What would my service year be like?
I asked myself as the Marco-Polo Bus raced off from Lagos to the Northern state I was posted to.
The journey began early in the morning and in my rush to leave home on time, I had not done a proper devotion; a quick prayer was all I’d said.
Now, I had the chance to do it in the quiet of the bus and get God’s answer on that pressing question. Today’s study was on Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. I opened to the prescribed bible passage and began reading.
“Does it work?”
I looked up, not even sure I had heard right, did someone speak to me?
A smile met my uplifted face; it was a sad smile, worn and broken, like much of the road we were travelling on.
The face with the smile was a good-looking one in the solid-jaw, confident-stare way. It was a young man’s and had some well-trimmed facial hair ringing the mouth. He sat beside him and I had not bothered to really notice him, because I was caught up in my own service-year anxieties.
“Sorry?” I said, even though I’d heard what he said
“Your Bible,” he said, “does it work?”
I chuckled, almost reflexively, classifying that question immediately as stupid.
“Of course, it does. Why do you ask?”
He stared straight at me for a few seconds, then he exhaled a ‘hmm’
“I’ve tried to make it work for me, it failed.”
“I have never known it to fail.”
“Maybe; but I’ve given up trying for almost nine years now.”
It suddenly hit me that this could be my own Ethiopian eunuch moment. He seemed like someone needing a guide to bring him to Christ, and it would at least be a way to keep my mind off my service concerns.
“Why did you give up?”
“Trying stopped making sense.”
I let silence creep on us, as I second-guessed the man. He might just be pulling my legs and trying to get my attention. I am a pretty, light-skinned young woman and men try hard to get noticed by me, this could be just one trick to do so. So I studied him, trying to see if he was fooling around.
Nothing seemed phony about him.
“So you mean you have abandoned the bible for that long.” I ventured
“Not really, I didn’t make a conscious decision to abandon the bible; I just stopped being religious.”
“Okaaay, so you are like an atheist, one of those believers in the big bang theory and evolution and –“
I think the puzzlement I had in my head showed on my face, because that smile was back, but it was richer and felt light, unburdened with the wistful sadness of the earlier one.
“No? So like what are you?”
“Hmm…see, if I look out the window, I’ll see us hurtling past thick vegetation and the occasional village, and most of the time I don’t know what those villages are called or where we are even. But I know for sure that we are no more in Lagos and that we have not yet arrived at our destination. That’s the same with me. I know for sure I’m not religious anymore, and that my feelings or opinions on spiritual matters have not reached a set destination, but right now, I don’t know where they are – I see some signs of where, but I cannot definitely say ‘hey, I’m an agnostic or atheist’”
“Weird analogy, but I think I got the point. Still, the most important question is, do you believe in the existence of God?”
“Honestly, I don’t know.”
I took that one in and turned it around my brain, wondering if this guy was for real.
“Maybe you are just confused; you have read the wrong books or associated with people who put doubts in your mind, so you are not sure of what to believe.”
“I wish it was that simple for me, to just tune off alleged wrong influences and be religious again. The truth is that I have not seen any sign or evidence to make me believe, even If I wanted to.”
“So you do not believe that nature itself is a sign and evidence of God’s existence – the sunrise and sunsets, flowers and plants, animals, mountains and oceans, the inundation of stars in the skies- you don’t think they point to a creator and some sort of intelligent design?”
“Maybe they do, maybe not. But if they are signs of a creator, they make for rather poor signs. When you, for example, are trying to make a sign at someone, you’d perform actions or say words that are just out of normal to catch their attention and are tied to elicit a specific reaction, thought or emotion. Nature does nothing like that. It is a blank template on which you can imprint whatever thought you have without a concurrent reaction or evident response. Even the bible understands the need for out-of-ordinary events as signs when Jesus was commissioning the disciples and gave them power to back up their preaching. Even when the Pharisees asked him for a sign and he did not give them, he still referred to an out-of-normal situation – the sign of Jonah in the belly of a whale. The stars say nothing we ourselves don’t put in its ‘mouth’, the mountains are always there and will always be there for those who believe in a creator or not or in many creators. It is a neutral, multi-interpretable symbol.”
I was taken aback at his apparent knowledge of the scriptures, but I did not understand most of what he just said and did not want to pretend to do so; so I changed tack.
“The way you talk of the Bible, it shows you really are familiar with it?”
“So what made you stop believing it.”
He laughed and threw his head back on the neck recline of his seat. His eyes were away from me for the first time since we started talking; they were looking up.
“It’s a long story.”
“We still have up to 8 hours on our trip, so I think we have enough time, so open up –I’m all ears.”