A brother recently recounted an experience he had when he visited his former church in one African country. Having been a part of a healthy gospel-centered church in Dubai, he had come to understand the doctrine of God’s sovereignty – how God controls everything in the whole world for his own glory. As he attempted to explain this doctrine to his former church members, their response was unanimous, “it is easy for you to talk about God’s sovereignty when you live in an affluent country like Dubai.”
In their minds the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is a concept that makes sense within an affluent society, where all the basic necessities of life are in place. For these church members, God could not possibly be in control of the endemic poverty and disease that plague the African continent. The devil should be blamed for their plight and that could only be changed through incessant fasting, prayer and binding of the devil.
In my experience as an African, this is not the view of only the church in question, there are many Christians in Africa for whom the doctrine of God’s sovereignty does not hold true. Although no Christian will outrightly deny that God is in control over their lives, there is a sense in which our lives can affirm this idea. The objection usually is, if God is in control, how do we explain the slave trade, the poverty, disease and discrimination that the African goes through in life?
The question being raised is, is God sovereign over the black man’s life? If he is, how could he allow the slave trade to happen for example? It’s been said that on top of the dungeon where the slaves were kept in the Cape Coast castle prior to being shipped to North America, was the church of the colonial master. How could God allow one race to undergo such pain and discrimination in human history? These are genuine questions that could only be answered well from the Bible. Any other way of answering it will be unfaithful.
Is God sovereign in Africa? The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” In the book of Acts chapter 17 verse 26, Paul tells us that, “… he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” According to the Bible, God created every human being, and not only did he create every person in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:26 & 27), he also allotted the periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.
The fact that I was born in Africa was not the decision of my parents, God made that decision and it wasn’t because he didn’t like me. He chose that I would be born in Africa in accordance with his purpose and foreknowledge. We are told in Genesis 1:31 that, “… God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
The testimony we receive from the Bible is that everything God made was good, and that should be the starting point of our discourse about the poverty, disease and discrimination the people of the African continent face in the world. The right approach to understanding the predicament of Africa is to ask, how did things move from being good to the pain and evil that we see all around us?
Genesis 3 provides an answer to how everything moved from being good to where things are now. Ever since man disobeyed God, nothing has ever been the same. The first evil act after the fall of man was the killing of Abel by Cain (Genesis 4:1-8), therefore when I think about slavery, discrimination against the black race which continues till today and the extortion that took place during the colonial era against the African, I am not confused whether God is sovereign in Africa. Just as he was sovereign over Abel’s life when he was killed by Cain, he is sovereign over the African’s life.
The Bible teaches that God is in control even over the evil that men do, to bring about his purposes and plans. Many of us know about the story of Joseph and how his brothers sold him into Egypt as a slave accompanied by hardships and pain. At the time it looked as though God was blindsided, but the testimony of Joseph in Genesis 50:20 sums it up so well, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
The greatest example of how God is in control over everything including evil was in the death of his own Son. In the book of Acts 2:22-24, Peter declared, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it”
Evil men killed Jesus and yet God was not blindsided, everything that happened to Jesus was according to his definite plan and foreknowledge. God was working through the evil acts of men to bring about the greatest good. Make no mistake about it, God will bring every evil deed to judgement. His working in evil to bring about his purpose does not excuse evildoers of their evil deeds. Every slave trader who did not repent will be called before the judge of all flesh to give an account on the last day, so will every racist or extortionist.
I have lived outside Africa during the last eleven years, I constantly face discrimination, racism and rejection just because of my skin color and where I come from, but as a follower of Christ I am not depressed. I am under no illusion that this situation will change completely, even though I continue to work for justice and equality of all peoples. My real hope is in the Bible, the promise that God will make all things new. I’m looking forward to the new heaven and the new earth, where I will not be judged based on the color of my skin or where I was born (Revelations 21 & 22), but the just God will acquit me because of my faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
On that day it wouldn’t matter whether you are an African or European or Asian or Arab or American or Australian. It wouldn’t matter whether you were discriminated against or not, whether you were rich or poor. The only thing that would matter would be whether you are in right standing with God through Jesus Christ.
Yes, God is sovereign over all creation including the people of Africa and he has not been blindsided about the predicament of the black race. But there is a worse predicament awaiting all those who have not received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is that fate I will warn you to flee from.