrites, sexual perverts and moral imbeciles? Yancey, thinks otherwise. There is a sneaking feeling that if this was the image of Jesus that informed the decision of the authorities in Babcock University there probably would have been more vociferous pundits who would call the institution weak and effeminate in matters relating to morality; more hard knocks would have rained, mercilessly, on the institution for tacitly encouraging moral decay in the society. The indictment would have come with a convincing argument that the institution has become a nursing bed for sexual perverts because the authorities would do nothing, whether the offence was committed on campus or not. Our attention would have immediately been drawn, in contrast, to the example of Jesus – we love using the Bible one way or the other – who grabbed a whip and with a zeal that bespeaks of one who would maintain discipline, even at the cost of being misunderstood, pursued the merchandizing Pharisees and Sadducees, from pillar to post, around the temple precinct. Perhaps, is that not what we need to sanitize the rot in the society? At least, occasionally?
Apostle Paul seems to up the ante in meting out discipline to erring church members, who have mistaken lust for love. His epistle to the believers in Corinth suggests that he did not even wait to hear from the unnamed philanderer before he began to issue anathemas (I Cor. 5). He says, the brother should be thrown out of the church. Was Apostle Paul insensitive or callous? Hard to believe that such a sentence could emanate from the revered Apostle. It becomes really puzzling when we realize that much of what he wrote in all his epistles literally drips with love and the need to forgive and pardon. Or did he contradict himself in this case? It appears Apostle Paul was least concerned about when or where the sin was committed. He was bothered about the corrosive effect of sin and the image of the fledgling church.
Methink, our understanding of love, today, is putative, if not puerile. If we are looking for a crutch to support such a view, the Bible should be left alone. We may be bastardizing the concept if we begin to baptize permissiveness in the name of love. By definition, God is love. We cannot pretend to be more loving than Him. Yet the Bible says, “For whom the LORD loves He chastens (disciplines)…” (Heb 12:6 NKJ). We cannot outlaw discipline and the society will not gradually slide into a normless state. Discipline has a place, even for a one-time offender. Sometimes, I feel like pitying Moses who the Bible described as the meekest (humblest) in the then world. He made a mistake that looked so little, and for the first time – at least for that particular mistake he was not given a second chance. The galling experience is recorded in Numbers 20.God told him to speak to a rock; but then, he struck with some venom spilling out of his mouth. The Lord would not take that from him. He used a very big hammer to shatter his hope of enjoying the goodies in the land flowing with milk and honey. Haba, just because of a small slip? Even with all his plea, God told him, “Stop it! Don’t mention it, again!” Disappointed? Disenchanted? Pained? Yes! But did Moses rail at God? No. He recognized the role of discipline in attaining greater heights. He could see through the apparently harsh sentence the undying love of God.
The greatest expression of love in the Bible is definitely found when God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for us, even while we were still rebels. It was also the greatest experience of pain. The Father suffered with the Son. Love, like discipline, sometimes involves pain. The Father did not abandon the sinless Son. Neither should we abandon the erring who is disciplined. Let’s face it: discipline does not gel with us; we abhor it. It is a bitter pill to swallow. But the Apostle says, nevertheless: “Now no chastening (trial or discipline) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11 NKJ).Discipline provides occasion for ministry. We are to weep with the erring – not a reason for gloating. By so doing, discipline rather than being punitive becomes redemptive.
Ehioghae is professor of Christian Theology and Ethics, Babcock University.
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