Article of Faith: Building a house on the sand, By Femi Aribisala
My house cost a fortune to build: one billion naira to be precise.
I had always wanted to build my own house. I would buy “House and Garden” magazines and look at so many different house designs. As a child, I wanted to be an architect. As an adult, it was clear the nearest I would get to fulfilling that dream would be in designing and building my own house. I disliked even the best houses I saw. There was always something missing; always something out of place. But I knew that one day; I would build a house that would put all other houses to shame.
Finally, one day, my dream came true. I built the house of my dreams. It was by far the greatest day of my life. My house was an architectural masterpiece. It was fabulous. It was glorious. It had everything I wanted exactly where I wanted it. Of course, it cost a fortune to build: one billion naira to be precise.
People came from near and far to admire my house. The verdict was unanimous; there was none like it. Everybody who was anybody adored my house. A whole edition of “Ovation” was devoted to celebrating it. Tourists came just to take photographs of my house. Nollywood film-directors begged me to feature it in their movies. Everybody, from presidents to senators to business-tycoons, readily came for my seasonal parties. My house was without a doubt the talk of the town.
But one day, I noticed something odd. The roof in the den upstairs started leaking when it rained. Worse still, mysterious cracks started appearing in the walls. I tried everything but just did not seem to be able to identify the cause. Finally, in desperation, I went to see my Father in Ibadan, and told him about my predicament. His reaction irritated me a great deal. First; he laughed at me. Then he rubbed salt into the wound by saying: “Femi, what do you really know about building a house? You have little or no experience in these matters.”
“How can you say that?” I retorted, “I have built a house that is by all accounts the best there is in Lagos.” “So how come the roof is leaking and the walls are cracking?” he asked mischievously. Papa had a simple solution. “I will send you my Structural Engineer. He will stay with you for a couple of weeks. He will identify the faults in the building and suggest ways to rectify them.”
A few days later, a mild-mannered man knocked on my door. He introduced himself as the Structural Engineer my Father had spoken about. He moved into one of the many bedrooms and set out to inspect the entire building. I showed him the problems I was having in the den. He smiled knowingly and immediately identified where the leak was coming from. I was very impressed and could not help but seek the approval of such a connoisseur about my mansion. “Apart from these minor details,” I said dismissively, “I am sure you will admit that this is such a magnificent house? It cost no less than one billion naira to build it”
The Engineer seemed a little amused by my statement. “I take it,” he replied, “that you haven’t yet noticed the faults in the kitchen?”
The kitchen? What kitchen? What fault could there be in the kitchen? The kitchen was nothing short of extraordinary. Everything there was well appointed and custom-made. I don’t mind saying so myself. The kitchen was quite simply a work of art.
Not one to argue, the Engineer took me to the kitchen. One-by-one, he showed me all kinds of structural defects I had not even noticed before. I was crestfallen but decided to put a bold face on it. “Thank God you are here,” I said. We can fix it, right?” I was looking for some kind of reassurance, some words of comfort from this gentle man. But I was more than taken aback by his response. “And then what do you propose to do about the study?” he asked.
Killing me slowly
“The study,” I shouted, livid. “What study?” Suddenly, I took another look at this mild-mannered man. He did not seem so mild-mannered anymore. It was becoming clear to me that this man was up to no good. Why did I ever allow this so-called Structural Engineer to come into my house? It was time to show him the door.
Yes, I knew there were some things wrong with the den. I noticed them myself and had brought them to his attention. I am even prepared to admit there were some things wrong with the kitchen. I never argued with him when he showed them to me. But there was no way he, or anyone else for that matter, was going to convince me that anything was wrong with the study. I spent more time designing that room than I did with any other room. I supervised its construction to the very last detail when it was being built. It was the room in the house where I spent most of my time. If anything were to be wrong with the study, I would have been the first to know.
But in his characteristically no-nonsense manner, the Engineer walked me into the study. Again, he systematically showed me all the things wrong with the room. I could not believe it. There were more things wrong in my favourite study than there had been in both the den and the kitchen combined.
I was crest-fallen. It seemed like my whole world suddenly came crashing down. In desperation, I turned to this mild-mannered Architect. “What can we do?” I pleaded. “We can fix it, can’t we? Please tell me the truth.”
The Architect looked at me with great intensity. “Do you really want to know?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, resigned to my fate but now afraid to look him in the eye. “What we need to do,” said the Architect, “is knock the entire house down and start all over again with a completely new building.”
I could not believe my ears. “Knock the house down?” I protested. “This house cost one billion naira to build.” My nemesis was completely unimpressed. He smiled at me in that enigmatic manner of his that drives me up the wall. “Do you not see all these things?” he asked. “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2).
This is how I embarked on my tumultuous relationship with that wonderful Architect whose surname is the Holy Spirit. I thought he came by agreement with my Father to stay with me for just a few weeks, make some vital repairs and then leave. But since he arrived, he has never left and obviously has no plans of leaving.
I have watched in consternation as he has set about to demolish every single stone of my once magnificent house. The agony of it all has been excruciating. Every protest from me hit against the same brick wall: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1).