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Saturday, 24 February 2024 05:57

[OPINION] For Papa/Mama Shyngle Wigwe: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? - Tunji Olaopa

No amount of condolences, prayers, sympathies and commiseration could ever fathom the depth of the grief of Papa Shyngle and Mama Stella Wigwe. And the reason is simple: no parents should ever have to bury any of their children. The reverse should always be the case. And this is a deep principle of humanity that is not restricted by culture or society. It is just simply the natural order of things. It is fundamental—and indeed a thing of joy for all parents—that they would be buried by their children. When the reverse happens, and one loses a child, then the entirety of one’s existence is shrunk into that indissoluble vacuum of pain and grief. The depth of that sorrow becomes bottomless when one loses more than one child. Since I heard about the terrible calamity that befell this beautiful octogenarian couple, I have come to fathom the depth of what Aeschylus, the ancient Greek tragedian, meant when he said, “There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.”

This brief statement sums up the depth of the bereavement of Papa and Mama Wigwe: their minds would be clouded simultaneously with remembrances of the births of their sons, their upbringing and naughtiness while growing up, their struggles to raise them as godly as God would permit, their collective memories of moments of joys and happy events and incidences, their family traditions and Christian values, the successes of their children, and many more. All this while their entire being register as starkly as it can the fact that a second child just died with his family when they had barely dealt with the pain of losing the first one. But there is more. Papa and Mama Wigwe are solid Christians. I can attest to that. And they have been serving God for as long as my memory of relating with them (albeit from a distance) could permit. Since this tragic incidence happened, the first verse of the first chapter of Job has run ceaselessly in my mind: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” This is my summation of Papa and Mama Wigwe.

And yet, they lost two children. The story of Job is one of the most challenging books of the Bible. And its challenge is purely because of demonstrating one of the cornerstones of a deep theological paradox: how could a good God create a world that is filled with evil, or even permit those committed to him to be ravaged by such evils? Since God created the world and certified that his creation is good, how did evil creep in? The problem of evil in a world created by a good God has troubled Christian theologians and apologetics, from St. Augustine to Ravi Zacharias, for centuries. Losing two fully grown children that one had trained to such a period in their lives does not square with the joy of bringing them into the world and the sacrifices of upbringing. And yet, Osita and Herbert left their parents in the world.

The theological problem caused by the life and trauma of Job in the bible also raises a larger philosophical question I will like to touch in this lamentation. For anyone who has read the book of Job and has witnessed the tragedy that good people have encountered in life, the question is: why do bad things keep happening to good people? Papa and Mama Wigwe are good people. Both have been together for 56 six years, more than five decades of a love story sweetened by the birth of six children, including Osita and Herbert. When in an interview, Papa reminisced about Osita— “That boy was one in a million. He had the attributes of a daughter; he had the attributes of a son. He was a solution provider to all family problems”—I have a deep and intimate sense of what Papa Wigwe was talking about. I encountered Osita as a graduate student at the University of Ibadan (he was then a final-year engineering student), and I knew him deeply at many of his beautiful and humane personality. Pa Wigwe was then the DG at the Nigerian Television Authority, and that was how I met him and Mama for the first time.

Osita was a very brilliant young man. I know this because we were both members of the University of Ibadan debating team, and I had a first-hand experience of how an engineering student could be so deeply knowledgeable and magisterial in a field usually dominated by students from the humanities and the social sciences. When I raised the issue of why he was an engineering student and not in, say, the humanities, his response gave me a solid insight into the deep flow of affection between father and son, and how that led to Osita’s desire to follow in the footsteps of his father the engineer. During a period when I was still searching for an intellectual enlightenment, rather than a spiritual one, I was immensely fascinated with Osita Wigwe, his intellectual brilliance, deep family values and pure spiritual commitment. It was essentially due to him that I visited the RCCG for the first time in 1986, and would eventually become a staunch member much later. Which was why I was baffled and very confused as to how such a spiritual father could experience the death of such a godly son—the same way I could still never wrap my head round the death of Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s son, Dare. And then twenty-seven years later after Osita’s demise, as if God still has some unfathomable purpose for Pa and Ma Wigwe, Osita’s kid-brother is taken.

Questions and more puzzling questions. Who knows why the Almighty would allow Job to be tempted? Who knows why sit-tight African leaders, the very incarnate of the diabolical, who sit on the people’s democratic liberation, would just not topple over and be transited? Job imparted an everlasting lesson that each one of us increasingly come to internalize and try as much as we have it within us to live with: humans are born to troubles. In philosophical terms, for Fredrich Nietzsche, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” This is one juncture where the pastoral calling would be a heavy burden for Papa and Mama Wigwe to bear. This is a time when it would be justified for even a role model with a spiritual responsibility to give vent to his or her doubts and frustrations with life and with God. This is a Job moment. It is a moment to reflect back to June 5, 1997, drag that reflection to the fiery trauma of February 9, 2023, and then try to connect the dots in existential and spiritual terms. Where could the hands of the Almighty be in all this? How could the meaning and purpose be uncovered?

Eventually, we all—believers, agnostics and non-believers alike—must bow before the inscrutable universe, and the denseness of the mystery that pervades all we have to deal with in life. For Christians, “great is the mystery of godliness” (I Timothy 3:16). Great is also the mystery of why good people like Papa and Mama Wigwe needed to suffer the death of two sons. We can theorize all we want about why terrible and traumatic things happen to good people. And yet we must eventually just accept that we are powerless against the Divine Mind that crafted a world where humans have survived—borne on the wings of faith—the harshest, cruelest and most challenging of all trials. Indeed, there are those who have passed through the excruciating valley of the shadow of death, but received grace and mercy to look back in gratitude for God’s deep wisdom in holding the world together, and holding us together at the critical moments of our needs.

Now close to their nine decades in life, Papa Shyngle and Mama Stella Wigwe have walked with God for far too long not to be able to recognize His presence at this moment of unbearable sorrow—no matter how dim that presence might be now. No matter how intrusive and heavy the question of why the hand of the Almighty was heavy upon them, they must find comfort in Jesus’ sorrowful lamentation on the cross: “My Father, my Father, why have you forsaken me?” Papa and Mama Wigwe are knowledgeable about the purpose behind the crucifixion of the Lord; may they be able to find a good grip on God’s wisdom that mold us all in the fiery furnace of life.

Let me conclude this difficult homily with William Blake, the English poet: “Can I see another's woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another's grief, and not seek for kind relief?” But I ask: How much sympathy, weeping, lamentation or homilies can comfort one in perplexing loss? We can only drown our grief in the assurance that God—the owner of the universe and our lives—knows what he is doing.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

It is well with Papa Shyngle and Mama Stella; it is well with the entire Wigwe family.

 

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