Before you blame God one bit, Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” has words for you


Achebe’s Things Fall Apart lends us a fitting way out of the blame-game. By ‘blame-game’ is meant the tendency to shift responsibility from ourselves to others. The dialogue between Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, and the priestess of Agbala, Oracle of the Hills and the Caves, is as revealing as it is instructive. To say the least, Unoka was as poor as the proverbial church rat. However, he didn’t think he deserved poverty, given the following claims he boldly makes, indicting the gods, as it were:

Every year, before I put any crop in the earth, I sacrifice a cock to Ani, the owner of all land. It is the law of our fathers. I also kill a cock at the shrine of Ifejioku, the god of yams. I clear the bush and set fire to it when it is dry. I sow the yams when the first rain has fallen, and stake them when the young tendrils appear. I weed…

I feel for him. From his end of the story, the gods were not only unjust to him but wicked. Else, why would they deny such a ‘hard working’ Unoka the just fruits of his labour and the reward for his sacrifices? Most of us can already identify with him in our fervent prayers, fasting, prayer meetings, evangelism, ‘sowing of seed’, bible study, moral instructions, hospital visitation, and one spiritual or corporal work of mercy or another. Why are we suffering, why are we feeding from hand to mouth, why are our children not in the best of schools, why can’t we afford a bicycle, motorcycle, or car, why, why, why? Most of us can already identify with Unoka’s predicament.

However, given that he was, more or less, laying accusations on the gods, reaching a conclusion without listening to the gods’ own side of the story will be unjust. And this was their side of the story

Hold your peace! You have offended neither the gods nor your fathers. And when a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm. You, Unoka, are known in all the clan for the weakness of your machete and your hoe. When your neighbours go out with their axe to cut down virgin forests, you sow your yams on exhausted farms that take no labour to clear. They cross seven rivers to make their farms, you stay at home and offer sacrifices to a reluctant soil. Go home and work like a man.

Wow! Wow! Wow! Now we see a great reason why we shouldn’t pass judgment without listening to the other side of the story. Who is at fault now? The gods or Unoka? God or you? You forget that you became a child of God at the waters of Baptism. You forget that it is whatever you sow that you will reap (cf. Gal 6:7). You forget that the rule is pray and work (with all the spiritual activities grouped under prayer), and not just pray and pray and pray. You forget that you will perish for lack of knowledge (cf. Hosea 4:6). When unbelievers, for instance, open their shops at 7am and close at 10pm, you open at 12 noon because you were ‘watching and praying’ at home, and then you close at 5pm because you want to go adore the Lord from 5.30pm to 8pm – and you do this like two or three times a week. You go to your shop in tattered clothes, unkempt hair, unwashed mouth, gloomy looks, and yet wonder why all the customers are trooping to the other shop belonging to a popular troublemaker who barely goes to church. This equally applies to civil servants, students, lawyers, doctors, contractors, menial workers, farmers – like Unoka, etc.

Go home, and work like a man.