The Sunday News
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena
The year 2019 was surely going to be the year of our Lord. It was to be a time of great divine revelation if the pastor and also Prophet Alph Lukau had been successful in convincing the world that, through the power of the Lord, he raised a man from the dead, on 24 February in Sandton, South Africa.
But the death and the resurrection that followed it turned out to be a work of art and a spectacular performance. The world refused to be taken in and to believe that a man had been raised from the dead. What was supposed to be a great miracle and a wonder of the centuries collapsed to a ridiculous joke. In this article I intend to focus on what was genuinely miraculous about that spectacular dramatisation of a great miracle by a daring pastor and prophet, accompanied by a few trusted followers, and before what was a massive congregation, a colossal audience in Sandton.
I want to insist that the incident was really not as much about the pastor, prophet and his people but about us. That simulation of a great resurrection is a comment on our present society, not only a sign of the times it is, but we are also truly living through times of the sign.
The question must be asked why the present hegemonic model of the Christian church, the prosperity Pentecostalism, finding itself under immense pressure to perform miracles and wonders. Why is there a scramble in religious circles of the present, a stampede of so called men of God to be miraculous and magical? Has God, once again, come under immense worldly pressure to prove his existence and power in these times of the much vaunted Fourth Industrial Revolution? Or is it the commercialisation of religion and commoditisation of religious faith that has turned pastors and prophets into spiritual entrepreneurs that must build markets through dazzling miraculous advertisements and exhibitions. Or is God now simply for sale in the religious market place, available in pieces and packages to those that can afford him? If ours are the times of the signs and we are witnessing true signs of the times, what in justice is the meaning of these signs, one must ask.
I insist that for pastor and Prophet Lukau to consider it, to find it not only thinkable but doable, and to go on to perform the resurrection of a man before the world must itself and on its own be classified as a miracle. The act, for its extra-ordinary candour, for its sheer clever and also spectacularly stupid temerity, was an astounding miracle. Most of us the unfaithful have concentrated on the joke and the laughter and have ignored the faith of Prophet Lukau. His belief that all of us were going to faithfully believe the miracle, and in him as the hand of God on earth. Are all miracles, after all, not works of faith and unquestioning belief?
The Anatomy of Miracles
I was tempted to observe and argue that Alph Lukau must be watching too many movies. What appears to be truer is that he possibly reads the Bible too much and gets too ambitious. He fantasises of that day when the biblical widow of Zaraphath accused the Prophet Elijah that was lodging with her for bringing down God’s wrath that killed her beloved son. In guilt and anger the prophet grabbed the body of the dead boy and went to an upper room with it, and there the boy was raised from the dead. God’s might was vindicated, not Elijah’s power, notably.
The prophet that followed Elijah was Elisha. Elisha prayed for a Shunammite woman that was barren to have a baby at long last and she did. When the miracle child fell sick and died, Elisha raised the boy from the dead. God as the giver and also taker of all life was defended before all witnesses. When Moabites invaded Israel they interrupted all business including a funeral, fearing for their lives and wanting to quickly escape the mourners threw the body down a shaft that happened to be Elisha’s tomb. Upon contact with the bones of the prophet the dead man awoke and walked home. The message was for the Moabites and it was about God, not Elisha or the lucky man.
With his troop of disciples behind him, Christ one sunny day in the village of Nain stumbled upon a funeral procession. A widow had lost her only son and was weeping uncontrollably. Feeling some mercy, the Christ commanded her to be silent as he raised the boy from the dead. That Jesus was God and the commander of life and death was settled. Jairus, the faithful keeper of the synagogue also had his daughter resurrected by the Christ. In Lazarus, Christ raised from the dead his own friend and the brother to two ladies that were his close companions. When Christ himself died on the cross of crucifixion, tombs of the faithful saints opened up in the cemeteries of Jerusalem and some many dead arose to life. Peter the disciple of the Christ was also to raise Tabitha from the dead. Paul raised the boy Eutyhus after he fell to his death from a high rise building. Lukau must have read all these stories. He got filled with ambition and a keen wish to join the league of men of God that raised the dead to life. But what was the motive? It was definitely not to demonstrate the power of God but to grow a market, build a personal name and make financial gain. It was to floor some competitors in the religious market place and spiritual economy. It was about Lukau and his empire.
The advertising stunt and marketing gimmick was miraculously so poorly chosen. One does not play with the resurrection. It is stated in John 11:25, among other verses of the Bible that “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Jesus Christ took the resurrection of the dead and of himself as his very identity: “I am the resurrection.” The entire Christian faith is rooted on the resurrection of the dead. Alph Lukau wanted to climb too high too fast.
To wish for such a promotion for himself in front of the whole world was itself a miracle. If Lukau had succeeded, the face of Christianity was going to change forever. A new chapter would be added to the Bible, and Lukau’s words, life and actions were going to become scriptures. South Africa was going to be the centre of the world, and Sandton the New Jerusalem. The resurrected man was going to be a living tourist attraction; he was to travel to the ends of the earth telling stories about life in the world of the dead. In short, Lukau was going to be a god.
That consuming ambition to be a god was a wonder on its own. To raise a body from a coffin was much more serious business than any of the miracles performed by Jesus and his disciples. Raising a body after the surgeries of postmortems and the embalming operations is not raising a person but a thing from the dead. It was going to be pure witchcraft. Africans in their traditions grieve and mourn the dead but are really under no pressure to wish for resurrections and the return of the dead to life.
Miracles and Reason
By their nature miracles are not supposed to make sense. They must defy logic and override common sense. That is why Jesus’ own resurrection was doubted even by his own disciples. Thomas asked to see and to touch the scars to prove that Jesus was indeed the Christ that resurrected. A theological and therefore critical examination of Jesus’ own miracles including his resurrection shows that there was always higher reason behind the unreasonable miracles. First, the motive of the miracles was always Godly, for the glorification of God, not the performer of the miracle as a religious brand. Spectators and witnesses were there incidentally and not as an audience to be impressed. There was no need for cameras and media to disseminate the wonders as we do these days. From his first miracle, changing water into wine to the last one, Jesus proved that he was God. He showed control over nature, healed the sick, exorcised demons, raised the dead and was himself transfigured, once. All the miracles and the wonders were for the greater glory of God. There was always reason and meaning attached to the miracles, a message was being sent.
Alph Lukau performed a spectacle. Attention was on Lukau. It was not shown whether the dead man was faithful to God or not, or if his mother or father were like the God fearers of the Bible that had their children raised from the dead. It was a show and a demonstration of the power of Alph Lukau.
The prophets of our day have slogans and soundbites that scream their names and the names of their fancy and trendy churches that are actually corporations. Lukau is not the disease but a symptom of a sickness in present day religion. Some forms of Christianity have totally abandoned the Christ and adopted Men of God, spiritual entrepreneurs. These men of God are not flourishing because of God or their power but the following that they have. Crowds that believe in the cheap miracles and easy wonders. Me thinks the problem is really not Lukau or the legion of fellow men of God.
The problem is the multitudes, believers and followers who irrigate and encourage performances of miracles and wonders, who cultivate Christianity that has no Christ.
The appetite for miracles and wonders produces performers who capitalise on the demand and supply counterfeit miracles and wonders. Magicians, confidence tricksters and dramatic performers are only feeding existing demand for miracles and wonders, Christ has nothing to do with any of it, I argue. It is followers and believers who put pastors and prophets under pressure to perform bizarre acts and strange miracles.
– Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Braamfontein, Johannesburg: [email protected]