Ravi Zacharias, one of the most genuine and available Christian apologists of our time, passed away May 19, two months after learning that he had developed a rare form of cancer at the age of 74.
Ravi Zacharias was Christian speaker and author of over 25 books. He was the founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, which remains headquartered in Atlanta after his passing with offices worldwide. Ravi won the Gold Medallion Book Award for Can Man Live Without God? a bestselling apologetics book that succeeded at making a convincing case for the existence of God.
Ravi had spent most of his life investigating the deep, unknowable questions of life as they relate to God. Though he was never an atheist, he had both the compassion and intelligence to logically work through the atheist’s perspective, which greatly equipped Ravi to speak to those who question the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. He was never afraid to acknowledge that when Christianity is defended poorly or not at all, it gives grounds for those with secular beliefs to deem Christianity as illogical and untrue.
One of my favorite Ravi Zacharias books is The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind. In the book’s introduction, Ravi wasted no time illuminating the issue at hand. He writes, “Today, many people think it is naïve to believe in God because there is not enough evidence for His existence.”
This single sentence is doubly true, which is why when I read it, I was immediately sucked in. Unlike even fifty years ago, seventy or one-hundred, if a Christian today openly reveals in his or her day-to-day life their faith and relationship with the Lord, they are generally regarded as either silly, gullible, or in need of greater meaning because something has gone terribly wrong. I’ve noticed myself that it’s “acceptable” to be vocally Christian if you’re a recovering drug addict, for example—people can wrap their heads around why a former addict would cling to the idea of God—but it’s somehow ludicrous to believe in the salvation of Jesus if this whole time your head has always been screwed on straight.
Ravi Zacharias had a way to speaking directly to those camps of non-believers who naturally thought the worst of the sanity of Christians, and not only was Ravi able to speak to them, but he was also heard by them. His message made sense because it wasn’t grounded in emphatic assertions that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life period, but rather because he stepped onto the non-believer’s turf and spoke to them in their language, acknowledging their skepticism and also their point of view in order to prove that he understood their position.
The fearless confidence and open love that Ravi demonstrated throughout his life as he defended Christianity and engaged with non-believers is why the Christian Daily Chronicle is shining its faith spotlight on Ravi Zacharias. Ravi always maintained a manner during his lectures and debates that sought to respectfully convince non-believers of the validity of Jesus and the existence of God, as opposed to alienating those who didn’t believe with warnings, insults, and dismissive eye rolling. The way in which Ravi spread the gospel—an imperfect man aiming to deliver a perfect message—is inspiring.
Ravi’s apologist message often included a call to Christians, challenging those in the faith to know what it means to be a Christian in belief and in practice. He argued that the term “follower of Jesus” has become fluid to the extent that its definition was unknown. Ravi had an intelligent way of addressing the predicament of modern man. He characterized society as chalk-full of people who listen with their eyes and think with their feelings. It wasn’t a compliment and yet Ravi never aimed to insult them. Rather, he was invested in appealing to the emotions of the audience he was speaking to, and if his audience thought with their feelings, he found ways to communicate to them the message of Christ in the emotional language they used. In this way, he reached people.
At first blush, Ravi would probably have struck most people as a polished speaker. He was certainly intelligent and could form arguments and debate even the most brilliant adversaries, but he wasn’t poised to make cases for the existence of God and defend Christianity because he had led a charmed life. In fact, the impetus of Ravi’s call and conversion to Christianity occurred in a hospital after a failed suicide attempt. You can read about this event, in Ravi’s own words, in an article he wrote for Christianity Today in 2013 called Antidote to Poison. During his hospital recovery after his suicide attempt, he began reading the Bible.
I’m tempted to wonder how that Bible got into his hospital room. As a Christian, I have my own story about first cracking open a Bible. One had been “left” in an apartment I moved into. When I saw it, I felt odd about it being there on the windowsill, but I didn’t have the heart to throw it away. Almost a year later, after events of my own, I needed it. I read it, and everything in my life changed from that moment forward.
That’s what I respect and appreciate about Ravi Zacharias, among many other things. He had seen rock bottom in his life. He never shied away from admitting that, and doing so reinforced his conviction.
“When conveying Christian truths, you must undergird those truths with love if you want to be heard,” Ravi once said. In fact, if you binge-watch talks he gave over the years, you’ll find there’s no shortage of inspiration. “To the best of my ability, I attempt to serve God. I have never wanted to be the best. I have wanted to do my best for God.”
Yes, he put it so simply, but how hard is that to do in practice? To back-burner the very human craving to be the best in order to humble yourself enough to be used by God is far easier said than done, and yet, Ravi was able to do this. He was genuine, available, and convincing.
“Be content with the giftedness God has given you and don’t try to be someone else. If you try to be somebody else, you will lose the uniqueness of what God hardwired you to be as an individual,” Ravi advised years ago and the advice is timeless. “Seek first what God has hardwired you to be. Anyone who wants to try to be like someone else is running in the wrong direction.”
Ravi’s cancer diagnosis was determined earlier this year when doctors discovered a malignant tumor on his sacrum when he went in for back surgery. On March 12, Ravi announced his sarcoma diagnosis on Facebook, sharing that he will trust in the Lord as he endeavors to begin treatment to shrink the tumor. Though he began receiving treatment for sarcoma at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, is wasn’t long before the Lord took him back.
Can any of us hope for better? Ravi’s fight for the faith spanned many years and brought him peace, joy, and a sense of meaning serving the Lord. From his initial cancer diagnosis until the end, were only a few months and they were filled with love, family, and acceptance that his time had come. A true blessing that anyone at the Christian Daily Chronicle would want when facing their own time.
As we celebrate the life and faith of Ravi Zacharias, we would like to look back at one particular interview during which the answers to questions he was asked left a lasting impression for us all to ponder, and feel inspired by, for years to come. That interview was conducted by Francis Steven Dokka, op-ed contributor of the Christian Post.
Dokka asked Ravi, “How would you respond to someone who asks you, ‘Why is Jesus Christ the only way? Why not Islam or any other religion?’”
Ravi’s answer was brilliantly honest in its frank simplicity and in that way characterized why he was beloved throughout his life. “I would ask that person a very simple question: Is truth by definition exclusive or all inclusive? Truth by definition is an affirmation of a fact, the contrary position of which is denied. It is a false question to think that only the Christian faith propositions exclusivity. All faiths proposition exclusivity. If you ask a Muslim scholar what is the final authority, he will tell you it’s the Koran. If you ask a Hindu scholar, he will tell you it is the Vedas. If you ask him what the ultimate non-negotiables are, he will say karma and reincarnation. Now, exclusivity is intransient to truth.
“The question is, does the Christian faith stand up to the test of truth? That is what he should ask. And I find the message of Jesus—not just talking about the exclusivity of truth—brings relevance, hope and love. The last words of Jesus on the cross were, ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.’ Love and grace are at the core of what we need. This world needs a savior, and I believe in Jesus we find that savior.”
In the same interview, Dokka went on to ask Ravi Zacharias, “What would you say to an atheist who says if God were a CEO of a company, he should be fired?”
Ravi’s response: “I would ask him, ‘Why?’ And I know what he would say. He would probably give you a moral analysis of what is going on in the world. But the atheist does not have a right to a moral absolute he has already denied. So what is the moral absolute on which he bases his statement? He has to either justify moral reasoning or surrender moral reasoning. He cannot justify moral reasoning in a natural framework. Pragmatically, it may work.
“But there is no rationally compelling reason why I should be moral. And if he denies the existence of God what moral framework is he using to judge God? Basically, he has his feet firmly planted in mid-air. So the problem has not been solved. God has to be in the paradigm for it to be resolved.
“I would also ask the atheist a very simple question: Can you show me in your scientific world or naturalistic framework how a non-moral being with an amoral process brings about a moral framework? Can you tell me how consciousness can come from non-consciousness? Can you tell me how something can come from nothing? That quantum vacuum is not nothing. We know that they just try to tell you that within that framework there are all the primordial beginnings—the capacity for design.
“The process of design is a legitimate debate. But the fact of a designer cannot be debated. You may as well tell me the dictionary came about from an explosion in a printing press. The astronomers say that the possibility of this universe happening by accident is infinitely greater than one of a jumbo jet developing because of a storm going through a junkyard. Think of the mathematical improbability of that happening.”
A final question from that interview, “What is the place of Christian apologetics in Christian faith, and how should it be balanced with the message of Christ’s love?”
Ravi’s answer: “Christian apologetics actually has two tasks. First, giving answers to specific questions. Second, making truth claims clear. Truth must always be undergirded by love. My mother, who was from Chennai, and my father from Kerala, used to say, ‘If you cut off someone’s nose, there is no use in giving him a rose to smell.’ If Christian apologetics cut off the listener’s nose, there is no use in giving them the sweet aroma of the Christian message. You have to do it undergirded by love. You learn this as a parent. You can hammer something into your child’s head, and when they leave, they extract it and fling it away. But if you sow it with seeds of love, it will remain in their hearts permanently. So the truth of Christ is both true and relevant undergirded by love.”
Ravi once said, “I want to make sure that I finish well. My biggest love and passion is my family. I want to see my children and grandchildren grow up and serve Christ. And if they will follow and walk closely with the Lord, then I will consider my mission in life accomplished.”
Ravi Zacharias has finished well. His mission was accomplished, and his message will continue to inspire Christians into apologetics and win souls to Christ even as Ravi rests in peace.