By Gideon Para-Mallam
When Rev. Dr. Byang Henry Kato died in a swimming pool in Mombasa, Kenya at the young age of 39, in Dec 1975, the question on the minds of most people was – does death make any sense?
When General Murtala Mohammed was killed in a military Coup at the young age of 37 on February 13th 1976, most people wondered aloud, some even voiced it saying, ‘death makes no sense.’
When Keith Green, a Contemporary Gospel artist with a mind for missions, died in a plane crash he was Piloting at the young age of 29, with two of his children and a close friend with 2 of his children, the question remained the same, ‘will death ever make sense?
When the American President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy – no doubt the most glamourous and action-minded guy was assassinated at the young age of 43, in Dallas, Texas, November 1963, most people and political observes not just in the USA but around the world wandered if death will ever make sense.
On a personal note, my late father, Para Kundi Nyam, a first convert to Christianity when the SIM came to my village – Gora in Jaba LGA, was a visionary, dynamic and hardworking young man with a bright future – yet he died at the young age of 30? in February 1968. I was only 7 then, I still have not made much sense of it. In fact, the chilling words of my late grandmother have stayed with me. She lamented by asking, how could a loving God take her promising son?
Perhaps many are asking similar questions right now! No easy answers: Yet here we are today grappling on the same sentiments. Why should God take away from us, Prof Jonathan Andrew Nok at such a time – when it appears we needed him the most? His family, this State, nation and the global Science community are asking why, why, why, Lord?
We gather to mourn and celebrate the life of an intellectual giant, an academic icon – well respected in his field of research – Trypanosomiasis from the famous Ahmadu Bellow University, ABU, Zaria and beyond.
Perhaps the best VC ABU never had but his contributions will live on. His ideas will not die. He is respected nationally and internationally. No wonder many of us believe he has gone home too soon! Prof Nok also effectively integrated his academic discipline as Biochemist, with his Christian faith and calling without ambiguity. He was unashamedly a Christian and a Scientist. He combined his spiritual and intellectual beliefs to show us that having the best mind and heart do not contradict; especially in this post-modern time. For some, the more educated you are the further away you are from God. Today, liberal intellectual arrogance has become synonymous with godlessness and atheism. Just when we thought he will begin to serve as a great mentor in the field of Science and Faith, he suddenly passed on. IFES, Africa is working on a major Africa Scholars Consolation in 2018, on a subject matter he has modelled so well – but the Lord chose to call him home. God knows!
Such is life and the cold hands of death. ONLY God can provide the convincing answers as to why Prof Nok, left us the way he did and at the time he did. To get instant answers will be a tough searching journey for you his dear wife, sister, aunty and mother – Amina and your three lovely 3 children – Anita, Amanda and Nathan, members of his immediate family, friends, Southern Kaduna, the Kaduna State Government particularly our Governor, H E Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the people of Kaduna State and Nigerians. This is one death where there will be no easy answers. God is Omniscient (all-knowing), Omnipotent (all-powerful) and Omnipresent (always-there present – everywhere)! We must submit to Him. He will help us understand this death by and by. To his family and all present here, I suggest a re-focusing on God’s word Isaiah 41:10 to make sense out of this death. God’s word begins with offering comfort, courage and presence: ‘be not afraid,’ or be not dismayed, why? Psalms 116: 15 –Precious in God’s sight is the death of his Saint. Let’s look at this passage in greater details.
1. Saints Are Precious in God’s Sight
The contextual background of Psalms 116 is this: The Psalmist was facing death and turned to God . . . verse 3 and the thematic implication shows him praising God for saving him from a certain death. However, the critical message of hope here is in verse: 15 – “The Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die.” (NLT). “Precious in God’s sight is the death of his Saint.” (KJV). This assurance should encourage our hearts. It is my prayer that God will use this passage and sermon to encourage his wife Mrs Amina Jonathan Andrew Nok, their three children and the entire Andrew Nok family. Nok was loved, almost adored by his children and those of us who knew his exciting/glowing academic exploits. Surely, he will be missed here but our loss is heaven’s great gain. Death for the believer is sadness from the earth’s perspective but joy and celebration from heaven’s point of view. This reality must have led the Psalmist to declare that: ‘Precious in God’s sight is the
death of his Saints.’ Death is described in the bible sometimes as SLEEP. In some cases, it is called REST – Daniel 12:13. Death is not always seen as a finality. Prof Nok wasn’t’ a Saint in the sense of being sinless. He was in fact a sinner saved by grace. Saint here is not in the sense of sinless perfection. Biblical sainthood originates from the Greek word holy or set apart. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic sainthood are a special class of believers who have been canonized based on that person’s special deeds, an honor bestowed posthumously.
Therefore, saint here in Psalms 116:15 is used in the sense of those who have been made right with God because of the work of atonement by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, on the Cross of Calvary. The CROSS attracted God’s forgiveness, our redemption and deliverance from judgement. Salvation is not based on our good works, NO, not with God! Salvation is by God’s grace – Eph 2:8 -9. Grace is God’s unmerited favour to humankind. It is a free gift. You can only access this gift which Christ offers to all, by faith. God’s love is universal and unlimited. John Piper says: ‘The gospel is the goodnews of God sending His son Jesus to us . . . You will never, never, never, never never, outgrow your need for the gospel.’ The gospel is the highway to God’s salvation. Although Prof Nok was an intellectual giant both nationally and globally, yet he was a victim of injustice in Nigeria regarding his qualification yet denied being appointed as Vice Chancellor of ABU.
I learnt reliably that in the first exam he scored 86 and the next candidate to him scored 54. In the 2nd exam he scored 96% the 2nd guy got 52%. Yet the person who scored 52% got the position – how do you characterize that in our society today? If this is not injustice of the highest order then what is it? Yet, Nok, took it calmly. How did he manage this without allowing bitterness to destroy him? Injustice is poisonous to the human conscience. Justice brings unexplainable healing to the human soul. Let’s work together to eradicate injustice and promote justice and fairness in our society. Nok survived because he had a solid undeniable relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The difference in Nok’s life is that he found Christ, accepted Jesus and found peace with His God. So, we know where he is right now – in the presence of God, not inside that coffin. His spirit is right now in God’s presence. Prof Nok leant humility from Christ, in spite of his academic greatness, Nok was down to earth and no airs about him. He is the epitome of knowledge – the bible says knowledge could puff one up – 1Cor 8:1, but not with Nok. The more knowledgeable he became, the humbler. Not some of us, Lord have mercy. His was a short but very impactful life.
Friends, sometimes it is not how long one lives but how well we have lived our lives in this world. Prof J A Nok, lived his life well and meaningfully to the glory of God.
2. Death: A Star is Born and Reborn:
“The final stage of a giant star’s life is a blaze of glory called a “supernova.” Typically, the massive implosion of the star’s core releases energy and spews material into the cosmos at high speeds, burning brightly for up to 100 days before fading into oblivion.” Prof Nok reminds me of this giant star.
Astronomers have identified an unusual dying star that has survived multiple supernova explosions over many months. This Star was first seen exploding in September 2014, and then again in 2015 . . . but it didn’t fade, shining brightly for another 600 days. Iair Arcavi, co-author of a study that appeared in a 2017 issue of the journal Nature says: “This supernova breaks everything we thought we knew about how they work.”
Will Professor Jonathan Andrew Nok die in vain? Should his legacy especially in Science be allowed to disappear with his death? I hope not. We should do all we can to not let this happen. Let his work live-on, this way his death will never be in vain and many generations yet unborn will learn from his legacy.
Death is a reality in this world. Death does not discriminate based on tribe, education, class, religion or political party. Death comes to us all, yet the trajectory of life and death is that – death does not have control over our lives. God is the one who controls our lives – when we are born and when we will die. Although we know that death will come one day, yet no one will ever be fully ready for malam mutuwa. “Never fear dying, beloved. Dying is the last, but the least matter that a Christian has to be anxious about.” Charles Spurgeon.
Mrs Amina Nok, death brings with it what is called separation anxiety. You were much loved by your late husband. He loved his children. Now God becomes your husband and a father to your children – Psalms 68:5. Jesus also promised to be with and live in you and your children through the presence of the Holy Spirit. This brings with it courage and hope. He will keep you strong through the years ahead. May God transform all the valleys of troubles in your life into gateways of hope – Hosea 2:15a and 19b.
Prof Nok was a generous and consistent giver and a quite one at that. He has helped to train or point others to benefit from academic training and helping them to get generous scholarship to further their studies from BSc to Masters and PhDs levels. Dr. Joshua and his brother and Dr. Azuibuike.
Since primary school, Jonathan has known no position except 1st and not once did he ever take any 2nd position in any class. Yet Jonathan was humble, quiet and unassuming. The formula for the malaria drug Artesunate was based on his research work. He was a scientific darling in the small but exclusive club of global scientist researchers – who were also innovators or discoverers. The Germans saw him as an intellectual goldmine and so also the Japanese.
3. Prof Nok and Kaduna State Government
Prof Nok’s invitation to serve in government by H.E. El-Rufai, and his decision to accept the invitation generated some heat. Renowned World class and accomplished intellectuals do get invited to serve their nations in the political arena. For example, Havel, a renown Poet and Noble Peace prize on literature, became President of Czech Republic on similar circumstances. Nok’s wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. Just why did he agree to serve? Others have uncharitably suggested that the sacking of teachers attracted God’s punishment on Prof Nok, hence his death. How wrong! Nok accepted to serve because he felt a strong need to give back to his State and people what they have invested in him in education. He also felt being friends with the Governor since their childhood days, encouraged him to join hands and support the governor’s quest to provide quality governance.
More specifically, a more fitting example: On November 17, 1952 – An invitation letter was sent to a famous Scientist, like Nok, inviting him to serve as a President of Israel:
Dear Professor [Albert] Einstein:
“The bearer of this letter is Mr. David Goitein . . . is bringing you the question which Prime Minister Ben Gurion asked me to convey to you, namely, whether you would accept the Presidency of Israel if it were offered you by a vote of the Knesset.”
Prof Einstein Response:
“I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel [to serve as President], and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions . . .”
You will understand his reply in the context of his academic background and social life. However, not every Scientist is exactly like Prof. Albert Einstein. Nok on the other hand is a gifted administrator and good in governance and he proved it within the short time he served.
4. Why is the Death of Saints Precious to God? Vs 15:
Four things stand out clearly especially verse 15 – Divine Watch, Divine Control, Divine Presence and Divine Value – These are:
1. Divine Watch – Deut. 33:27a: God watches over the lives of those who are His children, those who live faithfully and seek to please Him during their pilgrimage here on earth. He watches over us and nothing happens to us without His knowledge or permission – even death 1 Cor. 15: 54-58. Death is not a finality for the believer. It is only the beginning of life in eternity with God. Therefore, the departure of a believer in this world is not the victory of death over life.
2. Divine Control: God exercises divine control over the circumstances and the timings of their death – the Saints. Nothing happens to a child of God by chance. God always remains in full control of our lives. Romans 8: 28-39.
The underlying truth is that nothing separates us from the love of God, not even death. Not trials, tribulations, not persecutions, not even suffering or dead. God was in control even in our brother’s case, including the health challenged he experienced and which led to his death. He lived to be 55, God allowed him this number of years, others were not so fortunate. God called him home simply because his time was up. Let’s acknowledge this fact and forget all the conspiracy theories flying about and around. His dad’s words to me.
3. Divine Presence: God is always there with and for them (the Saints) even at the point of their death . . . oh else how could you explain these stories? My late mother – hours before her death and her comments about heaven being our best home. A dying older Evangelist, another Evangelist who died exactly one year later – both from ERCC in Nasarrawa State – the revelation of a completed house and the one whose foundation was just being started – he died one year after the older one. The revelation had to do with his own home call a year later, hence the new foundation.
4. Divine Value: The Saints are of much value to God whether in life or in death. I want to share again that Prof Jonathan Nok did not live a sinless life but a saintly life. Therefore, he is of much heavenly value to God right now. Physical death is also deliverance from evil on earth for God’s children. The real pain of physical death is when someone dies without a personal saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. For such we mourn deeply because of the consequence of eternal separation with God. I wish to challenge any person here – if you do not know Jesus personally, I wish to invite you to think seriously and give your life to Jesus. “Take care of your life and the Lord will take care of your death.” – George Whitefield. For Nok, we rejoice because we know where he is in right now. Let’s be comforted and be reminded that God is always looking forward to welcoming His Saint home in heaven once their assignment is completed here on earth. In the end again: ‘It is not how long we live but how well we live our lives.’
Prof Jonathan Nok was a giver and financed several Church projects almost single handedly being responsible for the budgets of some Churches and guess what? He did so quietly, without noise. I will mention no names but I have heard what he has done to individuals and several Church groups some of which are present here. Although difficult to understand and accept, yet I know, there is no doubt his time is up. He will be missed greatly on this side of eternity but he is in a better place, this should be comforting to his wife and children and the larger Andrew and entire Nok family. I will also add, indeed to all of us here, who have come not only to mourn with them and the Kaduna State Government but also to celebrate a life well spent. For he lived a simple godly and incorruptible life.
Will Prof Nok’s death ever make sense? Yes, in the light of eternity. God sees the end of a matter from its beginning. One thing for sure is that his, was a life well spent, within the short time he was here with us!
Precious in God’s sight is the death of His Saints. What comforting words, what abiding eternal truth. As we do the difficult: mourning and celebrating Prof Jonathan Andrew Nok, let us use this occasion to encourage the government of Kaduna State to promote the ideals of Unity and inclusiveness through dialogue. Kaduna State will be a better place for all without the North-South dichotomy and ethno-religious manipulations by those in various strata of leadership in the State. Let us pray for God’s justice in Nigeria. Injustice is a real danger for Nigeria’s match to freedom and greatness. Injustice must not be allowed to reign in the State and country under any guise. I also call on our Governor H. E. Mallam El-Rufai and President Buhari to pursue the fight against corruption with uncommon boldness, intentionality and without any perception of selective vindictiveness!
Immotalizing Prof Jonathan Andrew Nok:An Appeal
If it pleases our Governor either through an Executive order or legislative action – I strongly appeal that Prof. Jonathan Andrew Nok’s name be immortalized in Kaduna State and nationally if possible. Here is a hero who deserves to be immolalized by his home State, Kaduna.
●●Revd Para-Mallam of IFES, Africa, first delivered this in Kaduna on December 2nd, 2017 as a Funeral Service Sermon for Prof Jonathan Andrew Nok (1962–2017) at Murtala Mohammed Square Yar’Adua Hall, Kaduna