We’ve been discussing TB Joshua on and off for weeks, but thus far I’d mainly been listening and asking questions. They had obviously picked up that I was not enthusiastic about him, but I haven’t actually said why. But this week I decided to take the plunge, and what it exposed was fascinating.
First, let me introduce these four women to you. There are three Roman Catholics. There’s Mama Boris, who’s the committed TB Joshua follower. Mama Jaclyn, who is the quietest but also the fastest to pick up on what someone is saying. And there’s Mama Colin, who is very forthright but doesn’t really follow the conversation, so she often interrupts to change the topic! (This is very tricky for me, who is fielding multiple people speaking to her at once in Swahili, and relying heavily on context to work out what they’re saying!) The other woman, Mama Juma, is a Muslim. She’s quietly spoken with a wicked sense of humour.
So, they were asking me if we had taken Red Twin to Nigeria to see TB Joshua yet, as this is more powerful than placing your hands on the TV while he is on, though that is somewhat effective too.
Mama Boris had a piece of paper with a youtube address written on it. It’s of a Lebanese man who was paralysed, and healed by TB Joshua. If I watch this video, she tells me, I will see that TB Joshua is legitimate. Tanzanians are generally very interested in rooting out fakes. For example, when we were doing language classes and a guy came to our home trying to sell ‘genuine’ Tommy Hilfiger perfume, I merely assumed it to be fake, but our language tutor had a lengthy conversation with the guy so he could catch him out and prove the goods to be fake.
For me, whether the healings that TB Joshua does are real or staged is kind of beside the point. I said to the ladies that in my mind this is an issue of theology. Why do you need TB Joshua, if we have Jesus as our High Priest? We have all the access to God we could ever need. Doesn’t looking to TB Joshua for healing supplant Christ?
This idea took Mama Boris some time to get her head around, because, she said, TB Joshua’s power is the power of Christ. She saw no conflict or separation between the two. Faith in TB Joshua is faith in Christ.
So I asked, do certain people have more power than others? All four were adamant about this. Yes, absolutely they told me. Pastors, men of God (like TB Joshua), missionaries, etc all have greater access to God than the average person. I guess that’s to be expected to some degree since three of them at Roman Catholic, but the Protestant in me was troubled by this. We talked about how in Hebrews Jesus is our mediator and High Priest, and how because of his completed work we are all able to enter the most holy place and approach the Father by of our inclusion in him.
Mama Jaclyn agreed with me. When I asked ‘Can’t Red Twin just pray to God direct for healing?’ she took over from me to explain this to the others.
But here’s how she argued it: she said, ‘Red Twin’s faith is enough to heal her.’
Which wasn’t what I said. I’d said that Jesus is enough, you don’t need a mediator because Jesus is the mediator and even the ordinary person has access to God. But the conversation we were having was not about right theology, or even right ways of doing things. It was about where there is power. So even when Mama Jaclyn says that TB Joshua is not necessary for healing, this is because she locates another source of power: Red Twin’s own faith.
You can see this in the youtube video as well. The Muslim guy comes for healing in Jesus’ name, and thanks Jesus for it, but continues in his Muslim identity. A power encounter like this ought to be aimed at showing who the true and living God is, that is, that he is unlike ‘all the other gods’. This is why Elijah asks the prophets of Baal if their god is asleep! But here we have an acknowledgement of the source of power, with no move to change allegiance. I’m reminded of the 9 lepers who are healed by Jesus and go on their way.
It’s like you have to find the right trigger, or the thing that activates God’s power. The assumption is healing. But what kind of healing? In the 10 leper story, as with many (all?) of Jesus’ healings, there is more than just physical relief, or the delay of death on view. It is the 10th leper, who turns to Jesus in faith, whose healing is complete.
I tried to explain to the ladies that we are not pursuing Red Twin’s physical healing at all costs. If she is not healed, that is not necessarily a failure of her faith, or anyone else’s. At this point I was met with great support from Mama Juma, the only Muslim in the group, because God is a mystery and we must all submit ourselves to his will. That was not quite where I was going with it! There were so many different ideas swirling around!
I wanted to say that as we face the prospect that Red Twin may not be healed, we don’t do it because we are knuckling under to the will of God, but because we Christians believe God has already acted in history in an extraordinary way to defeat death, such that our separation is for a time only, and we will be reunited.
I didn’t get to say that though, and I left them still discussing the issue with one another.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.