In our men’s fellowship group, I listened to godly Christian men recounting spine-tingling ghost stories from our village. Not long after, my Hausa Christian brother was struggling with an illness, and he gave in to the surrounding culture and accepted the witchdoctor’s remedy; he drank the ink of Quranic verses. At a recent dedication of a church member’s new house on the edge of the village, the pastor prayed at length for protection against the spirits in the wilderness. And just this month, Maimouna, who has confessed Christ and seen remarkable improvement in her HIV–associated cancer through chemotherapy and anti-retrovirals, took a step backwards. She declined further chemotherapy treatment, noting that her relatives were pressuring her to go back to relying on witch-doctor charms. For me, with my scientific/biomedical doctor’s framework, these very cultural temptations do not feel compelling. But for my brethren in Hausa culture, fear of the darkness, the demons, and death is vivid. By emphasizing our strong deliverer, the book of Romans affirms repeatedly that the news we have is indeed good.
I have been studying Romans this month in preparation for a Romans Project seminar for church leaders coming up on November 26. Each participant must have read Romans 20 times and written it out once. But I am also examining the book as a study in power, Christ’s power, because of the preoccupations of the culture that surrounds me. Christ’s power is foregrounded most prominently through emphasizing his power over death, right from 1:4. “[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christ’s warrior credentials are validated by his conquest of that demonic stronghold, death itself. Romans 8 acknowledges the futility, the bondage to decay, and the labor pains of this present world, but Satan and his agents are ultimately impotent. “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romand 8:38–39).
Paul does not fear the darkness amidst a cultural backdrop of idols, false gods, and demonic spirits. Despite man’s turn to “creeping things” (1:23), God’s “invisible attributes,” “his eternal power and divine nature” (1:20) remain unchallenged. Romans 9 reminds us of Pharaoh and the Exodus, in which the ten plagues showed God’s mastery over each of the major deities of Egypt. God affirmed that Pharaoh (with all the magicians at his back), had simply been “raised… up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth (9:17).” In chapter 14, Paul addresses food which, apparently, has been sacrificed to demons. He is not afraid of any residual demonic power that such food might harbor. It cannot challenge the supremacy of him who “died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living (14:9).” Finally, in chapter 16 we are reminded that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (v. 20).” It is entirely fitting that Paul should conclude his theological magnum opus with the fulfillment of God’s Edenic promise that the Messiah would crush the serpent’s head.
Christ is stronger than Satan and every demon. Christ is stronger than every alternative power source. Certainly, as Westerners, we might not be going to witch doctors, or afraid of ghosts. But we have other idols that we are trying to manipulate to achieve well-being, whether it is money, education, religiosity, or any other created thing. Deeply ingrained in our human sin nature is the desire to “use” God, or whatever spiritual or non-spiritual powers there might be, to achieve our own ends (Philip Steyne, Gods of Power). This describes the primitive Hausa, as well as the sophisticated Philadelphian. But in reality, Christ is our victorious, omnipotent, engaged, and reliable covenant Lord. We do not need to hedge our bets, or wonder if another master might have been more rewarding. The news is reliably good because Christ has sure dominion (Romans 6:9).
The work of Matt and Tara among a least-reached people at a hospital in West Africa, along with our other global partners, is funded by the Outreach budget.
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