By Nduka Nwosu
The details may have been lost in time and space. However, the argument has raged since that infamous rebellion when Lucifer averred it is better to be king in Hell than servant in Heaven. Between man and the devil, the question keeps resonating: which is ideal, that man should sell his soul to Satan in order to be known or that he should sell his soul to the same devil in order to know all things?
As little kids we were warned those going to dinner with Lucifer should go with long spoons. Somewhere along the line, a certain breed of the homo sapiens became cleverer than Mephisto dictating to him what it wanted-long life, affluence, wealth, power et al. Before now Lucifer would prescribe two of those three-wealth, children or long life but man having become wiser than Lucifer in his craft wants everything.
Beyond Faustus who desired just one wife, man has everything going for him-fame, power, wine, women, money and good health, just name it. After that splatter of blood when a future queen of England spent her night in the street of Paris, Time essayist Lance Morrow wondered if man’s bargain with the devil was worth the trouble using fame and death as examples. Morrow and Goethe speaking through Faustus, averred that a bargain with the devil is Faustian. Take fame as an instance. Being famous is among the basic human ambitions, Morrow reminds us. Who-except for nuns and monks, say, who are content with God’s radiant attention, sets out in life to remain obscure? “Fame has style, glamour, money, attention; ignites the sudden light of recognition in the strangers’ eyes,” Morrow reflects.
Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is all about a conspiracy to topple God and the acquisition of fame. Thereafter Goethe adopted Mephistopheles who like the Scarlet Pimpernel, has the magical powers of appearance and disappearance, as the chief negotiator of his kingdom. Here he made his deals with men and women represented by the ambitious and unfulfilled Dr. Faustus, not content to be ordinary and uneventful in man’s estate. Then came the redemption in ‘Paradise Regained.’
Man’s fall has been celebrated and dramatised by several religious systems just for him to know where he is coming from, where he is and where he is headed. . Albert Camus’ epic work ‘The Fall,’ set in dramatic monologues, is the confession of Judge Penitent represented by Jean-Baptiste Clemence, who in spite of his high place in man’s estate, has fallen from grace.
According to Moses, or the writer of the ‘Book of Genesis,’ Adam and Eve disobeyed God preferring instead Lucifer. In Genesis, God contemplated the idea of making a new creature called man “in our image,” an experiment he found fulfilling and perfect. Like the imperfect beings we are, he rested his weak body on the seventh day. He probably went to bed and fell into deep slumber after a sumptuous dinner. The perfect God wakes up only to discover his instruction has been ignored. He proceeds to pronounce a curse on something which some days ago had given him joy. Viewed from another perspective, you prayed for children and God responded. You left them for work and advised them to drink only milk but a deceptive character convinces them to do otherwise. You proceed to pronounce a curse on seven day old twins who are still mastering the art of growing up. How real?
We are meant to believe that having sinned, we must apologise to the scientist who went to the laboratory to invent a certain object he had conceived in his consciousness but rather ended up with a Frankenstein Monster while test-running the new product. For all his mistakes and errors in the creation story, God compels man to apologise to him for making him imperfect. Man, not God, sinned because God gave him the option of choice and will and having chosen to follow the Devil inherited death. Could the benevolent God have deliberately allowed this discordant note in creation including Lucifer’s rebellion? Meaning Lucifer was ordained by Jehovah to play a character.
Do bad things come from Lucifer and good ones from Jehovah the Source? So the God of all creation, built hell as an afterthought, a last resort when it dawned on him man had become rebellious and put him into this mess; God who was happy at the beginning, became so sad that he regretted ever creating man and built Hell for him. Really? He did not see all this coming to avert the catastrophe; yet he is God?
So God gets angry like man, is jealous like a man in love with a woman, he has a chosen people called the Israelites and annihilates anyone that challenges them. So racism was instituted on earth from day one? He probably eats rice and beans and goes to toilet every morning since man was created in his image. For short, he has the attributes of man and sends earthquake or natural disaster when disgusted or made angry.
Then the most mystifying: God and Satan-his creation, go into battle almost always through good and bad people and the result could be predictable-Good represented by God always emerges victorious but only after Bad represented by Satan would have dazed him so badly with bruises, giving him a run for his money. Wahala. Where is this power of Satan coming from if not from God? Where is evil, Satan and his evil thoughts, including those of men and women coming from if not from the Omnipotent God?
Is it possible the Almighty is carrying out an experiment he alone knows the end thereof, and death happens to be one such experiment?
The point being made is that the Omnipotent God cannot embark on a journey of regrets like man who is limited in his consciousness has made him to be. He does not belong to a section of humanity called the chosen ones because that amounts to racism. He is the God of Palestinians, Egyptians and Iranians just as he is the Chineke- God of my village Umukabia, Israel, Nigeria, blacks and whites. Our perception of God, death, the forces of good and evil comes from one source-God, who is in a superior position to interpret these manifestations beyond what they appear to be in man’s consciousness. Evil will always be evil and good will always be good. Both proceed from God and are inter-dependent but as Joshua counselled, it will always be in the interest of man to choose good over evil. More importantly, God has a set of laws, the laws of cause and effect, karma or retributive justice through which he governs the universe. Thus as you sow, you reap.
Is Hell therefore a place of everlasting damnation where fire rages permanently over the sinner? It is doubtful because it negates the principle of God of second chance, the God of positive change. Besides, the only thing in nature that does not experience change is the unchangeable God. Satan became tired of Heaven and contemplated a kingdom. Some people who lived once in Ikoyi and are now unable to sustain the lifestyle have probably retired to Ajegunle whereas the ambitious young men and women from Ajegunle have long relocated to Ikoyi. Nothing is permanent except God. Christ abandoned heaven to help man and even descended into hell to liberate the righteous trapped there. Hell with its raging fire and a cooling spot cannot be anything but a furnace of purification whether it takes a million light years or more to achieve.
Planets constantly burn out and new ones are formed. Fire and water have always been purifying elements. Have you ever been to a steel rolling mill or the shop of a black or goldsmith, to see how fire refines iron, upgrading base metals to noble ones? Can hell be a place where man clothed in an imperfect garment, the decaying flesh, every man in fact, is placed at a given category of refinement before the journey to heaven proceeds, what in Catholicism may be the equivalent of Purgatory? Can the experience of Hell be like a treatment from a cocktail of ingots, an admixture of God’s secret elements brewed in his spiritual laboratory, in an alchemical marriage with his end product-Man?
Besides, the long queue to heaven is rendering Hell irrelevant especially when witches and wizards and all manner of criminals are getting the heavenly visa through grace and last minute prayers for remission of sins. See how the criminal on the cross like Faustus received a last minute grace and salvation from the Saviour Jesus. So what if those who had worked so hard to enter heaven lose their entry rights or had their visas stolen at the last minute? The benevolent God will roast them in the inferno forever?
The creation story is not exclusive to Christianity. Different religious movements that preceded Christianity believe man experienced a fall and needs a redemption through a learning and re-learning curve. May be, just maybe, someday religion will agree with Mazzini’s observation: “Life is a mission; every other definition of life is false and leads all who accept it astray. Science, religion and philosophy, though still at variance upon many points, all agree on this, that every existence is an aim.” Thus before God we are all passing through different schools of life, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and at the end of the day, will take a qualifying examination, where the position of the feather on the scale of justice determines the purity or otherwise of the heart of man aspiring for a place in heaven or hell.
Fact is we see God from the prism of the blind men who visited the elephant and held different views of what it could have been. The God Moses sold to the Israelites was the God that met their needs, something they could touch, call, smile or cry with. Is money not a god many including Christians worship? What would Pentecostalism look like without prosperity? The God we all connect with after all is one of a personal experience, the problem solving God, irrespective of whether or not he was procured in a shop in New Delhi India. If he must be sectional to fulfill our dreams, so be it. Yet, the universal God cannot be any of these things.
Milton made Lucifer appear a more attractive personality than his creator. If he had presented God as the Rose of Sharon, the Lily of the Valleys, the I am that I am, we would have been dancing in the air like Pastor Enoch Adeboye or the famous Archbishop Benson Idahosa. Anything to the contrary reduces God to a provincial being, a powerful potentate very likely superior in strength to such little gods as Molech, Beelzebub and Lucifer, who in any case, derive their powers from the universal God, all ministering to the provincial needs of their satellite kingdoms.
Who wants God anyway? He is uneventful, unattractive to our illegitimate needs and desires. Moses possibly wanted to give the people of Israel the type of God they desired and stay away from their Double Wahala. Very few people have been as successful elevating their God concept from a tribal personality to the God of Israel say, one of global acclaim. Amadioha, Ogun, Ndem and Abasi Isong, have failed to fly to global relevance whereas Chineke, Olodumare and Abasi easily equate with Jehovah, the God of Israel.
Erhabor Emokpae’s concept of the ‘Last Supper’ (oil on board-1963) was an attempt to see Christ from a native idiom or African perspective. It backfired unlike Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ universally accepted by Christians as a great work of art. Yet Emokpae’s ‘Last Supper’ like Da Vinci’s was equally world-class, a theme with universal acclaim as Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Irises,’ Salvador Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’, and ‘The Great Masturbator’ as attested by art connoisseurs. Unlike da Vinci’s work hailed as a true representation of Christ’s ‘Last Supper,’ the other was to the Christian community a supper of witches and wizards, two sides of the same coin, a replication of Dr. Faustus.
Whereas Christopher Marlowe who first dramatised Faustus threw him into hell, Goethe redeemed his soul through grace and admitted him into heaven for his good works, belief in God and the quest for truth.
Beware of answered prayers in the quest for fame!
Indeed, we are all candidates of hell or heaven. John Donne said any man’s death diminishes us all because we are all involved in mankind, “and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Associate Professor Iheanyi Nwosu’s funeral someday is the funeral of all those attending, a subtle reminder of the days of infamy. In the quest for fame however, the living very close to the deceased are glad that the funeral has been transformed to a carnival seeing the celebrities attending the occasion. They are assured that there is another day of joy in heaven where the dead will be resurrected sitting somewhere close to Jesus.
Thus as the translated proceeds on this journey, since death is actually a transformation to another life, I would have procured a few human heads to go with him and minister to his needs. Sadly he is a born again faithful of the Methodist Church, who has long accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour. I thought of offering him another gift- the ‘Egyptian Book of the Dead,’ where the passenger to the world beyond seeks a guide from a collection of spells or magic formulae which will enable the soul navigate the afterlife, protect and aid him in the hereafter. I also thought of the book- ‘Presentation of Self in Everyday Living’ by Ervin Goffman, his beloved must read in his early days in the Sociology class.
Unfortunately none of these comes close to the Book of all books, The Bible, his guide in overwhelming the dark princes of the universe. He will, like the character called Christian in John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ tell his story better by and by.
My parting gift to him, a reminder to IJ and her children and all those mourning at this time, is Thomas ‘Moore’s ‘Farewell But Whenever’: “Let Fate do her worst, these are relics of joy, Bright dreams of the past, which she cannot destroy; Which come in the night time of sorrow and care, And bring back the features which joy used to wear. Long, long be my heart with such memories filled! Like the vases in which roses have once been distilled- You may break, you may shatter the vase, if you will, But the scent of roses will hang round it still.”