Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
Guided by the wisdom of God Almighty, the Co-Chairmen of the Nigeria Inter-religious Council, NIREC, His Eminence, Rev. Dr. Sampson Olasupo Ayokunle and His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto jointly arrived at the decision that all Christians and Muslims should fast and pray from July 3-5, 2020 for God’s divine intervention to end the scourge and spread of COVID 19. Since April 30, 2020, NIREC had been calling on all Christians to pray every Thursday of the week. Two Christians and two Muslims lead these prayers through virtual meetings on zoom against the COVID 19 pandemic. The leaders of NIREC appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of the Federal and State Governments of Nigeria towards containing the spread of Corona Virus to secure the lives of the inhabitants, both citizens and foreigners.
The efforts of the scientific investigations, medical personnel and regulations by various political leaders in the world are also highly appreciated even though the corona virus has so far taken the upper hand in the battle with science. This shows thatwe must call on the merciful God, our creator, to grant us lasting victory over the COVID-19 pandemic that has humbled humanity.
The world must now return to God the author of life and appeal for mercy and compassion akin to the nation of Nineveh(Jonah 3: 4-10; Quran 21:87-88).In response to the call to joint inter-faith prayers by NIREC, on Friday, 3rd July, 2020 (12th Dhu Al-Qa’adah, 1441), the Muslims organised National Special Juma’at prayers against COVID 19 pandemic and other national challenges at Abuja National Mosque with the theme: O ALLAH, HEAL OUR LAND OF COVID 19 PANDEMIC. Still in response to the call of NIREC, the Christians had interdenominational Church Prayer Service on Sunday, July 5, 2020 at the National Christian Centre, Abuja with the theme: O LORD, HEAL OUR LAND OF COVID 19 PANDEMIC (2 Chronicles 7:14).
The events were covered and shown live on the different electronic media. At 9.00 pm news, the Arise television requested my presence. The News presenter, Mr. Christian Ogodo asked me an ancient question, namely, the relationship between Religion and Science. He posed the questions this way: “Is this call to prayer by NIREC Religion against Science?” The use of the word “against” is what provoked this article. Historians, Scientists, Philosophers and Theologians have asked whether religion and science are compatible. The relationship between Religion and Science led to the Copernican Revolution regarding the movement of the cosmos whether the earth rotates round the sun or the sun rotates round the earth. The dialogue between religion and science gave the result of the heliocentric model with the Sun at the centre of the Solar System. Religion and Science have also looked into the issues of creation or evolution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_religion_and_science).
In the modern world, Religion is not against Science. Religion depends on reason and faith while science depends more on empirical findings. COVID 19 has proven very clearly that there is a limit to what reason alone can do. Grace builds on nature and does not destroy it. Prayers enlighten the mind to understand that God is the source of life. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) who discovered that the earth moved around the sun and Emmanuel Kant who through epistemology arrived at the conclusion that objective reality depends on the mind did not depend on science and philosophy alone. When we pray, we are in communion with God, ourselves, our neighbours and the created universe. When we open our minds and hearts to God in prayers, we are challenged to grow, change, and to love. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes those who pray.
In praying against COVID 19, we open up our minds and will to keep to the rules of the game. Prayer is not separated from work hence in prayer, we ask God to give us the grace to keep the regulations prescribed by government to stop the spread of the virus.Prayer has some therapeutic effect like regulation of the heartbeat. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
One of the means of healing is the faith the patient repose on the medical doctor who believes that the doctors care but God heals. Prayer brings you closer to yourself; reduces life-threatening effects of stress; makes you humble; improves your attitude to life; opens you up for forgiveness; increases your hope; gives you a better mindset; emotional recovery and assist you on day to day reasons to be grateful to God.
We are called to prayer because, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Do not let your heart be troubled (John 14.1). Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:16-18). In prayer faith is very important. “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). God’s will is always the best. “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done'” (Daniel 4:35)?
Regarding Religion against science, we must never forget that “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). We need to be sincere in our prayers and still know that what we ask for depends on God.”This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).
We pray with true faith and not with fiducial faith. Answer to prayers does not depend on the eloquence or multiplication of the word of the person that prays. According to Jesus, “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). Prayer is communicating with God.
“Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” (Psalm 107:28-30). God’s help through the power of prayer is available for all kinds of requests and issues. With prayer you can overcome your enemies (Psalm 6:9-10), overcome unprovided death (2 Kings 4:3-36), receive true healing (James 5:14-15) and defeat demons (Mark 9:29). In prayer God opens eyes, changes heart, heals wounds, and grants wisdom (James 1:5). This is why the Religious leaders are calling for a change of attitude and to seek the face of God. As we continue the struggle against COVID 19, let us keep to the rules, observe all that are prescribed to stop the spread of the corona virus. May God heal our land and grant us peace and salvation.
Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council and the Secretary General of the West Africa Inter-Religious Council