December 8, 2023

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Oga-Coro: The Spiritual & Religious Dimensions

Ik Muo, PhD

Oga-Coro, the uninvited guest who came along with it’s own chair, was like a shot out of the blues. It came like a thief in the night (1Thes,5:2)): suddenly, without notice, catching us unawares. Indeed, we were attacked by a stronger man (Luke11:22).  It was like nothing we have ever seen or known in this generation because the eye had not seen, nor ear heard nor has it yet entered into the hearts of man(1 Cor,2:9; Issaiah,64;4). It brought terror, danger of death and wave of destruction everywhere (Jeremiah,20:8&10; Ps18.4) and it appeared we were born for trouble and sorrow (Jeremiah,20:18) The impact of Coro was brutal, pervasive and it derived special joy in dealing with the mighty ones and humbling the great: BIG people, BIG institutions and BIG countries and unlike before the leaders of the flock were also afflicted because they had nowhere to flee or means of escape (Jeremiah,25:35).  Indeed, the mighty fell (2Sam1:19-20); the high and haughty were hewn down and humbled (Isaiah,10:33) as He brought down the high tree and dried the green ones while exaulting the low ones and making the dry to flourish( Ezekiel.17:24) and none could boast of their wisdom, strength and riches( Jeremiah,9:23) because it is not by power or by might …( Zech,4.6). Our money, positions, possessions, connections and achievements became useless and we realized, sadly, that our greatness will not keep us  from death(as) we will still die like animals (Ps49:20). Those who always spoke with certainty about what they would do tommorrow learnt to  moderate their words and started saying  if the Lord wills…( James, 4:13-15). In effect, it became obvious that  we plan but God decides.

The poorer people and nations, were treated compassionately by the vicious disease, which made the usually sure-footed scientists to speak in uncertain and contradictory tongues. It shows that the race and battle is not always to the swift or the strong or who willeth but to whom God showeth mercy (Eccle,9:11; Romans,9.16). As it has always been, whenever people are faced by the incomprehensible, they seek out the Great Being, asking how, why, and when. Because the BOOK contains everything, it came in handy as people read online, offline and between the lines in sustained efforts to understand the inexplicable and uncontrollable and as Pastor Stephen Furtick had declared, The only way God can show that he is in control is to put us into situations that we cannot control.

Some people said that the end was near or that at least, the Lord has come down from his abode to punish the inhabitants of the earth (Isaiah, 26:21); some people said that we have so turned away from God that He decided to ‘show us’ just a little. Some looked at the Biblical origin of Coro and all of its containment measures. Others sought out encouraging and soothing Bible verses, especially where we were told  to  be still because He who is on the throne is supreme over all the earth (Ps46:10) and  that we should depend on His awesome powers and mercy(Isaiah.41:10). Some dwelt on spiritual songs that gave succour in trying times; others believed that the end had come because of the Coro-plague (Luke,21:11) and the assertion that the end of all things is at hand(1Peter,4:7), forgetting that nobody knows the hour (Mt,24:36). We all became acute prayer warriors; the number and dimensions of night vigils increased and online worship boomed as people decided to be nearer to God because as it was prophesied,  in their afflictions, they will earnestly seek me ( Hosea,5:15)  This is the theme I will explore in this intervention. Due to the weird utterances and actions of some ‘pastors’ during the Covidious pandemic, I will devote a special attention to on them. I have written this from a Christian perspective and I know  that other faiths also adopted their own religious principles to see them through those tearful and fearful days.

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It was during this era that I realised that Dolly Parton was a Gospel artiste. Her 2002 song, Hello God was played and re-played, especially in the early days of Coro. The song, which she sang in that her sonorous and enchanting voice, is a tearful and penitential  plea asking God to listen, to have mercy, to do something,: Hello God… can you hear us;  can you help us like before? We are in great need of your love… we have learnt our  lessons. Dear God, don’t let us go! We cant make it without you; in the name of all that is true please forgive us for we know not what we do; give us one more chance.  Pastor Kumuyi appeared to agree with her when he said thatTrying times are like dark hours. We grope about looking for a hand to lead and pull us out of the darkness. Overwhelmed by our pain and suffering, we feel all alone, abandoned by God and men. At such harrowing times, we wonder where God is. We wish He would show up, and end the pains we bear (Daily Manna, 14/5/20). The Catholic lenten  hymn, God of Mercy,bestrode the airwaves, in and out of lent,  as people with teary eyes sang God of mercy and compassion, look with pity upon us.. Lord God we ask for mercy, let us not implorre in vain…  Other hymns like Nearer my God to thee, I need thee every hour and I surrender all, became instant hits! The various preachers admonished us  to return to God who has torn and stricken us  because he would surely heal, bind  revive, and raise us (Hosea, 6: 1-3).

As early as March 2020,The Catholic Church moved from prayer for Nigeria in distress to prayer against Coro imploring the Omnipotent to take charge, as we prayed for effective medication to be speedily found (that was before the vaccines) for healing to the sick, eternal life to the dead and consolation for the bereaved
And then, Mike Bamiloye, who has stirred many souls through the practical content of his videos composed an earthshaking poem titled Just only one plague, recalling how this single plague brought the world on its knees, suspending all wars and threats of wars, forcing all of us to stay indoors and to practice personal hygiene and then asking  what we shall do about the ultimate plagueWhen the Trumpet sounds and Jesus Has come and gone with His Own Blood Washed Saints…?

We readily found and dwelt on all the assurances from God.  Some called for repentance, arguing that because we disobeyed the commandments, he inflicted us with the Egyptian plagues (Exodus, 15:26; Deuteronomy,7:15). Others recalled the promises of God that if he sent epidemic on the people, and they pray and repent of their evil ways, he would hear, forgive and heal the land( 2Chron,7:13-14). Some reminded us of the assurances of Isaiah 54:7-10, where He promised that his anger had abetted and that he had taken pity and blessed us with his faithful love and covenant of  peace and that if he did not spare his son for our sake, there is nothing that is too much for him to do for us (Romans,8:32). We remembered Ps 27, where we see God as our light and salvation, who will shelter us and keep us safe when attacked by enemy army (Coro havocked us mora than  the Russians are doing at Ukraine). However in all this, we were admonished not to put the Lord to the test by failing to comply with all the necessary protocols because faith in God does not mean that we should not play our parts as done by our grandfathers in faith. After all, we had been warned to submit to   government authorities and policies (1 Peter,2:13-24; Romas,13:1). We were also reminded of the Bible prophecies being fulfilled in the coronised environment, including handwashing, absence of celebrations, inability to mourn the dead and sick people being quarantined.

We also started searching for Biblical solutions to this plague. We remembered how Moses and Aaron offered incense, stood between the living and the dead to end the plague that ravaged the camp (Numbers, 16:47-8) and how David built an Alter and sacrificed burnt offerings to bring an end to plague in Israel. Biblical verses were used to support the various protocols including isolation and quarantine (2 Kings,15:5; Isaiah,26:20).  Those in quarantine took special interest in Psalm69, asking for his intervention in his great mercy as they became outcasts to their relations and no solace and consolers in their anguish.As our laughter and joy were turned into mourning and gloom, we lamented, and wept (James,4:9). Coro was seen as the tare which the enemy sowed among wheat as men slept ( Mt,13: 24-28).We prayed in deep contrition, soaking-in the various relevant Bible verses and prophecies. Psalm 102 became very popular: Lord hear our prayers; our lives are disappearing like smoke; do not hide your face from us in the day of our distress. Psalm 77 came in handy as distressed humanity wondered if the Lord had rejected us forever; whether his unfailing love had vanished and if He had forgotten to be merciful. We pleaded for mercy as we believed we were troubled and chastised due to God’s anger, asking for how long Oh God(Ps 90), pleading with God to remember us with His usual favour (Ps106). We got more troubled and prayed more intensely when we read Jeremiah25 (15,32,33), where God made us drink the wine of His wrath after which disaster started spreading from nation to nation and the victims cannot be mourned or buried but were rather scattered like dung on the ground. We wondered why God struck us down without hope and surrounded us with terror instead of cure (Jere,14:19) and fed us with bread of adversity and water of affliction (Isaiah30:20). We prayed to God  not to punish us for the sins of the past generations, to listen to the groans of the captive and to save those condemned to death( Ps 79). We earnestly prayed for mercy and fastened our eyes on the Lord as the maid on her mistress (Ps. 123:3), waiting for him as the watchman waits for the morning (Ps 130:6).  We reminded God that He is our refuge and defense and implored him to  guide and lead us as he promised and shelter us from danger (Ps31:3/4) As we prayed for ourselves in our various homes and congregations, we also stood in the gap for our nation and for the world (Eziekiel, 22:30) to prevail on God spare all of us.

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As these were going on, there were also words of encouragement and hope that kept people going during those distressed and stressful times.  Fr Eustace Siame of the Daily Bread Ministry reminded us that the content and context of Isaiah 40-55, when Israelites were in exile also applied to us because we were in social exile (social distancing) caused by Oga-Coro and that Covid was thus our own Babylon. We were advised not to be afraid because even if God struck us with a rod and lift his staff against us,  His indignation and anger  will cease in a little while and that subsequently the burden shall be taken away from our shoulders and the yoke from our necks (Isaiah,10: 24-25; 27). We were reminded that once we humbled ourselves before the Lord, He would lift us up (James,4:10), keep us safe from secret traps and deadly diseases (Ps 91:3), and that nothing can be against us if God were for us( Romans,8:31). In The Word for Today (13/3/20) we were encouraged to put on the full armour of God and the shield of faith so as to be able stand firm against the arrows of the evil one (Eph:6: 11-16) and to stand up to the Devil so that he will flee (James: 4:7). We were continuously reminded not to fear that which can kill the body but cannot harm the soul (Mt,10:28). We were also assured that we should not fear even if we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, because the Lord was and is with us (Ps23) and that  those who trust in the Lord are like mount Zion, which cannot be moved and abides forever because  the Lord surrounded his people just as  mountains surround Jerusalem (Psalm 125: 1-2) and only through him are victory and strength found.

We remembered that the Lord is on our side, strong and mighty (Jeremiah20:11); our defender, protector, fortress, and shield, who keeps us safe ( Ps18:1-2) as a shepherd keeps his flock( Ps31:10) and that even though  weeping endureth for a night  joy commeth in the morning: (Ps 30.5) because He will turn our mourning into joy, comfort us and give us gladness for our sorrows( Ps 31:13). We were  assured that He will be our God  and wipe away every tear from our eyes and that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”( Revelation 21:1-4) . We remembered that nothing, whether on the sky above or earth below can separate us from the love of God (Romans8:35) and that  the steadfastness of the Lord never ceases;  His mercies never come to an end because they are new every morning( Lamentations,3: 22-23). We recalled his admonition that we should be determined, confident, neither be afraid nor discouraged because He will never fail or  abandon us( Dauteronomy,31:6; Joshua,1:9), and will  rather be with us till the end of time as reaffirmed by Jesus( Mt,28:20). We took solace in the fact that he shows mercy to those who walk before him with all their hearts (2 Chron,6:14; Isaiah, 45:24) and we continually encouraged ourselves with Psalm 46 (1-3) that  God is our refuge and strength, a permanent help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid even if the earth is shaken and the mountains fall into the ocean depths, even if the seas roar and rage and the hills are shaken by violence.  We reminded God that He is our rock, constant refuge, stronghold and pleaded with him to incline his ears onto our plea,  rescue us and not let us to be shamed( Ps71:1-5)In all these, we were encouraged by the assurance that the Good Lord was and is a promise-keeper (Eziekiel, 12:28; Jeremiah,1:12; Joshua, 23:14)

But as people all over the world were praying in expectation of Gods mercy and thanking him for  positive developments, Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of NewYork at that time declared that“The number is down because we brought the number down.”… God did not do that, fate did not do that, destiny did not do that… Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus. And what we do, how we act, will dictate how that virus spreads.” My townsman, Rev. Dr. Kingsley Obi Jon-Ubabuco, Rector, St. Philip-The-Apostle Anglican Church Arlington Texas took a strong exception to this, reminding him that ‘God gives the knowledge, skill, education, training, medications, machines, facilities, resources, the life and the well-being and the wisdom to make decisions that direct and make all things to come together for the good of the world He created and sustains’ and that the physicians and pharmacists, care givers, and all professions in the healthcare industry (and every profession and trade, for that matter),are working for/with God(Sirach 38:1-15). He ended by reminding Cuomo that while he might be the Governor of New York, he was not the Governor of the world! However, in  Nigeria, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and boss of PTF-Coro, Boss Mustapha felt otherwise  as he declared that the case would have been worse and Nigeria would have crumbled if not for prayers. He urged Christians and Muslims to pray more because given the directions, projections and modelling, we ought to have crumbled by now. But I can assure you that prayer has played an active role and active part in sustaining us as a people and as a country.” At another occasion, he led Government officials to attend an interdenominational service against Covid and that was after three days of fasting.

Beyond praying for mercy, banking on  God’s  assurances and interceding for others, people also lived the Bible  at the height of that Pandemic. In Berlin, a Martha Lutheran Church availed a  nearby mosque of its church building, so as to comply with the social distancing regime. The Dar Assalam mosque in Berlin’s Neukoelln district  had up to 500 worshippers but could only accommodate socially-distanced 50 at a time. The church, which had more space then allowed the mosque  and in effect, hosting its Friday prayers  in an ‘amazing show of solidarity’ thus living like the salt of the earth and light of the world( Mt,5:13-16)

Coro has proved that everything around us is temporary as things aur lives revolved around, went on sabatical and we learnt to live without them.  By early 2021,  people were afraid that Coro had become a ‘permanent member’ of our homes and communities as it nearly became omnipresent. However, as I write( April,2022), Coro appears to have  repented and governments all over the world, including Nigeria, are relaxing the stringent protocols.   Our mouths are full of praises because He has given us victory and saved us from our foes(Ps 44:7+). In our troubles, we called on the Lord for help, he heard our voices and listened to our cry for help; he reached down from above, took hold of us and and pulled us out of the deep waters, rescued us from our powerful enemies, helped us out of danger( Ps 18:6,16-19). We are singing to the Lord and  praising him  because he has rescued us( Jer,20:13). Hymn 50( Ps116) is now trending:  how can we repay the Lord for his goodness to us, for loosening our bonds? We will raise the cup of salvation, make a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on His name in praise! We  can now join R Kelly to sing: ‘The storm is OVER now’. Well, it is not totally over because members of the US executive (Merrick Garland, Attorney General & Gina Raimindo, Commerce Secretary) and legislature were coronised when they attended the exclusive Gridiron Club dinner on 2/4/22.

Many people believed that God had done it and there are still some who believe that human effords are responsible for the denoument.  However, it is indubitable that God, through his Word played an invaluable role in the situation. People were given hope, saved from despair and were able to maintain their mental stability through out those distressed and fearful days. Our competence ( with which we managed and subdued Oga-Coro) also comes from God(2Cor,5:3). We shall focus on  the roles and antics of our pastors in the covidious era, one of these days.

I wish you a happy holy week and pray that we learn from the life, humiliation and cruxification of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Ik Muo, PhD. Department of Business Administration, OOU, Ago-Iwoye. 08033026624