Kábíyèsí in the Yoruba tradition implies one who has supreme authority. It is used for the King, not just chiefs or elders. Kábíyèsí is he whose word is law, who must be obeyed at all costs. I am not a Yoruba scholar but I would say the literal translation of Kábíyèsí is, “no one questions him/her”. The “question” is in the negative sense because a kind Kábíyèsí would welcome a subject sincerely seeking understanding of an edict or command. The concept of Kábíyèsí has to do with Kábíyèsí’s word being final, like when a judge rules and there is no recourse to a higher authority. Traditionally, Kábíyèsí is the highest authority in the land.
Kábíyèsí is a different concept from dictatorship as we know it in the rest of the world. Kábíyèsís are usually respected because they bring good even though they bring punishment. Typically, Kábíyèsí has or should have the best interest of the subjects of his kingdom at heart. Kábíyèsí is usually wiser than his subjects. Typically, when you use the name Kábíyèsí in the presence of Kábíyèsí, you are prostrate, as a sign of submission, not out of a negative fear but out of reverence to one who holds the power of life and death and uses it for your good. When you use the name Kábíyèsí in the absence of Kábíyèsí it is with equal reverence even if you do not fall or bow down in adoration. Growing up, when my Dad used the word Kábíyèsí to refer to the traditional ruler of Ìkéré-Èkìtì, our town of origin in South West Nigeria, it did not convey anything negative. There was a stateliness about Kábíyèsí, it sounded like there was authority and royal dignity invested in the name. Kábíyèsí sounded like graciousness and wisdom mixed with supreme royalty.
As I read, study and meditate on the Bible today, I see the concept of Kábíyèsí in the letter and in the spirit of scripture. The Kábíyèsí of the universe, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all spirit, life and matter in them does not issue suggestions, he issues commands. He does not ask for our opinions – they are not needed, He tells us what to think. He asks for obedience to his laws. Without this understanding of God as Kábíyèsí, it is hard to obey his commandments or to take them seriously. It takes me accepting as a personal Kábíyèsí the giver of the commandment “Love the Kábíyèsí your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself,” to obey that command. It is a heavy command and yet it is the lightest of commands because it comes from Kábíyèsí, the Creator who is called Love, whose description of himself is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. That is the real Kábíyèsí. The understanding of his Kábíyèsíness will help us hearken to and submit fully to him, for our own good.
Obviously, in the 21st century, we have a problem with anyone explicitly asking for obedience because we think of dictatorship and loss of individuality. But the King of the Universe is no dictator as anyone who allows him or herself to sit still for a while and sincerely ponder, with or without the Bible, will realize. He is Kábíyèsí, whose only intention is to give us ourselves back, the way he created us to be. In any case, everyone has a supreme ruler over their lives. Jesus Christ who referred to himself as Truth said, no one can serve two masters. At any point in time, we are subservient, even if we think otherwise, because we were created to be subservient. Since this is Truth, you can independently arrive at this realization with or without help.
The Kábíyèsí of the universe deserves full submission for an infinite number of reasons. He is Creator. [This is not a thing to argue or debate, I realized lately, but a reality to live. I would be out of my senses to debate my own existence. All I need to do is exist and my existence nullifies the need to argue itself. I think debating God’s existence borders slightly on insanity, like I implied in A matter of wisdom. It is akin to debating existence itself. Let those who would debate forsake their debates and just act honestly in line with their reality]. That was a slight digression.
Because Kábíyèsí is Creator, we are only creatures, like birds and plants are creatures before him. Creatures have their rightful place in total dependency on their Creator. If that dependency is missing, there is an error. It is hard to imagine an apple tree refusing to be an apple tree and it should be seen as the highest order of sacrilege, for want of a better word, for a creature to refuse to be what it was created to be. Creatures are ‘its’, but like I mused in In His Image and Original Phantoms, scandalous grace elevated us above ‘its’ and made us ‘I’, in the image of Kábíyèsí, the Creator himself. But, we are still very creatures and our glory lies in bringing ourselves into the proper Creator-creature relationship, as A.W. Tozer mentioned in his book, “Pursuit of God” and that is total submission.
The Kábíyèsí of the universe did not stay in his beautiful, evil-free heaven but came down to us and became us and dwelt among us in our corrupted domain. Kábíyèsí, our Creator took upon himself creation and became one of those He created so that He could rescue them from their corruption. He not only became a creature, but for the sake of His creatures He offered to became a forsaken (by God and man), downtrodden, tortured creature, tortured to death at the hands of His creatures, who considered him a fellow creature gone berserk, who deserves the death penalty. He was crowned Kábíyèsí when He came back from death to life after offering up his life in such a manner. This Kábíyèsí is worthy to be Kábíyèsí. He earned the name Kábíyèsí and deserves to be supreme authority over every life he created and died for.
So when He says, “Give…”, he does not need to say “and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” for it to be gladly obeyed. His being Creator and sacrificial lamb qualify him for obedience with or without reward. The wonder is that He goes further to give rewards of obedience. He is the quintessential Kábíyèsí. When this Kábíyèsí says “Do not be anxious about your life but seek first the kingdom of God…”, He does not need to say, “all the things you are anxious about will be added to you.” His being the Creator and sacrificial lamb qualify him to receive instant obedience. It is amazing that he goes further to provide rewards.
This is Kábíyèsí who deserves total submission and obedience because He is Creator who knows you, me, us, much more than we will ever know ourselves, to the infinite. He knows what we need to do, how we need to be, what keeps us healthy, much more than we know. He knows us completely. His being Creator is reason enough to submit and obey Him unreservedly but what is marvelous and scandalous to the nth degree is that this Kábíyèsí is the lamb who offered himself for slaughter on the altar of sacrifice, and the One who has granted us access into His holiest of holies, whenever we choose to enter. Our minds are incapable of fully grasping this mystery of mysteries, without help because royal highnesses do not condescend so low. Why in heaven and on earth would the Creator “stand at the door and knock?” Why would the Creator lower himself, according to Soren Kierkegaard, “to being that which can be chosen” and therefore subject to rejection?
You can ask what do you want, Kábíyèsí, the same way Ronké my wife, asks me “what do you want” when she thinks I’m being too nice, but what can He want? What do we have to offer? But we should fall prostrate and ask, “Kábíyèsí, what do you want?” Then obey and comply with His demands without questioning, including loving our neighbor as ourselves or any other command, even if it sounds absurd or impossible. Kábíyèsí has spoken, so absurdity or impossibility are out of the question. We can blindly obey this Kábíyèsí but His Grace even allows us to know what and why we should obey. Who else qualifies to be Kábíyèsí but this Kábíyèsí? Who else qualifies for total submission but this Kábíyèsí? If not, His question becomes, “What more do you want me to do after I, the source of existence and your maker gave my life as a ransom for you, for you to realize that I, Kábíyèsí, have your best interest at heart and my Word is to be taken to heart?”