Tag Archives: Ravi

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – If God, Then Why?

My wife, Ono, is someone who has been through quite a bit of physical distress and lives with some measure of disability. In one of her old Bibles is a fading scrawl that she made during one of her bouts of illness. It is a quote by Joni Eareckson Tada: “When we learn to lean back in God’s sovereignty, fixing and settling our thoughts on that unshakable, unmovable reality, we can experience inner peace. Our trouble may not change, our pain may not diminish, our loss may not be restored, our problems may not fade with the new dawn. But, the power of those things to harm us is broken as we rest in the fact that God is in control.”(1)

As is well known, Joni Eareckson has lived with unimaginable handicap for the most part of her remarkable life. In the book Indelible Ink, where 22 prominent Christian leaders discuss the one book (apart from the Bible) that has most influenced each of their lives, Joni Eareckson’s pick was Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.(2)

The epigraph that Joni Eareckson used for her chapter in Indelible Ink is also from Boettner’s book: “History,” Boettner says, “in all its details, even the most minute, is but the unfolding of the eternal purposes of God. His decrees are not successively formed as the emergency arises, but are all parts of one all-comprehending plan, and we should never think of Him suddenly evolving a plan or doing something which He had not thought of before.”(3)

For Boettner, God is in ultimate control of, and has decreed, everything—not just the larger scheme of things, but also the minutest details and the apparent happenchance of our lives, including the mad, the bad, and the sad. It is in knowing and believing this that lies the secret of rest and strength in the midst of life’s vicissitudes. This is the existential implication and practical application that Eareckson draws from Boettner’s work—and, presumably, Ono from Eareckson’s words. Stumbling upon Ono’s scribble of Eareckson’s words has, however, given me a different (not necessarily contrary) perspective on handling pain and suffering—a perspective that Eareckson or Boettner’s words do not exactly state or bear out.(4)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Into the Waste Land

“April is the cruellest month…” begins the first line of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The poem is thought to be a portrayal of universal despair, where we lie in wait between the unrelenting force of spring and the dead contrast of winter, and the casualty of the warring seasons is eventually hope. In the bold display of life’s unending, futile circles, one can be left to wonder at the point of it all. Does everything simply fade into a waste land? Is death the last, desperate word? Perhaps it was somewhere between the war of winter and spring when the prophet reeled over life’s abrupt and senseless end. “In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years? For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise. The living, the living—they praise you as I am doing today.”(1)

Though differing in degree and conclusions, literature is unapologetically full of a sense of this deep irony, at times expressing itself in futility. Euripides, writing in the fifth century, remarks:

“…and so we are sick for life, and cling

On earth to this nameless and shining thing.

For other life is a fountain sealed,

And the deeps below us are unrevealed

And we drift on legends for ever.”(2)

Shakespeare, on the lips of Macbeth, is struck by the monotonous beat of time and the futile story it adds up to tell:

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Comprehending Darkness

Within the dark and heavy world of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, the coinciding stories of each character shift around themes of grace and legalism. The stories are immensely honest, such that we find ourselves somewhere in the novel, or perhaps all through it. The darkness is overwhelming because it is all too close to home, maybe as close as our own hearts. But the light is also real, and it stings our eyes and seeps into our hearts.

In this dark and honest world, life is not fair, it is not easy and the stories don’t always go where you want them to go. Yet, the words of Victor Hugo himself push further: “Will the future ever arrive?” he asks, “Should we continue to look upwards? Is the light we can see in the sky one of those which will presently be extinguished? The ideal is terrifying to behold, lost as it is in the depths, small, isolated, a pin-point, brilliant but threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it; nevertheless, no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds.” The lives of Jean Valjean, Javert, and Cosette force us to perceive things we have maybe only half perceived, such that whatever we knew of shame and mercy and forgiveness are never the same. Their lives seemingly ask us to be aware of the brilliance of even the smallest of lights in the midst of a devastating darkness.

It is said of Christ in the Gospel of John, “In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”(1) Literally, John says that the light shines and the darkness could not “lay hold of it”; the darkness could not master it. Undoubtedly, as John penned the words that testified to the events which had unfolded before his eyes, his mind hastened back to the Cross, the darkness of that day—the unfairness, the ugliness, the confusion and regret of that overwhelming scene. And then he says boldly: Even in the jaws of darkness on the cross, the light of the world did not go out. The Light was not mastered by even the darkest moment in time.

His illustration is weighted with the reality of the waves and particles of light. Darkness cannot overpower it. It cannot catch it. It cannot comprehend it. And so John begins his testimony: Darkness could not grasp the one who is the light and life of men. In Christ is the life that death cannot understand, the light that cannot be overcome.(2)

James Stewart, the great Scottish theologian, challenged readers to ponder this: Jesus Christ is light incomprehensible by darkness. Writes Stewart, “The very triumphs of his foes Jesus used for their defeat. He compelled their dark achievements to serve his ends, not theirs. They nailed him to the tree, not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to his feet. They gave him a cross, not guessing that Jesus would make it a throne.”(3)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Great Dichotomy

Most scholars agree that the Enlightenment or “Age of Reason,” which began in the early seventeenth century, set up a great dichotomy that persists in modern time.(1) The great “dichotomy” of the Enlightenment entailed the separation of the public and private realms. The public realm was the world of ascertained by reason alone. Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin explains, “The thinkers of the Enlightenment spoke of their age as the age of reason…by which human beings could attain (at least in principle) to a complete understanding of, and thus a full mastery of, nature—of reality in all its forms. Reason, so understood, is sovereign in this enterprise.”(2) In the realm of reason, therefore, revelation from a divine realm was not needed. Human reason could search out and know all the facts about reality, and “no alleged divine revelation, no tradition however ancient, and no dogma however hallowed has the right to veto its exercise.”(3)

The realm of religious belief was now relegated to the realm of private value and private purpose. It wasn’t that the Enlightenment dichotomy cut out God. Rather, it created a distinction between “natural” religion—God’s existence and the moral laws known by all and demonstrable by reason—and “revealed” religion—doctrines as taught by the Bible and the church. The latter realm, dominant in the Middle Ages and the Reformation, came under increasing attack and was eventually relegated to private expression and personal feelings.

Fueled by scientific and philosophical discoveries, the view of the world as the venue of God’s providence and rule, shifted to the view that sovereign reason could discover all that was necessary to advance humanity toward its highest destiny. All of Christianity’s supernatural claims and all of its revelatory content were unnecessary in a world where the Creator had endowed human beings with enough reason to discern what was important simply through the study of the natural world. As such, the autonomous, rational human became the center of truth and knowledge.

What emerged from this dichotomy was the belief that the real world was a world of cause and effect, of material bodies guided solely by mathematically stable laws. Discovering the cause of something was to have explained it in its totality. There was no need to invoke any supernatural “purpose” or “design” as an explanation any longer.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Better Imagination

 

Whether compelling the visions of a child or inspiring music or architecture, the power of the imagination is often clear:

O hark, O hear! How thin and clear,

And thinner, clearer, farther going!

O sweet and far from cliff and scar

The horns of Elfland faintly blowing.(1)

But what of the mere presence of the imagination? “I do not think the resemblance between the Christian and the merely imaginative experience is accidental,” wrote Lewis. “I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least.”(2) Certainly, this taste of a richer fare was sensed in the formative imaginations at which Lewis supped long before he knew he was starving for their Host. Writes Lewis:

“Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed. On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire—all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called ‘tinny.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.”(3)

And while Lewis would come to see that this “lower life of the imagination is not a beginning of, nor a step toward, the higher life of the spirit,” he is equally certain that God in God’s mercy can profoundly make it such a beginning.(4) My own encounter of the great imagination of C.S. Lewis is similar to a testimony given at his funeral, namely, that “his real power was not proof; it was depiction. There lived in his writings a Christian universe that could be both thought and felt, in which he was at home and in which he made his reader at home.”(5) I believe I probably first loved God as an untame Lion, not because the God I wished for was kinder than the God who is, but because I did not yet see that my deficient vision of God was the vision that needed a better imagination. As Lewis later wrote of his intense love of all Norse mythology, “[A]t the time, Asgard and the Valkyries seemed to me incomparably more important than anything else in my experience…More shockingly, they seemed much more important than my steadily growing doubts about Christianity. This may have been—in part, no doubt was—penal blindness; yet that might not be the whole story. If the Northernness seemed then a bigger thing than my religion, that may partly have been because my attitude toward it contained elements which my religion ought to have contained and did not.”(6)

Even so, in moments of moral crisis, we do not pause to ask what Jane Erye would do, I once heard a writer say. She had referenced the Brian Nichol’s story—the gunman who went on a shooting spree in Atlanta and ended up holding a woman hostage in her apartment where she read to him from The Purpose Driven Life and eventually convinced him to turn himself in. She then asked if this story would have turned out the same if the young girl had read to him from Moby Dick or War and Peace or any of the great classics of history. Her point was clear: the influence of art and imagination is usually not in the thick of things, but on the margins of culture; nor it is always clear and obvious, but often dense and unsettling. And yet there are quite arguably characters and stories that indeed become of moral significance, pulling us into worlds that call for attention, compassion, and consideration. Long before I had any idea about the word “allegory” or the concept of good or bad literature, Narnian kings, talking beavers, and the Queen of Glome began appearing in my dreams, beckoning me to another place. In the aftermath of death and subsequent disappointment over the miracle we did not get, it was Aslan’s empathetic tear for the grieving Digory that came to mind when all seemed lost. For Lewis, it was the bright shadow coming out of a George MacDonald book that found him mercifully in the margins. “In the depth of my disgraces, in the then invincible ignorance of my intellect, all this was given me without asking, even without consent. That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.”(6) But the Spirit no doubt mercifully did.

It is quite true that a young materialist or pessimist, atheist or agnostic who wishes to stay this way cannot be too careful in choosing what to read. God is unscrupulous, as Lewis attests, willing to use our own imaginations against us, our own pens to probe the wounds. If imagination is not the property of materialism, but the playground of heaven, it is nonetheless not the thing itself. But the hopeful signs of God’s own compelling imagination are everywhere—beautiful and terrible, inviting and transforming. It is the encounter with the Gate, not the signs along the way, that transforms the entire journey. It is said that Lewis became more like himself when he finally kneeled and admitted that God was God—”as though the key to his own hidden and locked-away personality was given to him.”(7) Everything is intensified—his loves, his responses, Jack himself—as the one brought in kicking and screaming discovered in Christ and his kingdom the world of Joy he had only before heard feebly. The faint horns of Elfland give way to the resounding glory of the creator and wonders beyond our imagining.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Lewis, C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1955), 167.

(2) Lewis, 213-214.

(3) Lewis, 167.

(4) Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis (San Francisco: Harper, 2005), 312.

(5) Lewis, 76.

(6) Lewis, 181.

(7) Jacobs, 131.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Sitting in the Dark

In a poem titled “Moments of Joy,” Denise Levertov tells the story of an old scholar who takes a room on the next street down from his grown children—”the better to concentrate on his unending work, his word, his world.” And though he comes and goes while they sleep, his children feel bereft. They want him nearer. But at times it happens that a son or daughter wakes in the dark and finds him sitting at the foot of the bed, or in the old rocker—”sleepless in his old coat, gazing into invisible distance, but clearly there to protect as he had always done.” The child springs up and flings her arms about him, pressing a cheek to his temple and taking him by surprise: “Abba!” the child exclaims, and Levertov concludes:

“And the old scholar, the father,

is deeply glad to be found.

That’s how it is, Lord, sometimes;

You seek, and I find.”(1)

Though many would like to say that the majority of our lives have been spent searching for God, perhaps it is more accurate to say that we have been sought. Even so, like the children in Levertov’s poem, time and again I know I find myself bereft of God’s presence. Sometimes it just feels like I am sitting in the dark.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Why Isn’t God More Obvious?

Why is it that God does not seem to approach in a much more obvious way? One answer has been that God’s existence is not a matter of reality and facts. Isn’t it more of a faith position, anyway? Isn’t it more about a leap in the dark than an embrace of evidence?

I would agree that God isn’t “forcefully obvious,” but I don’t think that this confines God to being a “take-it-or-leave-it” matter of faith. I think it makes more sense to see God as clearly visible, whilst not being forcefully obvious.

Did you know that the Bible actually recognizes the validity of this question? First, we see passages that affirm the human perception that God seems hidden. In Job 23:8-9 we read, “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”

Interestingly, there are also many examples of God appearing as if veiled in darkness, whilst still simultaneously offering his presence.(1) For instance we read that, “The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” Jesus, too, invites people to trust in him and then leaves and hides himself. In John we find the story of a paralytic man who is healed, but then Jesus slips away into the crowd. Luke records that as news about Jesus spread, “he often withdrew to lonely places.” Later, Jesus tells the disciples that, “Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me.” Interestingly in many of these cases, God provides a clear sense of presence, while at the same time veiling the fullness of that presence.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Love Your Neighbor

I was recently in Chennai for two weeks with a class of twenty aspiring apologists from all across the country. There was something peculiar about this bunch that caught my attention from day one. It is not very surprising in such settings to find people who are extremely intellectual and focused, often pulling out a trick or two to impress the others with their academic rigor. But this particular bunch, much to my surprise, was far less interested in impressing one another with their logical skills than they were with their impressive efforts in being dil-logical—”dil” is the Hindi word for “heart.”(1) This particular class never let an opportunity to love one another pass by in vain. They jumped in unison at every chance to care for one another.

All of this came powerfully to mind this week in a reading of John 13:34. Mandatum novum, as it reads in Latin. A new command I give you, says Jesus: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Almost all of us have an intense fascination and excitement for most things new: a new day, a new thought, a new essay from A Slice of Infinity, a new phone, a new car, a new home, and so on. Interestingly, the very old thing about our fascination with the new thing is its unbelievably transient shelf-life. The charm of the new is fleeting and sooner than later always fades away.

But as I read these words of Jesus, I was imagining a war-torn nation and its ravaged people who had been waiting for something new for hundreds of years. It had been 1400 years since God had given them the commandments. It had been 400 years since God had last spoken through one of the prophets. A new word from God, a new messiah, a new leader, a new king—a new something, please. To break the monotony of the old, to liberate them from the age-old despair of silence, anything new any day would surely have been most welcome. And here is Jesus with a new command!

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – To Love a Flower

The poet Emily Dickinson loved her garden. Though famously reclusive, she spent countless hours admiring and caring for her garden of flowers. Many of her poems reflect on her love of the outdoor world even if it only consisted of the wonders of her own yard. She writes whimsically of bees, clover, honey, and the summer grasses that grew green and lush around her Amherst, Massachusetts home. One of Dickinson’s most well-known poems speaks of her garden as the location of worship—with church, preaching, and heaven all represented by creatures in the natural world:

Some keep the Sabbath going to church

I keep it staying at home,

With a bobolink for a chorister,

And an orchard for a dome….

So instead of getting to heaven at last

I’m going all along!(1)

For Dickinson, the kingdom of God was as close as the bird’s song in her yard. The experience of heaven was not something awaiting her after death, but an experience available to her as she worshipped God in her orchard sanctuary. Her poems often affirmed God’s presence and grace communicated through the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Unsolved Mystery

Long before Horatio Caine or Gil Grissom made crime scene investigating a primetime enterprise, the Bloodhound Gang was “there on the double” “wherever there’s trouble,” a doughty group of junior detectives who used science to solve crimes. Written by Newbery Medal-winning children’s author Sid Fleischman, the Bloodhound Gang was a beloved segment on the PBS television program 3-2-1 Contact, and my first encounter with the almost unbearable suspension, “To be continued.” Thankfully, with the help of their knowledge of science, no mystery remained unsolved for long.

What I did not realize at the time, or through years of absorbing Unsolved Mysteries, CSI, and my own scientific pursuits, was the hold that simple word “solve” would have on my understanding of mystery. For the Bloodhound Gang, as much as for the philosophers of science who have given rise to the notion, science is the invasion and defeat of mystery. That is to say, for many scientists (though certainly not for all historically), mysteries are there to be solved and put finally beyond us.

One can see how such a notion fuels the perception that science and faith are at odds with one another; science being the conquest of mystery and faith the act of making room for it. For Steven Pinker, Harvard Professor and cognitive scientist, certain aspects of religious belief can be thought of as “desperate measure[s] that people resort to when the stakes are high and they’ve exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success.”(1) In other words, religion, like the story of the stork for parents not ready for their kids to know where babies come from, is simply a desperate attempt to explain away mystery, even if only by making space for it. And faith is thus seen as the grossly inferior CSI agent.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Searching for the Hidden Wholeness

 

The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus—a group in the “sacred music” category—released an album in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim. Entitled Beauty Will Save the World, the album features, among other things, monastic chants, snatches of hymns, and surging choral arrangements. Most significantly, it concludes with St. Ambrose’s prayer, “Before the Ending of the Day.”

When asked about the inclusion of all these conspicuously Christian elements, the group replied, “We have always been concerned with the sacred or — perhaps more accurately — the loss of the sacred. We are searching for its echoes and traces which are scattered and hidden in surprising and forgotten places.”(1)

In many ways, this is an apt description of those canvassing the cultural landscape for signs of life. In the case of this particular track, the church is the “hidden and forgotten” place. Like many of today’s musicians, this group is drawing on sacred traditions to reach contemporary audiences. What distinguishes The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus is that they are doing so by honoring the original intent of those traditions, preserving their deep spiritual roots. In their own words, “Sometimes it feels as though our work is less about creation and more about investigation and excavation. We borrow, gather and unearth material from different sources — not all of them obviously sacred or spiritual — but we are looking for the connecting thread and evidence of what Thomas Merton called ‘the hidden wholeness.’ Beauty is there. It is not created, it is discovered and restored.”

Demurring from a pervasive assumption about the arts, the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff says, “A hymn is a good hymn if it serves its purpose effectively and then in addition proves good and satisfying to use for this purpose, that purpose being to enable a congregation to offer praise to God—not, be it noted, to give delight upon aesthetic contemplation.”(2) Wolterstorff approvingly notes the famed hymnist Isaac Watts’s scrupulous commitment “to sink every line to the level of a whole congregation and yet to keep it above contempt.”(3) In a very real sense, these sacred traditions cannot be understood apart from sincere participation. A hymn is fully realized only when you add your voice to the worshipping congregation. St. Ambrose’s prayer becomes a real prayer only when it is uttered with honest conviction. These practices are not made for patrons in a museum; they are made for pilgrims in search of paradise.

There is a growing recognition that the current cultural malaise cannot be undone until people learn to see past the present moment, to remember where they came from, and thus attempt to chart a more holistic course. Perhaps the way forward involves listening for the “echoes and traces” of the sacred in order to discover what they actually say, rather than what we can say with them.

The way is not always clear. The group puts it well: “It’s probably more accurate to describe our music as the pursuit of meaning rather than having a meaning. Truth is always elusive and we are still searching.” Though truth ought to be the proper destination, there is a world of difference between searching and scavenging. The scavenger wants loot. The seeker is looking for an answer.

Cameron McAllister is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) http://www.npr.org/2015/12/07/458485196/songs-we-love-the-revolutionary-army-of-the-infant-jesus”>http://www.npr.org/2015/12/07/458485196/songs-we-love-the-revolutionary-army-of-the-infant-jesus (Accessed April 9, 2016)

(2) Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic (Grand Rapids, MI: WM.B.Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 169.

(3) Ibid., 190.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Digging Out the Words

For the past decade, doctors and psychologists have been taking notice of the health benefits of reflective writing. They note that wrestling with words to put your deepest thoughts into writing can lift your mind from depression, uncover wisdom within your experiences, provide insight and foster self-awareness. From autobiography to blogging to the increasingly popular genre of memoir, writers similarly laud the benefits of writing. Whether publically, anonymously, or privately, confessional writing can free the writer “to explore the depths of the emotional junkyard,” as one describes. In my own experience, writing has no doubt been a helpful way to sift through the junkyard, though perhaps most effectively when exploring in good faith and not merely reveling in the messes.

Writing is helpful because the eye of a writer seeks the transcendent—a moment where the extraordinary is beheld in the ordinary, a glimpse of clarity within the chaos, beauty in a world of contrasts. When Jesus stooped over the crumbled girl at his feet and wrote something in the sand, the written word spoke more powerfully than the anger of the Pharisees and well beyond any shame of the young woman. For those of us looking on through story, his words remain unknown but no less powerful. Writing is a tool with which we learn to see ourselves more clearly, a catalyst for which we can learn to see thankfully beyond ourselves.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – World Upside Down

Early in his ministry, according to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus preached a very public sermon. This sermon, unlike any other, has not only been a great treasure of literature, but also stands as the foundation of Jesus’s teaching ministry. The introductory illustration of this famous sermon given on a mountainside is a collection of sayings by Jesus about who is blessed in the kingdom of God. They are called the “Beatitudes.”

These Beatitudes spoken by Jesus have been widely admired across religious, political, and social realms. Persons as diverse as Jimmy Carter, Ghandi, and the rock musician, Sting, have all quoted these sayings of Jesus. Indeed, Dallas Willard notes, “[A]long with the Ten Commandments, the Twenty-third psalm, and the Lord’s prayer…[the Beatitudes] are acknowledged by almost everyone to be among the highest expressions of religious insight and moral inspiration.”(1)

The exact nature of this religious insight and moral inspiration has been the subject of numerous biblical commentaries and writings. Biblical commentator, Craig Keener notes that there are more than 36 discrete views about the sermon’s message.(2) Perhaps the difficulties in interpretation lie with the implications of the Beatitudes themselves. As one author notes the Beatitudes are “a statement of the world turned upside down, where those who mourn are comforted rather than abandoned or merely pitied, where those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied, not ignored or shouted down, where the meek inherit the earth rather than being ground into dust.”(3) In other words, much is at stake. A world “turned upside down” serves as inspiration to some and bad news for others. Indeed, Luke’s account of the sermon adds a series of four-fold “woes” for those who have contributed to mourning, humiliation, and injustice (Luke 6:17-26).

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Memorial Day Reflection

 

On Memorial Day, we remember those who died serving their country and recall that while all gave some, some gave all. One year ago, I reflected on the death of my father and brother-in-arms months apart and how we anesthetize ourselves to such loss. Little did I know, as I penned those words, that I would experience another tough loss within months: My little brother—and only sibling.

Like my father and me, Scott was career military (US Coast Guard). Scott was the consummate servant: He was also a full-time firefighter with a knack for sniffing out fires even when he was off duty. He called in multiple fires, saving property and preventing injury before they grew beyond control. Our country lost a valuable servant when death took Scott.

Last year, I recalled how easy it is to lose hope, and I’ve met more than one person whose anger at God stems from the loss of a loved one. A fellow Marine once told me he was “not on speaking terms with God” since he’d lost his father. Death hits hard, and it hits close to home. But aside from first-hand pain, this time I learned how much pain can be amplified when we see the suffering of others. This time I could not negotiate death on my own terms, because this time others were closer to the loss: Scott left behind three little boys, each of whom needs their father.

I already loved these boys, but since Scott died my devotion to them grew in unexpected ways, comparable only to seeing the birth of your own child. I felt the death of my brother and the horror of my nephews’ loss almost simultaneously, and I’m still trying to figure out how to manage these two distinct losses (my nephews’ loss eclipses my own).

I’m normally comforted by verses like Psalm 34:18 and Romans 8:28. But seeing my nephews and sister-in-law in pain, I’ve turned to the call to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) and to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15) as more appropriate. Further, I’m reminded that, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). We need to be with those who live with the loss not just today but every day.

My nephews Zack, Ben, and Jake will never be the same without Scott, and neither will Caroline, his young wife. Today, as we honor those we lost, let’s pause to remember the ones left behind, the ones living in the pain.

 

Karl “KJ” Johnson retired from the Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel after twenty years of active duty service. He is the Operations Director for RZIM’s US Ministries.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Telling Stories

 

A British journalist by the name of Christopher Booker argues that all of literature can be classified into seven basic narratives. Though many would deem the idea itself deficient, Booker exhaustively identifies each category in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. One such category he describes is the “Voyage and Return” plot. Here, Booker catalogs, among other works, Alice and Wonderland, Peter Rabbit, and Gone with the Wind, each of these stories chronicling a hero who travels away from the familiar and into the unfamiliar, only to return again with new perspective.

Among his list of “Voyage and Return” plots, Booker also identifies Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son. He describes the parable as many of us understand it. The younger son demands his inheritance, travels to another country, squanders his money until he has nothing left, and finally decides to come home again pleading for mercy. When told or heard like this, it is a story that indeed fits neatly into Booker’s category, and perhaps neatly into visions of the spiritual journey. Journeys to faith and to God are often stories of coming and going and returning again.

But is this an accurate understanding of the parable of Jesus? Is the story of the prodigal son really about the son? Is the spiritual journey about our coming and going or God’s?

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Forgotten Stories

In one of the early scenes of The Matrix, the character Trinity meets Neo in a club and she tells him, “It’s the question that drives us.” Later Neo meets Morpheus, who describes this inherent curiosity as a “splinter in the mind.”

We are born into a world that is populated with stories, pregnant with multiple meanings. From our very entrance into the cosmos until death, the reality and presence of story envelops our lives. Like the deep-seated quest of Socrates to discover what, in fact, was the good life, we find ourselves asking questions and wanting answers. These questions are not mere curiosity, or intellectual pursuits; they carry enormous existential significance and importance. These questions haunt us.

Consider the following words from Lee Iacocca in Straight Talk: “Here I am in the twilight years of my life, still wondering what it’s all about… I can tell you this, fame and fortune is for the birds.” Our minds are splintered—or made numb—with pressing inquiry: What is the point of it all? What gives our lives meaning? Novelist William H. Gass expresses a similar nagging reality. “Life is itself exile,” he writes, “and its inevitability does not lessen our grief or alter the fact.” Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge notes further, “The first thing I remember about the world—and I pray it may be the last—is that I was a stranger in it. This feeling which everyone has in some degree, and which is at once the glory and desolation of homosapiens, provides the only thread of consistency that I can detect in my life.” Why are we here? Where are we going? Why do we at times find ourselves as strangers in our own home? Is there a greater story we are a part of, but ignoring?

In the Western world, we are progressively abandoning the metanarratives that for centuries served to define and give shape to our society and individual lives. Indeed, the very idea of a “defining story” is now considered offensive, imperialistic, sexist, or worse. The individual is left alone before a mind-boggling array of options and both the responsibility and the authority to reach a conclusion are totally rooted in the self. Yet, despite brave predictions of the demise of God or the eventual waning of belief under Modern conditions, the questions have not gone away. If anything, they are more at the forefront than we would have expected, given the nature and shape of progress.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Whence Came the Wish

To fully understand C.S. Lewis’ love for the imaginary—indeed, to understand the man himself—something must be said about the distinctively English world Faery. The world of Faery, which has its roots in Celtic culture, is not so easily categorized. It is not at all the land of delicate fairies that Walt Disney would have us imagine. Nor is it simply imaginary, a story altogether detached and unrelated to the world before us. Faery is, first, a place. It is lush and green like gentle British landscapes and ancient English forests, but forests untamed, willful, and enchanted—”a world, that sometimes overlaps with Britain but is fundamentally Other than it.”(1) Biographer Alan Jacobs hints at the importance of Faery on the imagination of Lewis, and in particular, this “old idea that Faery overlaps our world—that one can, unwillingly and unwittingly, pass from one into the other.”(2) Faery is both beautiful and dangerous, its boundaries unclear. The encounter with Faery and its tales, the “horns of Elfland faintly blowing,” was one that haunted Lewis throughout much of his life.(3)

For Lewis, “the horns of Elfland” were heard and followed and dear, like arrows of Joy shot at him from childhood—through the death of his mother at the fragile age of nine, through the horrid years at boarding school, through the doubt and dismissal of faith and God, through the metaphysical pessimism and the deep layers of secular ice, through a dejected and reluctant conversion, to Narnia, and to the Joy itself.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Reordering the Imagination

I shut my eyes in order to see, said French painter, sculptor, and artist Paul Gauguin. As a little girl, though completely unaware of this insightful quote on imagination, I lived this maxim. Nothing was more exhilarating to me than closing my eyes in order to imagine far away exotic lands, a handsome prince, or climbing down a deep enough hole leading straight to China!

In fact, like many, imagination fueled my young heart and mind. After reading C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, I would walk into dark closets filled with warm winter coats fully expecting to be transported like the Pevensie children into strange and wonderful land. Charlotte’s Web took me to a farm where I could talk to my dog, like Fern talked to Wilbur, or to the spiders that hung from intricate webs in my garage. Pictures on the wall came to life and danced before me; ordinary objects became extraordinary tools enabling me to defeat all those imaginary giants and inspiring me toward powerful possibilities fueled by vivid imagination.

Sadly, as happens to many adults, my imagination has changed. I don’t often view my closet as a doorway to unseen worlds, nor do I pretend that my dogs understand one word of my verbalizing towards them. Pictures don’t come to life, and I no-longer pretend my garden rake or broom is a secret weapon against fantastical foes. Often, I feel that my imagination has become nothing more than wishful thinking. Rather than thinking creatively about the life I’ve been given, I day-dream about what my life might be like if… I lived in Holland, for example, or could back-pack across Europe, or lived on a kibbutz, or was a famous actress, or a world-renowned tennis player, or any number of alternative lives to the one I currently occupy.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Myth and Fact

In the last few centuries the cacophony of voices suggesting Christianity (and religion in general) is a tale on par with the tooth fairy continues to deepen. The story may well have beautiful components, some add charitably, but the story functions as a psychological crutch to comfort us through the uglier realities of real life. Often couched in the objection is the notion that time has moved forward such that we have outgrown the superstition, and along with it, the need to explain life and comfort ourselves with archaic religious myth. And though by equating Christianity with “myth” critics mean to suggest that religion is fanciful and untrue, the comparison between Christianity and the genre of myth is absolutely fascinating. In fact, it is a comparison C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton found altogether relevant and revelatory.

A scholar of ancient and medieval literature, Lewis came to recognize the great Greek, Roman, and Nordic myths as being a genre of narrative that wrestled as fiercely as the human heart can wrestle with its yearning to know the gods. In this, he reasoned that what we glean from the myth is not truth but reality, for myths concern themselves with questions of ultimate reality and theological inquiry. Through the story of Sisyphus, for instance, we ask profoundly, does life have meaning? As he endlessly rolls the great rock up the hill, only to have it tumble down the hill before he reaches the top, we ask: Do the gods hate us? Are they indifferent? Do they care? Is life worth living in acknowledgment of their presence? Is life worth living at all? The genre of myth has concerned itself with the great and impenetrable questions of life, questions that every worldview must answer. As G.K. Chesterton comments in Everlasting Man, “Myth has at least an imaginative outline of truth.”

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Storied Recollection

Aldous Huxley likened a person’s memory to one’s own collection of private literature. Housed within the confines of memory are countless pages of our own stories, perspectives, and thoughts—vast libraries uniquely existing within our own heads. It is this personal nature of memory that no doubt feeds our dismay when minds begin to slip. Forgetfulness is a fearful quality particularly because it is a quality that seems to erase part of the very person it describes.

The implications of memory are made known in the earliest pages of God’s story as told in scripture. But added to the cultural adage of Aldous Huxley is the idea that this “private literature’”can be edited. In other words, what we choose to remember affects who we are. And at that, our private literature is not entirely private; there is a communal aspect to memory as well.

Surely we see this played out within the grumblings of the rescued Israelites. From the wilderness, the writer of Numbers reports:

“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’”(1)

Recollection, like resentment, is often contagious. In this moment of hunger, Israel together remembered Egypt as a place of produce instead of prison, and together they declared their longing to return to the very place from which they had been rescued. Together they wept; together they remembered; and together they remained lost in the wilderness. What we choose to remember indeed affects who we are—individually, collectively, boldly.

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