Theologian talks measles, God and Christmas

The Principal of the Pacific Theological College, Reverend Prof. Dr. Upolu Lumā Vaai, has cautioned Samoans to be wary of blaming God for human errors.

The theologian called for caution in the wake of the measles epidemic which has claimed 79 lives since the outbreak was declared in October.

Rev. Vaai, who is a former Methodist Church Minister, said God’s love should never be strictly confined to judgment.

“We are obsessed to bring in the language of ‘God’s curse’ or ‘God’s judgment’ to the picture to the extent of putting the blame on God as the one behind the deaths of innocent people,” he said.

“In our Samoan culture and wisdom process, timing is of essence. A time to plant, a time to fish, a time to conserve, a time to scrutinize, and a time to heal.”

Rev. Vaai was in Samoa for a few days with his family for a family gathering (fa'alavelave) when Samoa Observer approached him for an interview.

With regards to the measles crisis, Rev. Vaai believes that the outbreak is unfortunate but remains a challenge not only to the country. but also to the faith of the people. 

He urged caution on some aspects of the health crisis as a large number of people have taken to social media in recent weeks and claim the measles epidemic is a "test" by God. 

“We are obsessed in involving God in whatever circumstances that happen to us,” he said.

“We like to immediately jump into developing theological conclusions on how God’s favour works and who that favour is for, leading to a misunderstanding and misplacement of God.”

“Hence, some of us like to control the love of God by claiming the power to decide on who deserves such divine love and who does not.”

For the churches in Samoa, Rev. Vaai's advice is for them to tread with care as the theology of God can be both healing and destructive. 

He said there should be reflection of what God really is about and the messages that should be put out. 

According to Rev. Vaai, some glimpses of the message can be found in the stories of the victims of the measles epidemic.

“We are in one of the darkest times in the history of the world. We see the rise of racism and extreme polarization of countries and peoples nurtured by a very exclusive nationalism,” he said.

“We see a kind of fundamentalism that is promoting a prosperity gospel and a shallow message of hope. We see war and bloodshed everywhere.”

With the measles epidemic, Rev. Vaai reflected on what happened during the birth of Christ, according to the Gospel of Matthew.

“We miss that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus sought asylum and refuge in another country due to political threat. We also miss that like Rachel who was weeping for her children, the land that received Jesus was draped with tears of pain of the many mothers who have lost loved ones.”

“We Christians must be reminded, at least by Matthew’s Gospel, that the birth of Jesus was not a happy and joyous ordinary birth as many of us had.”

“It was accompanied by movements of fear, the urge to survive, and tears of pain. As we celebrate this Christmas, let us reflect deeply on our spirituality as a nation and use the opportunity to assist those who have lost loved ones and be a healing to one another.”

“Let us pray for the victims, for the land and our oceans, for the people, for our leaders, and for the mission of the church.”

Rev. Vaai also preached at the Magiagi Methodist Church – where his twin brother, Li’amanaia Savaii Vaai serves as a pianist and a church goer – leaving an unforgettable message for the congregation, “Gafa o le fale”.

His presence overwhelmed the congregation and will go down in the annals of the church’s history.

Rev. Vaai previously worked for many years in the Methodist Church before he was offered scholarship to study abroad and became the Principal of the P.T.C.

The Fiji-based P.T.C. was established in 1965 after the first Pacific Ecumenical Council was held at Malua in 1961. Since then, the college is renowned for its unique contribution in training future leaders for the Pacific churches.

It also plays a unique role in relation to regional development and stability and the production of contextual theologies that critically address regional issues, especially issues of justice.

It is made up of regional Christian traditions such as Methodist/Wesleyan, Congregational, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Uniting.

However, the college is also open to other denominational traditions and other faith traditions.

P.T.C has academic programmes from certificate level up to PhD.

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