Faith: A matter of life or death?

By: Olapeju Simoyan (MD, MPH)

July 6, 2020

After reading Deji Yesufu’s essay on faith healing and death, I was inspired to share my thoughts on the subject. I agree with his position that a message that suggests that sick people will get healed if they only have enough faith is not only inherently flawed and unbiblical, it also can potentially deprive people of the opportunity to prepare for death.

Many years ago, I was walking to a bus stop in Lagos with a fellow church goer and cautioned her about an oncoming vehicle. She questioned why I was acting “so nervous”, in her opinion. I told her I recently lost a former classmate who had been knocked down by a vehicle. Her response was, “I can never be lost! I believe the only way I can leave this world is through the rapture”. As strange as this declaration may have been, I was not terribly surprised to hear it, as I had heard the pastor of the church we were then attending say pretty much the same thing: “I’m not dying. I’m going up with the rapture.”

Looking back now, I realize I should have asked her which Bible passage promised that she would never experience physical death. But she didn’t need a Bible passage; she had her pastor’s words.

On another occasion, after an out of town event that the church had hosted, the pastor announced that he didn’t mind telling us that someone had died during the event (apparently of an acute asthma attack). He then went on to say that the deceased must not have believed in divine healing because he had his inhaler on him at the time of his death. I did not hear any compassion for the family and friends who had lost a loved one. Someone lost his life while attending a church event and we were being told he didn’t have faith.

These events happened many years ago. I don’t know if the pastor has since modified his teachings on the subject, but I can’t help wondering how many people have been misled by such teachings.

When my father passed away last year, my nephew agreed to speak at one of the memorial services. I accompanied him to the pulpit, having no idea what he would say. He spoke eloquently about how his parents were scared to tell him about his grandfather’s death at first, but that when they did, he wasn’t sad, because his Grandpa had gone to heaven, and that was a good place to be.

If a nine – year old can have such a positive attitude towards death, why can’t the rest of us? Pastors are not doing anyone a favor by encouraging them to act is if death is something to be avoided at all costs.

Death is indeed a part of life and should be treated as such. People should be encouraged to accept the reality of death and prepare for it, instead of believing that somehow having faith will protect them from all forms of illness and eventually death itself.

Even though my father’s death was unexpected, there were several events in the last few years that I believe were meant to prepare us. While he was still alive, I remember specifically praying that he would not only live a long life, but a healthy one. The fact that he passed away so peacefully, even though suddenly, is indeed something to be grateful for. Rather than focusing on my loss, I try to focus on the memories, his life and legacy, the lives he impacted through his kindness and generosity. As difficult as it was to lose my one remaining parent, the conviction that he left this earth at God’s appointed time after living a fulfilled life made it much easier. Accepting reality is not a lack of faith. If people truly believe in heaven, they should not fear death. Rather, people should prepare for death, as Deji Yesufu wrote in his essay, by making peace with God and setting their worldly affairs in order.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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