Doubt is a universal problem faced by Christians in every generation. Suffering and difficult circumstances naturally lead us to identify with the desperate prayers of David three thousand years ago, “How long will you hide away from me? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1) Why do you stand far off?” (Psalm 10:1)
When chaos, sickness, evil and brokenness suggest we are victims of forces and fate outside our control, it is hard to believe in a loving, all-powerful, all-seeing God. Does this God who we believe in but cannot see with our eyes really care for his children?
It is often a struggle to put our trust fully in the God of the Bible who does not promise a life of certainty, comfort, health, wealth or prosperity, but instead warns us bluntly that anyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). It was as difficult for Thomas to believe in the power of the risen Christ as it is for any Christian disciple today.
Although doubt is a common experience of every honest Christian, African converts face a unique challenge of spiritual insecurity due to their traditional worldview, which inextricably links physical health and wellbeing to spiritual powers.
Although doubt is a common experience of every honest Christian, African converts face a unique challenge of spiritual insecurity…
The common African worldview is built on two spiritual codes that cannot be flouted: The first is that one’s health and life depends on the happiness of the Supreme Being, lesser divinities, the ancestors and spirits. The second code affirms that the ancestors and magic protect us against evil powers, witchcraft and sorcerers.
Thus, traditional Africans are raised from birth to appease spiritual powers and balance life forces to ensure prosperity in this world. It is understandable that when an African believer places his faith in the person of Jesus Christ as his Saviour, spiritual insecurity and fear may continue to cling to his heart.
Sickness, confusion and uncertainty may present a special form of temptation to doubt. This may not be experienced to the same extent by a new believer with a western worldview which affirms only the material world and denies the supernatural.
The African and Christian worldview stand in stark contrast to one another and conversion requires a painful wrenching from the African worldview, upbringing and experiences. For instance, the African Christian can no longer consult with diviners to find the causes and solutions to life issues, but must accept that people cannot always be certain about why bad things happen and must instead entrust himself to the care and protection of God.
The African and Christian worldview stand in stark contrast to one another and conversion requires a painful wrenching from the African worldview, upbringing and experiences.
The tension between these two worldviews creates fear and insecurity. On a practical level, this often results in the African believer attending Church on Sundays, while consulting with a traditional healer during the week, or making an offering or sacrifice to the lesser spiritual divinities to ensure their blessing. He may confess Christ as Lord, but may also visit a diviner to obtain traditional medicines, a neck amulet or hand rope to protect him from malicious spirits.
The greatest challenge is to relinquish the veneration and fear of the ancestors. Ancestors are believed to be deceased blood-related members of the family or clan who supposedly acquire supernatural powers to guard, protect or bring misfortune to their living descendants.
Syncretism, or the mixing of two contrasting religions, is not an option for an African Christian. It is false teaching, because it implies that Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection are insufficient to address real world problems that humans face.
An antidote to spiritual fear and insecurity cannot be found in mixing the worship of Jesus as King with veneration of the ancestors and appeasement of spiritual powers. Nor can spiritual insecurity be combatted by likening Jesus to the ancestors. This undermines the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ over the universe, the living and the dead, the one and only mediator between us and God the Father. Any form of syncretism denies that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is idolatry.
Through faith in Jesus, we come under the care and protection of God as Father and are urged to trust in God, who is eternally good and sovereign, faithful, merciful, compassionate and just.
Release from an idol always requires a new focus. Although Christianity does not provide clear answers or solutions to every problem, the gospel addresses our material and spiritual realities, our deepest fears and insecurities.
Through faith in Jesus, we come under the care and protection of God as Father and are urged to trust in God, who is eternally good and sovereign, faithful, merciful, compassionate and just. The church community is designed to provide an alternative system of care to replace the abandoned one and Christian leaders have a responsibility to firmly attach followers to the unchanging truth of the Gospel.