The Man Died: Reflections on Life and Losses
By: Deji Yesufu
Ezekiel Atang was a Pentecostal pastor who had a thriving ministry in Akwa Ibom State. A few weeks ago, the internet went agog with news of his sudden death. Atang had traveled to Onitsha, Anambra State, to honor a preaching engagement. It was said that he had complained of fatigue to his wife but also insisted on making the trip by road: he promised his wife he would rest when he returned. He never returned. Atang died a few hours after preaching at this church. In fact videos of the preaching engagement were published widely and you could see an exhausted man, who was also on the big side, making the effort to preach. He could not even stand; the whole ministration was done with him sitting down. He will not be the first pastor to die of exhaustion and an apparent heart failure; and he will not be the last.
As I grow older, it appears to me that one constant about the life that one lives is to hear of the death of people. What might be more tragic is that people who die are usually not always those of an older age; more and more one hears of the death of young people also. Ezekiel Atang, for example, was only forty-nine years old. Of course, we know that infants, children, pre-teens, teenagers, young adults and the elderly all die too. The tragic news is that there is no one age group that gives up the dead more than the other; people die at almost the same rate from each age bracket (although I will agree that naturally the elderly will die more). Someone has suggested that one of the healthiest way to live is to keep one’s mortality before one’s eyes always. It will curtail a lot of excesses; it will breed humility; it will produce gratitude in our hearts; and it might help some to take religion seriously.
While many have died in recent times, I introduced this piece with the death of Pastor Atang because I wish to re-visit Pentecostalism, especially those of Prosperity/Faith bent, and their fluffy Christianity. Christians, throughout history, have usually not been the wealthiest, brightest, or most popular of people on earth; however, no other religion offers fortitude against the subject of death like Christianity does. The Bible assures Christians of a sure heaven. Scriptures teach us about the death of Christ, whose shed blood on the cross and resurrection from dead, has secured eternal life for the saints.
The end result is this: true Christians possess a pilgrim mentality to life. We understand that this world is not our own – we are pilgrims passing through to our eternal home, the New Jerusalem. Christians have such an other-world mentality that we often must remind ourselves of our calling and duties in this life, lest we are overtaken by a martyr complex that is all heaven focused and earthly useless. The greatest fortitude that the Christian has against death is our total loss of fear for this great life fiend. The Bible teaches:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, (Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrew 2:14-15.
So, while the world may have a morbid fear of death (and they should because they do not know what lies ahead for them after this life – they are without hope), the Christian has no fear of death. For us, death is only a beginning of a new life. Death is the necessary step to beholding our Lord and Savior, and to living with him for all eternity – in blissful enjoyment of our God and worshipping him for his glorious grace which he has bestowed on us sinners.
On the other hand, prosperity Christianity, the type that Ezekiel Atang preached in his lifetime, offers none of its adherents a hope of the life to come. Prosperity Christianity, also known as the Word of Faith gospel, teaches that Jesus Christ died to make people healthy and wealthy. Its whole concern is not about securing an eternity with Christ, but about securing a life of prosperity in this life. Adherents are taught that the single most important concern for their lives is pursuing certain goals in life that will bring them wealth. They also add that God exist to give them divine health and all that is left is for us is to use God to secure a certain faith that will ensure that we are never ill and even when you get sick, you also use that faith to heal whatever disease that comes on us.
Adherents are usually not concerned with the state of their health because they have been taught to claim a certain age when they will die – usually 120 years old. Ezekiel Atang would have taken his health for granted, despite all the warning signs, because he could never envision himself dying of a failed heart at age 49. In the long run, while pursuing health and wealth, they loose sight of securing an eternity with God through the gospel of Christ; and they also take their health for granted because of their presumption that they could never die at young ages. The Word of Faith Christianity is rank heresy and anyone who believes what these people teach will not spend eternity with God and with his Christ.
There is a Yoruba saying that goes something like this when transliterated: when death kills those close to you, it is simply leaving a proverb for you that you are the next. I write essays on death, particularly at the passing of false teachers, because I wish to warn adherents of these teachings. Fact is, however, my of day of death draws near too and it is possible that all these articles I have written will be put together by some mischievous person to make the point that despite my criticism of these men, my own death was not delayed. I hope that when that piece is published, they will quote me correctly.
My intention in publishing these articles is not to vilify the dead but to warn the living. Because I no longer hold to Prosperity Christianity, I have the day of my death before my eyes every day. I trust Christ Jesus alone for eternal life – not even my good works. I am not presumptuous about my health. At forty-five, I know enough to cut down on my sugar and salt in-take. I ensure that I have a reduced sedentary life. I have a backup on everything I do: I have a will written; I have an assistant in ministry who is able to take up the mantle if I were to fall down and die today – my wife will not be succeeding me in ministry. If I am to die today, my family structure is in such a way that my children will be catered for until they are able to fend for themselves. If life happens to me, I trust Christ that the world that I leave behind will not fall apart.
And most of all, if I am to die today, I hope that all these articles that I have written, warning men that death is just around the corner, will be brought out and read; and I hope it will do your soul some good. Faith in Jesus Christ alone will secure you an eternity with God in heaven. If you do not have this, you have every reason to be afraid of dying. The other option is to repent today and believe the gospel. Many men have died yesterday; others will die today; tomorrow, it could be you.
Are you ready to die?