Tag Archives: Ravi

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Silent Places

 

Living in cities, as more and more people do all over the world, means that noise is a constant audio backdrop. The din of human, auto, and airplane traffic all make for a constant, loud cacophony. Add to this the stereo, television, and computer noise and it is a miracle we can attune our ears to hear anything that isn’t artificially created. From time to time, I turn off all the extraneous sounds in my world and listen. Intentional listening opens up a whole new world of sounds around me. I hear the wind chimes by my front door, the tapping of my fingers across the keyboard of my computer, the soft patter of my dogs’ feet as they walk across the hardwood floor above me, the screaming and laughter of children at play across the street, and the distinctive sounds of a variety of birds as they go about foraging for food or calling for a mate.

According to audio-ecologist, Gordon Hempton, it’s not easy to find silence in the modern world. “If a quiet place is one where you can listen for 15 minutes in daylight hours without hearing a human-created sound, there are no quiet places left in Europe. There are none east of the Mississippi River. And in the American West? Maybe 12.”(1) We live in a noisy world.

Most people assume that silence is the absence of noise, but it is not. Hempton continues, “For true silence is not noiselessness… silence is the complete absence of all audible mechanical vibrations, leaving only the sounds of nature at her most natural. Silence is the presence of everything, undisturbed.”(2) I remember one of these silent places Hempton describes. High in the North Cascade Mountains, my brother and I heard no other human noise, and few bird or animal noises. Our constant soundscape came from the trickling of a nearby brook and the gentle wind as it danced around us.

Being able to hear the sounds of nature is an unexpected and often rare gift in a world bombarded by artificial noise. Of course, it is often the case that I use noise as a distraction from truly listening. I drown out the silence by my own busyness, filling my day with constant movement and activity, so that I rarely take the time to pay attention, and to tune my ears not only to the sound around me, but also to the stirrings of my own heart and mind. In all honesty, sometimes I am afraid of what I might hear if I do truly listen.

Of course, paying attention in silence is not always as benevolent or delightful as hearing the natural sounds around us. Keeping silence intentionally reminds us of our smallness in a vast universe, and brings to light many of our deepest and darkest thoughts and feelings. When we clear our ears of external noise, we hear our own thoughts. Many thoughts that arise in silent spaces are ugly, distorted, and grave. Listening in silence exposes our pretense and self-righteousness, our falsehoods, hypocrisy and self-importance. There is little room to hide. We are left with ourselves in all our brokenness.

Yet even listening to the thoughts of our darkened hearts and minds provides an opportunity for reorganization and evaluation. It provides the opportunity for renewal. As we pay attention in silence and listen there are quiet gifts received, discernment for a new direction in which to go with our lives, and more space for truly listening not only to ourselves but to others. As we do, we may even hear the still, small voice of God.

Author Alan Jones has written that “silence, in the end, can become a healing and comforting experience.”(3) When we pay attention in the silence, we open up space where we can meet with God. Unlike prayers where we do all the talking, Jones describes the listening posture of prayer as “a daily willingness to place ourselves on the threshold and wait there.” Indeed, he goes on to suggest that cultivating quiet in our lives becomes the time when we move from the agitated periphery of our lives, identifying with our lives without qualification or added information to simply a silent interior space.(4)

Paying attention in silence is not simply for the sake of listening to the often unheard sounds around us nor is it exclusively ascetically-motivated sensory deprivation. Instead, it is tuning our hearts and minds to attend to sounds that truly matter. For the Christian, prayerful listening is the opportunity to attune our hearts to the voice of God. Indeed, a silent heart is often the only fitting response to the overwhelming holiness of God’s presence. As the ancient prophet wrote: But the Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.

Paying attention in silence creates space to listen to our lives and to listen for God to speak. It is a discipline our noisy world needs to reclaim. The gospel writers often speak of Jesus removing himself from the noise of his day, and withdrawing to “lonely places” for prayer. Jesus understood the place of silence, paying attention to God’s voice by purposefully withdrawing and turning off the noise around him. The silence is often lonely, as the gospel writers suggest. And yet, there in the lonely, silent spaces, the still, small voice of God can be heard.

 

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

 

(1) Gordon Hempton as quoted by Kathleen Dean Moore, “In Search of Silence,” Utine Reader, March-April 2009.
(2) Julia Baird, “An Unquiet Nation,” Newsweek, January 27, 2010.
(3) Alan Jones, Soul Making (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1985), 62.
(4) Ibid.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Real and Unsearchable

 

Common is the sentiment among recent college graduates that they went in feeling like they knew something, and leave realizing, in fact, how little they know. I remember what this felt like, walking down the aisle to accept my diploma,  wondering at the irony. Yet as uncomfortable as that moment of recognition might be, I am convinced that the thought is an important place at which to arrive.

Ravi Zacharias tells of being a graduate student when the new encyclopedia Britannica was released in its fifteenth edition. It was a massive collection that had taken fourteen years to produce, and he remembers being fascinated by the statistics: two hundred advisors, three hundred editors, four thousand contributors, over a hundred thousand entries, thirty-four million dollars, forty-three million words. Even so, in the last pages of that work, one of the editors had the audacity to conclude: “Herein contains the entirety of human knowledge.” The number of outdated encyclopedias lying in thrift stores and recycling bins does not help their point.

In the stories of Scripture where God is encountered, we find men and women who, having come in contact God, find themselves blown away by the notion that they didn’t know all that they didn’t know. As Jacob lay dreaming, he saw God appear above a great ladder where God was introduced as the God of his ancestors. Upon waking, Jacob’s his first words were filled with astonishment: “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”(1) Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah, had a similar reaction after she encountered God in the desert. Having run away from Sarah’s abuse, Hagar was resting beside a spring when God spoke to her and told her to return. We read that she was amazed: “And she gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the one who sees me.’”(2)

Whatever we see—in the midst of uncertainty, for the year ahead, in life, truth, faith, reality—there is almost always more. In fact, it is probably the one thing we can count on—and the one thing we do not. Christian philosopher Esther Lightcap Meek writes, “We labor under the misimpression that we see what we see, that seeing is believing, that either I see it or I don’t.”(3) Perhaps seeing is not always about 20/20, and seeing God is something else altogether.

Christianity and its stories introduce a God who makes known God’s surprising and sustaining presence again and again, a God whose revelation is both piecemeal and profound. “O LORD,” proclaims David, “for your servant’s sake and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things. There is none like you, O LORD, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”(4) God is well worth our efforts in learning to see, and it is the Spirit who moves to open eyes. Whether in Jacob’s dream or in Hagar’s distress, God seeks to be known and seeks to gather. The Spirit seeks to comfort, reveal, and recreate. The Son seeks to be near. Says the LORD, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”(5)

There is actually something relieving in knowing that there is much that we do not know. It keeps us grounded in reality and hoping toward the real and unsearchable, the Source of which is uncontainable. It keeps us with a grateful eye toward things of mystery and beauty and kindness and truth revealed. It keeps us looking toward the maker of heaven and earth and the one who wills to be known. When Job was confronted by God with the great thunder of 62 questions about the foundations of the world and the inner workings of life, he realized that he may have spoken out of turn. Confronting the reality of all that he did not know brought Job to a deeper, kinder encounter with God and himself. “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,” he said. There is no more grateful, humble stance before the God who sees.

 

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

 

(1) Genesis 28:16.
(2) Genesis 16:13.
(3) Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003), 99.
(4) 1 Chronicles 17:19,20.
(5) Jeremiah 33:3.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Truth on Its Head

 

G.K. Chesterton took the word “prolific” to a level that, as a writer, simply makes me feel tired. In his lifetime, Chesterton authored over one hundred books and contributed to two hundred others. He penned hundreds of poems, five plays, five novels, and some two hundred short stories, including the popular Father Brown detective series. He wrote over four thousand newspaper essays, including thirty years worth of weekly columns for The Illustrated London News, and thirteen years of weekly columns for The Daily News. He also edited his own newspaper, G.K.’s Weekly.

As one can easily imagine after such an inventory, G.K. Chesterton was always writing—wherever he found himself, and with whatever he could find to write on. So, in the tearoom he scribbled on napkins. On the train, in front of a bank teller, or in the middle of a lecture, he was known to jot hurriedly in a notebook, or even on the cuff of his sleeve.

Chesterton’s eccentric approach to writing, in fact, matched his eccentric approach to life in general. His public image was one out of a Shakespearean comedy. If he were not recognized in the streets of London by the flowing black cape and the wide brimmed top hat he always wore, he was given away instantly by the clamoring of the swordstick he always carried—for nothing more than the romantic notion that he might one day find himself caught up in some adventure where defending himself might become necessary.

He rarely knew, from hour to hour, where he was or where he was supposed to be, what appointment he was to be keeping, or lecture he was to be giving. The story is often told of the time he telegraphed his wife with the note, “Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?” His faithful wife, Frances, wired back, “Home,” knowing it would be most promising for all involved if she could physically point him in the right direction. Chesterton seemed to live out one of his own clever paradoxes: “One can sometimes do good by being the right person in the wrong place.”

In fact, paradox, in more ways than one, is an ample word for G.K. Chesterton. It was one of his favorite things to point out, stir up, and call to mind. He described paradox as “truth standing on its head to gain attention,” and often evoked such jestering truisms throughout his dialog. With declarations bizarre enough to escape defensive mindsets, but with a substance that could blow holes in fortresses of skepticism, G.K. Chesterton, as absentminded as he may have appeared to be, challenged the world to think. With humility, wonder, and genius, Chesterton taught us, in the words of Father Brown, that often it isn’t that we can’t see the solution; it’s that we can’t see the problem in the first place.

In his disarming manner, such that even his opponents regarded him with affection, Chesterton exposed the inconsistencies of the modern mindset, the unfounded and unnoticed dogmatism of the unbeliever, and the misguided guidance of the cults of comfort and progress. He marveled that religious liberty now meant that we were no longer allowed to mention the subject, and that “there are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.” To the convicted agnostic he said, “We don’t know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable.” To the social Darwinist he said, “It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”

And to anyone who would listen, Chesterton devotedly pled the case for Christ: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting,” he said, “It has been found difficult and left untried.”

To everyone his life affected, and continues to affect, G.K. Chesterton, with and without words, made a boisterous point about delighting in life to the fullest; life that is fullest, first and foremost, because there is someone to thank for making it full. He writes:

You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

Chesterton was a man alive with the gusto of resurrection, the marvel of truth, and the thankful foresight of a coming King among us.

 

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

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – In a World of Stories

 

“You can’t stop stories being told,” Dr. Parnassus tells his relentless foe with religious assurance in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The world of belief-systems and worldviews is indeed a complicated playground of stories, storytellers, passions, and allegiances—and this is one film which certainly attests to that complicated dance. What makes the interplay of story most complicated is perhaps what is often our inability to name or even to perceive these interacting powers in the first place. That which permeates our surroundings, subconsciously molds our understanding, and continuously informs our vision of reality, is not always easy to articulate. The dominate culture shapes our world in ways we seldom even realize, and often in ways we cannot realize, until something outside of our culture comes along and introduces us, and the scales fall from our eyes.

Further complicating the great arena of narratives is the fact that we often do not even recognize certain systems for the metanarratives that they are, or else we grossly underestimate the story’s power on our own. Whatever version or versions of the story we utilize to understand human history—atheism, capitalism, pluralism, consumerism—their roots run very deep in the human soul. This is why Bishop Kenneth Carder can refer to the global market economy as a “dominant god,” or consumerism, economism, and nationalism as religions.(1) These deeply rooted ideologies are challenged only when a different ideology or imagination comes knocking, when a different faith-system comes along and upsets the imagination that powerfully orders our world.

This is perhaps one reason that the biblical imagination presented in Scripture calls again and again to remember the story, to tell of the acts of God in history, and to bear in mind and vision the one who is near. For into this world of belief-systems and worldviews, God tells the story of creation and the pursuit of its redemption, and then Christ comes in our own flesh and proclaims a kingdom entirely other. The narrative imagination we discover in Scripture introduces us not only to a new world but a world that jarringly shows us our own.

The signs and scenes leading to the incarnation alone challenge many of our cultural norms, turning upside down ideas of authority, power, and glory, presenting us a kingdom that reverses everything we know. What kind of a king crouches down to his subjects to feed the masses or wash their feet? What kind of a leader tells those under him that the way to the top requires a dedication to the bottom? What kind of God comes as child and leaves on a cross? What kind of meal lifts us to another kingdom where we are brought into the presence of the host and asked to taste him? Yet these are the stories he told and Christians tell; this is the imagination he gives us to see him, the world, our selves and neighbors. “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19). Not long after their meal, his physical body was broken, too.

The story of the Christian is one that remembers the very first and the very last moments of a rabbi and his disciples—a child born, a teacher present, a meal shared, a lamb revealed, feet washed by one who claimed to be both king and servant. It is a story that invites its hearers into a kingdom entirely different than the many stories before them, connecting them with a God who somehow reigns within a realm that is here and now, and also approaching. In the Lord’s Supper, Christians are literally “taking in” this biblical imagination, which unites followers with Christ in such a way that helps us to live as he lived in a world of stories.

When the apostle Paul called early followers of Christ not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they might discern what is the will of God—”what is good and acceptable and perfect,” he was reminding them that there are overlapping and contradicting stories all around them, but that it is the story of God that earns the role of orienting narrative. In other words, Christ does not leave his followers with the option of living unaware of all the subconscious ways in which we are formed by the world of stories. Living into the kingdom of God means recognizing the power of God’s story beside every competing narrative—not necessarily shutting each one out, but interpreting every other story through the Story. Living further into the biblical imagination presented in Scripture, the Christian’s very life, like that of Christ’s, shows the world the subversive power of an imagination that moves far beyond the systems of “postmodernism,” “consumerism,” and “nationalism.”

Whether Christian, atheist, or Hindu, no one can avoid being in the world. We cannot escape the world’s formative stories, nor should we want to escape the particular place where we have been planted.(3) Yet, nor do we want it to become so much our home that we cannot see all the dust on the windows or feel the draft of a roofless shelter. For the Christian, the more we find ourselves living into the imagination of this different kingdom, a world breathed by the Father, proclaimed by Christ, and revealed by the Spirit, the unchallenged, unseen storylines of our worlds come sharply into focus. And the more we taste and see of the goodness of God, the more we taste and see of Christ in the land of the living. Like Paul, at times something like scales fall from our eyes and the Spirit compels us to get up and re-experience our baptisms, going further into the biblical imagination, where our voices regain strength in telling and retelling the unstoppable story.(4)

 

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

 

(1) Kenneth Carder, “Market and Mission: Competing Visions for Transforming Ministry,” Lecture, Duke Divinity School, Oct. 16, 2001, 1.
(2) Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1995), 95.
(3) Jesus himself prayed, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but I ask that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
(4) “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (Acts 9:18-19).

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Shape of Affection

 

In a study included in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine children were shown to overwhelmingly prefer the taste of food that comes in McDonald’s wrappers. The study had preschoolers sample identical foods in packaging from McDonald’s and in matched, but unbranded, packaging. The kids were then asked if the food tasted the same or if one tasted better. The unmarked foods lost the taste test every time. Even apple juice, carrots, and milk tasted better to the kids when taken from the familiar wrappings of the Golden Arches. “This study demonstrates simply and elegantly that advertising literally brainwashes young children into a baseless preference for certain food products,” said a physician from Yale’s School of Medicine. “Children, it seems, literally do judge a food by its cover. And they prefer the cover they know.”(1)

The science of advertising is often about convincing the world that books can and should be judged by their covers. These kids were not merely saying they preferred the taste of McDonald’s food. They actually believed the chicken nugget they thought was from McDonald’s tasted better than an identical nugget. From an early age and on through adulthood, branding is directive in telling us what we think and feel, who we are, what we love, what matters.

 

But lest we blame television and marketing entirely for the wiles of brand recognition, we should recall that advertisers continue to have employment simply because it works. That is, long before marketers were encouraging customers to judge by image, wrapping, and cover, we were judging by these methods anyway. When the ancient Samuel was looking for the person God would ordain as king, he had a particular image in mind. In fact, when he first laid eyes on Eliab, Samuel thought confidently that this was the one God had chosen. But on the contrary, God said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”(2)

The study with the preschoolers is startling because adults can see clearly that a carrot in a McDonald’s bag is still inherently a carrot. Yet how often are we, too, blindsided by mere wrappings, the cultural repetitions that mold us, the images and liturgies that shape our affections? Is the mistake of a child in believing the food tastes better in a yellow wrapper really any different than our own believing we are better people dressed with the right credentials, covered by the latest fashion, repeating the right belief-systems? Covered in whatever comforts us or completely stripped of our many wrappings, we are the same people underneath.

But according to one ancient writer, there is one exception. The Apostle Paul writes of a kind of clothing that changes the one inside them. “[F]or all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(3) Clothed in the righteousness of the man Jesus, a person is wrapped in the identity of the human Son of God. They are given new packaging, new life, new robes worn only by Christ, and thus, like him, they are made most truly human.

Unlike the catch and costliness of well-marketed wrappings, the robes he describes are free. The beautiful and difficult word of Christianity is that Christ requires only that we come without costume or pretense. The many robes we collect, the covers with which we judge the world, we must be willing to give him. He takes from tired shoulders robes of self-importance and false security. He tears from determined grasps those garments of self-pity and shame. And then he clothes the needful soul with garments of salvation, arrays us in robes of righteousness, gives us the hopeful liturgy of his presence, and reminds us that we wear his holy name from the inside out.

 

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

 

(1) “Foods Tastes Better With McDonald’s Logo, Kids Say,” Forbes, August 6, 2007.
(2) 1 Samuel 16:7.
(2) Galatians 3:27-28.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Space for Sorrow

 

As a young girl, one of my favorite bible stories was the epic encounter between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. With David meets Goliath odds, Elijah faces off against 450 prophets of Baal in a contest pitting the God of Israel against the Canaanite god Baal. Which deity would answer the prayers of the respective prophets to consume the altar sacrifice?

This is an incident filled with dramatic tension and awesome displays of power. The Lord answers Elijah with fire from heaven that not only consumes the sacrifice, but also licks up every last drop of water poured out from not one, but four pitchers of water. The story ends with the destruction of the prophets of Baal and the peoples’ declaration that the Lord is God.

Now, as a grownup, I still love this story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, but not for the reasons I loved it as a young girl. Instead, I love what seems to be an anti-climactic postscript to the story. Despite seeing the glory and power of God on display in such dramatic fashion, and winning a great victory, Elijah falls into what could likely be called depression. Threatened by Queen Jezebel, he runs for his life into the wilderness. There, under a lone broom tree, he prays to God to take his life, not once but two times. As one commentator notes, “Those who have suffered mental anguish in their lives know all too well the depths to which Elijah has descended. He (and they) has entered the deep spots in the psychological ocean, and then has found a narrow slit in the ocean floor, a Marianas Trench of the soul, where he descends further still into the inky abyss. All he can think of is his desire to die.”(2)

As one reading this story, this is a surprising turn of events. How could Elijah feel this way? After all, didn’t he just see God mightily answer his prayer? One might expect a God who would reproach Elijah for feeling so badly, for his lack of faith, for his despair. And yet, the narrative offers no exhortation or chastening. Instead, an angelic messenger is touching Elijah, urging him to eat bread and water prepared for him by a heavenly servant. Indeed, the angel comes again and feeds Elijah a second time urging him: “Arise, eat for the journey is too great for you.”

Given God’s firey display from heaven in the encounter with the prophets of Baal, the reader might expect another dramatic display from God. And indeed, as Elijah waits on Mount Horeb, the Mountain of God, he experiences a strong wind, and a mighty earthquake, and then a consuming fire. But with each of these cataclysms the narrator repeats a refrain: The Lord was not in the wind, or the earthquake or the fire. Instead, the Lord comes to Elijah in a gentle blowing. God meets Elijah at the very place of his despair, not with correction or reprimand, not with a “buck up and get going” or a “keep your chin up” but with a grace as gentle as a soft breeze.

Like Elijah, there may be days when we feel at the height of heights, assured of all answers, victorious in our daily battles, maybe even confident of God’s saving activity all around. But there are also days when we need permission to feel badly. Despair is our only friend and the obstacles and challenges of life conspire against faith, hope, and love. It is deeply encouraging to see that, even in this place, God draws near with gentleness.

The gentleness of God on display in Elijah’s dark depression is the same God sung about in one of Israel’s ancient psalms:

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I make my bed in the nether world,
behold you are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
even there your hand will lead me and your right hand will lay hold of me.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God of Possibility

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing.”(1) So begins Nicholas Carr’s well-circulated 2008 essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” His Atlantic article describes the shifting of his own thought patterns; how he once could delve easily into long bouts of prose, but now finds his mind trailing off after skimming only a few pages. As a writer he is the first to applaud the instant wonders of Google searches, information-trails, and hyperlinks ad infinitum. He just wonders aloud about the cost.

University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson is another voice attempting to articulate the current cultural ecosystem, and the minds, souls, and relationships it cultivates. In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education he attempts to describe the turbo-charged orientation of his students to life around them. “They want to study, travel, make friends, make more friends, read everything (superfast), take in all the movies, listen to every hot band, keep up with everyone they’ve ever known… They live to multiply possibilities. They’re enemies of closure… [They] want to take eight classes a term, major promiscuously, have a semester abroad at three different colleges, [and] connect with every likely person who has a page on Facebook.”(2) Edmundson argues that for all the virtues of a generation that lives the possibilities of life so fully, there are detriments to the mind that perpetually seeks more and other options. For many, the moment of maximum pleasure is no longer “the moment of closure, where you sealed the deal,” but rather, “the moment when the choices had been multiplied to the highest sum…the moment of maximum promise.”

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Master of Light

 

Ballet lost some of its wonder when it was explained. It was a class that was supposed to lift my mind, lighten my spirit, and boost my grade point average. Instead it became a one-credit nightmare—a class dedicated to dissecting moves I could not duplicate, within a semester that seemed to slowly dismember my romantic fascination with dance.

Explanations sometimes have a way of leaving their questioners with a sense of loss. Students note this phenomenon regularly. Expounded principles of light refraction and water particles explain away the rainbow, or at least some of its mystique. Air pressure, gravity, and the laws of physics deconstruct the optical mystery of the curve ball. Knowledge and experience can poignantly leave us with a sense of disappointment or disenchantment.

I recently read an article that scientifically explained the glow of a firefly. The author noted the nerves and chemical compounds that make the “fire” possible, pointing out that it is merely a signal used for mating and is, in fact, far from the many romantic myths that have long surrounded it. As one who delights in the gifts of science but also the gift a sky ignited with bugs, I put the article down with a sigh. And then a thought occurred to me in a manner not unlike the description of the firefly’s glow itself: The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not mastered it.(1) Where nerves and photocytes explain the glow of the firefly, have we come any closer to erasing the miracle of light?

However accurate or inaccurate our explanations might be, they sometimes have a way of leading us to short-sighted conclusions. They have also led us to outright incongruity. Brilliant minds can articulate exquisitely complex aspects of the human person and simultaneously describe it as an accident, an impersonal, adult germ in a vast cosmic machine. We have brusquely described life as a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing, only to claim that this should not lead us to despair. We have declared our appetites and our reason the gods of a better religion, while insisting both God and religion to be an invention of the human psyche. We scoff at the notion of a vicariously human savior who frees captive humanity and revives the creator’s image, while maintaining we live with every qualification for human dignity, distinction, and freedom. Are these even realistic applications of our own philosophies? Do the explanations warrant the conclusions?

On the contrary, we sometimes seem to go about the business of undermining our own mines. Why should a tale told by an idiot have players of any intrinsic value? Why would an impersonal, cosmic accident see herself as a personal, relational being worthy of dignity? What we are attempting to explain away in one sentence, we are arguing for in the next.

Explanations certainly need not lead us to the conclusion that all is lost. But neither should our explanations lead us to conclusions that contradict our own accounts. Thankfully, in both cases, there are times in life where we find, like Job, that we may have spoken out of turn and discover there may be more to the story. Sitting through the whirlwind of God’s own 63 questions, Job exclaims: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Ever thankfully, I believe there is an invitation that both invites great disclosures and discloses in great mystery. “Call to me,” the God of wisdom tells the prophet and the people. “And I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you have not known.” The presence of God can be overlooked, but it cannot be explained away any more than we can explain away the miracle of light.

 

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

 

(1) John 1:5.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – To See the Face of God

 

What happens when we pray for our enemies?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:43-45a

It was a picture-perfect evening in downtown Atlanta. I was headed to the city’s famous Fox Theatre to see Les Misérables, the Broadway musical based on Victor Hugo’s masterful novel, accompanied by a friend named Jason. Our conversation was full of laughter and friendly banter, even as we braced ourselves to take in a somber production that we knew would be filled with emotion.

“How did you two meet?” asked a fellow theater patron, a simple question that startled me. “Ummm… it’s a long story,” I awkwardly responded. “We’ve been friends for a while.”

What made this situation remarkable wasn’t the splendid weather—unusual for the season—or the fact that we had scored tickets to this sold-out production. It was that nearly thirteen years prior, we would have been considered enemies in every sense of the word.

***

Nearly thirteen years ago, a young man named Jason approached me at a public event—also in downtown Atlanta—visibly angry and perturbed. “Hey, my name is Ruth,” I said, unsure of why he had come up to me. “I know who you are,” he responded abruptly and indignantly. “If only you knew how hated you were in my community, you would fear for your life.”

Jason proceeded to tell me that he and many others in his circles of interaction vehemently disagreed with my beliefs and with actions I had taken in college—and, more significantly, that they held a different worldview. The more Jason talked, the more evident it was to me that he misunderstood not just my actions, but my motives as well. This encounter was not entirely unusual, sadly, but it did stand out as one of the more antagonistic. I remember feeling rattled and dejected. “This must be what it’s like to have enemies,” I thought to myself.

***

You see, thirteen years ago I was a college student studying at a public university, when I encountered tremendous opposition because my Christian beliefs were considered “intolerant” and “offensive” by some—not just students, but campus administrators and professors as well. From the day I stepped on campus for Freshman Orientation, I realized that I was entering an environment where atheism and secular humanism were not only being promoted by those in authority, but where Christians students like me were often prohibited from sharing our beliefs. While I expected to encounter scholarly debate and have my beliefs challenged in college, I didn’t expect to be repeatedly censored, interrogated, and condemned by those in authority for expressing a point of view not in lockstep with their own worldview. Such censorship hindered the free exchange of ideas on campus and prevented students from debating life’s deepest questions. After years of navigating that unlevel playing field as a Christian student, I felt compelled to speak out and seek justice.

I knew that the more vocal I became on campus, the more likely some would oppose my beliefs. But I never imagined that differences of viewpoint would lead to me being on the receiving end of vastly distorted media coverage, vicious hate mail, and even death threats. It baffled me to see leaders in higher education lash out at a student who expressed different beliefs as if I were a threat to their institution, and I was bewildered by the level of animosity from so many directions.

As a 22-year-old student, I remember the first time it occurred to me that I had enemies. I was no stranger to competition or different ideologies, but I had never experienced such vitriolic anger and rage. This was a foreign experience—one that initially left me frustrated, fearful, saddened, and confused. I wrestled with feelings of resentment and disdain toward these adversaries, grappled with the tension of whether and how to defend myself, and faced the temptation to retaliate when I was attacked. While I never wavered in my commitment to stand firm on principle, I did wonder how to respond to such extreme opposition from people who didn’t even know me personally.

In the midst of attempting to navigate these difficult dynamics, one day I was reading through the book of Matthew in the Bible and came to the Sermon on the Mount. This was a familiar passage to me, but the commands of Jesus resonated with me in a whole new light given my current circumstances.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I had read and heard these words dozens—maybe hundreds—of times. But this time it was different. Now I knew exactly how it felt to have enemies and to be maligned because of my beliefs—and I knew exactly what I needed to do in response.

“Thank you, Lord, that I have the privilege of carrying out this command in a deeply personal way,” I prayed. My perspective drastically shifted.

Up until this experience, I had thought of enemies in a generic sense—but now they had names. I soon wrote out an “enemies list.” For each day of the month, I listed the name of one individual who had attacked me through words and actions. When I got to #31, I went back to Day 1 and added more names. One of those names was Jason. Every day, I would pray for the designated individuals by name, that God would change their hearts and minds so they would understand and embrace the truth. The more I talked to God about them, my prayers became less focused on my personal situation and more fervent that these individuals would be drawn to the gospel message. I did this for about two years, and in this process, God changed my own heart and attitude.

Praying for my enemies replaced my anger and fear with lament and compassion. Instead of the natural tendency to “get even” or seek revenge, I began to earnestly desire their flourishing and hope for reconciliation. God transformed my resentment of them into love for them. Forgiveness was not optional for me; it was the only way to freedom and release.

I realized that I might never have the chance to interact with many of my antagonists, but by the act of my will and through the grace of God, I had to forgive them. Forgiveness enabled me to detach myself from their control, to develop empathy and gain insights on their spiritual needs, and to acknowledge that God is the only one who can bring about transformation in their lives and in mine.

Most of all, during this time I was vividly reminded of the forgiveness that I myself—once an enemy of God Himself—had received from God in Christ. If “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8b), who was I to withhold forgiveness from anyone—regardless of what they had done and whether they had apologized?

My pastor, Charles Stanley, continually encouraged me during this time and even asked our church to lift me up in prayer. His insights on forgiveness were both profound and practical. “Once we understand the depth of our sin and the distance it placed between God and us—and once we get a glimpse of the sacrifice He made to restore fellowship with us—we should not hesitate to forgive,” he explained. “We must release the offender from the debt we feel is owed to us. This involves mentally bundling all of our hostile feelings and surrendering them to Christ.”

This was a tumultuous season for me, but one that shaped my perspective and priorities as I learned valuable lessons that I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life.

***

Fast-forward about a decade.

I received a message online from Jason. He wanted to meet up. Though we had followed each other on social media, I had only seen him in person once—that hostile encounter over a decade earlier when he came up to me and told me how hated I was among his circles.

Jason said he wanted to trade updates on life and work. He told me he was a Christian, that he had struggled in his faith and wanted someone to talk to about it. The gentle tone of his message and the gracious words of affirmation left me stunned. “I just wanted to say thank you for enriching my life and challenging me so much over the years,” he wrote. “I am surrounded by people who think and believe just like me but they don’t enrich my life nearly as much as the people I have to leave my comfort zone and connect with to understand.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. We set a time and place to meet, and I began praying for this encounter. On one level, I was excited and grateful for this opportunity. On another, I was apprehensive and unsure of what to expect. Memories from the antagonism I had experienced in college flooded my mind once again. With nervous anticipation, I showed up at the restaurant where we were meeting for dinner and waited for him to arrive.

As soon as we were both seated—before the server could even take our order—Jason started speaking. “I’ve been waiting for years to apologize to you,” he said, as tears filled his eyes. He told me about his faith journey, the personal challenges he had experienced, and how deeply he regretted his anger and hatred towards me a decade earlier.

I got emotional too, and in a sweet and unexpected twist, I attempted to comfort him. “We are all on a journey,” I assured him.

Jason continued to apologize profusely, and I finally interrupted him. “I already forgave you, over a decade ago,” I said. “But I, too, need to ask for your forgiveness.”

I apologized that I had sometimes viewed certain individuals as problems to be solved rather than people to be loved. I apologized that I had often spoken in a tone of outrage and frustration rather than one of regret and concern. In my zeal to share my own beliefs, I hadn’t adequately listened to the experiences of others—including his own. I went on to explain how my approach to advocacy and public engagement had shifted since I first met him all those years ago, shared some of the lessons I’d learned along the way, and described my current burdens for the state of our polarized culture with both lament and hope. “Meeting people such as you has been an essential part of my growth process, and I’m thankful,” I told him.

It was an authentic conversation that brought healing and hope to us both. “I remember my first instinct was to hate someone like you, and then I met you and learned how amazingly sweet and kind you were as well as how much we have in common,” Jason later wrote to me. “Who was I to hate someone I had never met? It changed everything.”

In that moment I was reminded in a compelling way that God is the great reconciler, bringing us into a right relationship with Himself and with each other. It’s truly miraculous and beautiful to witness.

***

The gift of forgiveness is to be both treasured and shared.

As I reflect on my experience in college, my encounter with Jason, and the ongoing challenge of forgiveness, I’m reminded of these lessons that I imagine will take a lifetime to learn:

Stand for truth and respond in grace.

Whenever we take a stand for what is right and good and true, there will be some who oppose our beliefs and actions, question our motives, and attempt to hinder our effectiveness. As Victor Hugo wrote, “You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea.” But having courage to stand for the truth is often only half the battle; we must also learn to handle attack in a godly way. Even as we resist the temptation to seek affirmation from the wrong sources, we must strive to be winsome in our approach toward all—at once clinging to the truth yet demonstrating grace and holding our expectations with an open hand.

Understand that forgiveness is always costly and never easy.

Forgiveness is always challenging and entails an element of suffering. Sometimes it is most difficult when we must choose to forgive unilaterally, without any prospect of the other person’s response. “Unilateral forgiveness occurs when you forgive someone and yet the person has not asked for it, requested it, or even repented of what they did to you,” explains Tony Evans. “Unilaterally means that on your own—without their involvement—you choose to grant them forgiveness.”[1]Although it may be hard, the cost and consequences of unforgiveness are far too high.

Pray for your enemies and your heart will change towards them.

It is natural to fall into the mindset of seeing our opponents as obstacles, of dismissing those with different worldviews, and of focusing on our own hurts rather than recognizing the pain of others. When we pray for our enemies, God will change our perspective and enable us to see them as He does—precious people in need of a Savior. My former colleague, the late Nabeel Qureshi, would often admonish, “Before you talk to someone about God, talk to God about them.” When you talk to God about your enemies, He will often prepare you to talk to them about Him.

Pursue reconciliation and be persistent.

As believers, we must live in a continual rhythm of asking forgiveness in humility when we’ve wronged others and offering it freely when we ourselves have been wronged. As we pursue reconciliation intentionally, we must do so with an attitude of surrender, trusting that God is at work even when we can’t see the results. “Forgiveness is granted before it is felt. It is a promise to pray for the perpetrator as you remind yourself of God’s grace to you,” says Tim Keller. “Though it is extremely difficult and painful, forgiveness will deepen your character, free you to talk to and help the person, and lead to love and peace rather than bitterness.”[2] We must not give in to discouragement or give up hope, however daunting the road ahead appears.

Next time you’re confronted with enemies, don’t despair. Resist the temptation to respond in anger. With humility, ask God what you can learn and where you can change. With gratitude, give thanks for the forgiveness you’ve experienced in Christ. With confidence, pray for your enemies—specifically, by name, day after day. In obedience, grant them forgiveness. And with anticipation, watch God change your heart towards others—and maybe even your enemy’s heart toward you.

***

Back to that memorable evening watching Les Misérables with my now friend, Jason. Themes of mercy, forgiveness, freedom, and redemption are evident throughout the acclaimed work, so in light of our journey it was poignant and fitting that we were watching it together.

The closing—and arguably most famous—line of the musical’s epilogue is “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

In one sense, this is right. Perhaps it is even an allusion to 1 John 4:12. “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” Every individual bears the image of God, so we see something of God’s face in another person. And to love is to act like God, so that will inevitably help us to see as He does as well. When we love one another, God’s love in us is perfected in us, and it’s almost as if we can see Him.

Yet in another sense, this line is vastly incomplete. The true image of God is Jesus Christ, and it is only in lovingly gazing at Him that we truly see the face of God—and only with the eyes of our heart for now. We will see Him face to face one day, but that is still to come.

So, with all due respect to Victor Hugo, perhaps we should reverse the logic of his famous line: we first need to see the face of God in Christ to truly love another person.

The only way to demonstrate and experience true forgiveness and love is to see how God has granted and revealed it to us in Jesus. Once we begin to grasp that, it will change the way we view the world and transform how we treat everyone God brings along our path.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” –Ephesians 4:32

Ruth Malhotra is Public Relations Manager at RZIM.

[1] Tony Evans, “Two Types of Forgiveness” (April 13, 2018), https://www.authenticmanhood.com/two-types-of-forgiveness/.

[2] Timothy J. Keller, “Serving Each Other through Forgiveness and Reconciliation.” (March 22, 2010), https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/serving-each-other-through-forgiveness-and-reconciliation/.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Gaining Consciousness

 

The line between real and imagined is sometimes a little blurry. At least this is the conclusion of one report on the business of cyberspace, where thousands of people have imaginary lives and quite a few are actually making a living at it. The creators of several popular online role-playing games completed a year-long study of the very real transactions that are taking place in their imaginary worlds. The results portray a flourishing economy that is rapidly grabbing advertisers’ attention. The sellers are role players who have taken the time to find marketable goods in their virtual worlds—and they are clearly putting in the time. In one popular game, a gnome is sold with a basic skill set for $214; in another, a virtual cherry dining set for a virtual home runs about 250 actual dollars. Between June 2005 and June 2006, 9,042 role players spent $1.87 million dollars on virtual goods from swords to special powers. According to analyst estimates for 2015, U.S. virtual goods revenue alone will top $1 billion and could even rake in over $2 billion.

It is entertainment I don’t claim to fully understand. But it is fascinating (and maybe worrisome) to see how seamless the real and the virtual can become. Of course, this is a reality that runs through far more than worlds of online gaming. The imagination is always at work in the way we see the world itself; this is both instinctive and instructive. Moreover, to note that something is imaginary is not to dismiss it as void of truth or reality. Fans of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes cartoon remember significant lines of truth coming from a stuffed tiger. Yet, there are also times that what is not real can become so intertwined with what is real that we scarcely notice a difference. That is, until something real reminds us otherwise—like a jolt of consciousness, an outsider’s perspective, or a credit card receipt.

The Hebrew prophet Jonah was a prophet by profession. He knew the liturgy and worship of the people of Israel by heart. So it is not unreasonable that as his life was ebbing away in the depths of the sea, Jonah would cry out with the words of a psalm he had heard countless times before. And yet, the words no doubt had a depth of meaning for him unlike anything he had known before. As he was losing consciousness—literally in Hebrew, “in the feebleness of his person,”—Jonah not only remembered God by name, but in some ways was seeing God for the first time. Like one awakened to enmeshed worlds both real and unreal, Jonah quickly clung to what was real.

Up until this point Jonah’s behavior suggests a mentality that God was not entirely omnipresent, but present only in Israel, in the temple, and in the places of his own interest. As Jonah ran to Tarshish to avoid the call of God to go to Nineveh, he ran believing there was a place he could go where God could not find him. But as he sunk further into the depths of the sea, the prophet realized that he was mercifully mistaken. His language evokes a play on words—As I was losing consciousness, I remembered the LORD. Or else, it was a sudden recognition of the Really Real in the imaginary world he had occupied. Losing consciousness, Jonah was actually gaining it.

Perhaps not wanting to consider the discomfort it would take to uproot our own embedded fallacies, tellers of Jonah’s story often minimize the distress that broke his silence with God. But the popular notion that Jonah went straight from the side of the ship and into the mouth of the fish is not supported by either the narrative as a whole or Jonah’s cry for help. H. L. Ellison suggests that “[Jonah] was half drowned before he was swallowed. If he was still conscious, sheer dread would have caused him to faint—notice that there is no mention of the fish in his prayer. He can hardly have known what caused the change from wet darkness to an even greater dry darkness. When he did regain consciousness, it would have taken some time to realize that the all-enveloping darkness was not that of Sheol but of a mysterious safety.”(1)

In that mysterious safety, Jonah shows us the strange world that unwound his imaginary one, and in it, the God who hears in both. Though the deep surrounded him and reeds were bound to his head, Jonah was heard—and his awareness of this was an essential turning point in his story. In prayer and darkness, Jonah admitted that the role of salvation cannot be in his hands. If only momentarily, the drowning prophet clung to a truth more hopeful than escapism and far more able than idols: “Salvation belongs to the LORD.”

It is hard to believe that Jonah could have considered being swallowed alive a rescue, and yet it is precisely Jonah’s considerations from which he needed to be rescued. In truth, at times, the deliverance we need most is that of deliverance from ourselves. Though our thoughts toward God be wound in self and seaweed, and the depths of our imagined autonomy threaten to drown us, rescue is indeed a valid hope. What if God is far more real than we often imagine?

 

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

 

(1) H.L. Ellison, “Jonah,” The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 374.

 

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – An Unlikely Alliance

They both trod along the dusty streets of ancient Palestine: one as an outcast and traitor and the other as a would-be hero. One used his position to cheat and extort his own people. The other carried a dagger under his cloak to swiftly exact vengeance on agents of government extortion. Neither man would have hoped to meet the other. Yet, a stranger from a backwater town would bring the two of them together. In fact, this most unlikely pair would not only meet, but live alongside each other for three years as they followed this stranger. All that had previously defined them would give way to an entirely new path of life.

On that most unexpected day, Matthew was collecting taxes from the people. He made sure to extract more than what was necessary to fill his coffers with unlawful profits. The stranger who came by the tax office that day looked like any other man, so it likely came as quite a shock to Matthew when the stranger called out to him, “Follow me.” No one from among the people of Israel would even desire to speak with Matthew—yet this stranger called after him and invited him to follow. To where, he did not know, but his invitation was irresistible. That very night, Matthew invited the stranger to his home for dinner and they reclined at the same table. Even to Matthew, it would have been a radical sight. Seated among the most despised members of society, didn’t the stranger know how deeply this company was hated? How was it that he had come to Matthew’s house, a man hated in all Israel for being a sellout to the Roman government? Yet, here was this intriguing stranger eating and drinking with outsiders and sellouts.(1)

The day that Simon the Zealot was approached would be no less surprising. The Zealots sought any and all means to overthrow their Roman oppressors. As revolutionaries, Simon’s political affiliates hated all that Matthew’s kind represented. For Simon, Matthew was nothing but a colluder with those who sought to oppress the people of Israel. Yet this stranger from Nazareth called both of these men to his side. “Follow me,” he instructed. So along with a group of fisherman—Simon Peter, the sons of Zebedee, James and John—and this wretched tax collector, Simon the Zealot was invited to follow this stranger who gathered a most unexpected group of followers.(2)

Why would anyone call such an eclectic collection of people to become his followers? What kind of leader brings together people who for all practical purposes are at opposing ends of the spectrum with regards to their views of the world?

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – An Unlikely Alliance

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Wandering Aimlessly

 

Dr. John Ratey is a fan of walking with no purpose. A professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Ratey has done extensive research on exercise, creativity and depression. His research suggests that when we walk without any goal or agenda—when we wander, in other words—our brains are able to pick up more information.(1) In fact, walking aimlessly allows the free flow of thoughts and ideas that don’t occur when we focus on something specific. In addition to inspiring creative thought, Ratey has found that exercise can be therapeutic for depression and ADHD. When patients would walk for even ten minutes a day, these ailments would lift. Dr. Ratey notes, “A bout of exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.”(2) Who knew that wandering aimlessly could be so good for well-being and creativity?

In a fast-paced and efficiency driven world, these ideas are counter-intuitive. For many, walking without any purpose sounds like a complete waste of time. After all, there is so much to do! Days overflow with so many demands on time and attention. Flooded by obligations, it is no wonder that hypertension, depression, and other stress-related diseases are so prevalent. Living life becomes all about doing, without much thought for being. Exercise, when it is undertaken, is for most just one part of a day’s hoped-for accomplishments. “Bucket lists” are created so that even the living of one’s life is marked by checking off one event or experience after another. As we move at hyper-speed, wandering for the sake of wandering sounds ridiculous.

While it would be unlikely to characterize the earthly ministry of Jesus as time spent wandering aimlessly, our efficiency-driven, goal-oriented world might wonder at his unusual pace and priorities during those short, three years. Some might wonder, for example, at the seemingly wasted hours eating and drinking with a sundry and often sordid cast of characters. Luke’s gospel alone mentions meals around the table (or implies them) ten times, with guests and hosts as diverse as religious leaders and tax collectors, lawyers and well-known sinners. When a highly regarded official begged Jesus to come and heal his daughter, Jesus is willing to be delayed by an unnamed, unknown woman grabbing the hem of his garment in spite of the throngs of people pressing around. In other words, Jesus willingly allows himself to be interrupted by a seemingly unimportant individual, on his way to the synagogue official’s home. Other times, the gospel writers tell of Jesus going off to ‘lonely places’ to pray. Even the way Jesus taught spiritual truths—the telling of parables and stories—suggests a whimsy, a wandering from a style of teaching that was purely didactic. And of course, while one could argue that the tremendous amount of time he spent walking the countryside was simply utilitarian, his willingness toward these disruptions, stories, and ministry along the way demonstrate otherwise.

Why would he have done it this way? From our modern perspective, it can seem like such a waste of time. Didn’t he need to save the world? Weren’t there more important things he should have been doing? Perhaps it is in these examples from his own life where even the casual reader might see a different set of priorities than those that govern most in the modern world. Perhaps Jesus understood the power of a long walk with his disciples, and the need for a story to pull in listeners. Perhaps Jesus understood that looking at the birds of the air and observing the lilies of the field could give life and strength to one’s being, gifts imbued by their Creator. Perhaps Jesus understood for himself the power of abiding in God as a result of his time spent alone in prayer. Perhaps Jesus knew that meaningful accomplishments were not always efficient and output is often a byproduct of input.

Considering Jesus’s way of being in the world—even when he knew his life would be cut short—I have been inspired to think about my own priorities and the manner in which I move through the day. Generally rushed and hurried, I wander from the path of busyness by rest and withdrawal, prayer and stillness. I stop to notice the purple Echinacea plant, rocking in time with the wind. I see the bees gathering pollen on its brown cones and antique violet petals. I allow myself to be distracted by the hummingbirds hovering around the feeder. I wander into my backyard, or through my neighborhood letting thoughts, feelings and prayers rise and fall with my breath and my steps. I allow the precious interruptions of colleagues, family, friends to call me more deeply into the kind of love Jesus demonstrated in his own ministry.

Meanwhile, all the tasks of the day still hound me; like barking dogs, they will not relent at demanding my attention. Their urgency conspires against my attempts to intentionally slow the pace of the day. I hear a persistent chorus singing the minor note that I am wasting my time. I am not immune to the compulsion to view my worth by my productivity, my busyness, or by how many items I’ve crossed off my ‘to do’ list.

And yet, the busyness is not what is useful nor is it what brings meaning, beauty, joy, or wonder to living. Creating space for wandering in the crowded days and weeks of our lives allows our thoughts to roam toward new priorities and paths, toward encounters along the road that surprise and nourish the soul, like the disciples who walked unknowingly with the risen Jesus. Wandering—whether that involves the purposeless walking of Dr. Ratey, being distracted by beauty in the person right in front of us or in the natural world, or the intentional withdrawal into silence, stillness, and prayer—is itself a purposeful work.

 

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

 

(1) Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson, “Why Walking Matters” Here and Now (Monday, May 19, 2014).
(2) Ibid.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Indicators of Need

The difficult question of pain forms a thorny question on which volumes have been written. Why do the innocent suffer? Why do we face all these diseases? Why the suffering of millions because of natural disasters or the tyranny of demagogues? I do not pretend to have the answers, but one thing I know: pain is a universal fact of life. Likewise, there are moral dimensions in the way we phrase our questions concerning pain, and every religion explicitly or implicitly attempts to explain pain.

But why do we even ask these questions about suffering within the context of morality? Why have we blended the fact of physical pain with the demand for a moral explanation? Who decided that pain is immoral? Indeed, almost every atheist or skeptic you read names this as the main reason for his or her denial of God’s existence.

In the Judeo-​Christian framework, pain is connected to the reality of evil and to the choices made by humanity at the beginning of time. The problem of pain and the problem of evil are inextricably bound. So when we assume evil, we assume good. When we assume good, we assume a moral law. And when we assume a moral law, we assume a moral law-​giver.

You may ask, Why does assuming a moral law necessitate a moral lawgiver? Because every time the question of evil is raised, it is either by a person or about a person—and that implicitly assumes that the question is a worthy one. But it is a worthy question only if people have intrinsic worth, and the only reason people have intrinsic worth is that they are the creations of One who is of ultimate worth. That person is God. So the question self-​destructs for the naturalist or the pantheist. The question of the morality of evil or pain is valid only for a theist.

And only in Christian theism is love preexistent within the Trinity, which means that love precedes human life and becomes the absolute value for us. This absolute is ultimately found only in God, and in knowing and loving God we work our way through the struggles of pain, knowing of its ultimate connection to evil and its ultimate destruction by the One who is all-​good and all-​loving; who in fact has given us the very basis for the words good and love both in concept and in language.

Not far from my home lives a young woman who was born with a very rare disease called CIPA, congenital insensitivity to pain with anhydrosis. Imagine having a body that looks normal and acts normally, except for one thing: You cannot feel physical pain. That sounds as if it would be a blessing. But the reason it’s a problem is that she lives under the constant threat of injuring herself without knowing it. If she steps on a rusty nail that could infect her bloodstream, she wouldn’t even realize it by sensation. If she placed her hand on a burning stove, she would not know she had just burned her hand except by looking at it. She needs constant vigilance because she could sustain an injury that could take her life or cause serious debilitation. When her family was interviewed some years ago, the line I most remember is the closing statement by her mother. She said, “I pray every night for my daughter, that God would give her a sense of pain.”

If that statement were read in a vacuum, we would wonder what sort of mother she is. But because more than anyone else she understands the risks of this strange disease, there is no greater prayer she can pray than that her daughter feel pain and be able to recognize what it portends.

I ask you this simple question: If, in our finitude, we can appreciate the value of pain in even one single life, is it that difficult to grant the possibility that an infinite God can use pain to point us to a greater malady? We see through a glass darkly because all we want is to be comfortable. We cannot understand the great plan of an all-​knowing God who brings us near through the value of pain—or of disappointment with pleasure.

And yet the very thing that enslaves and traps us becomes the indicator of our need for God and the means to draw us to the recognition of our own finitude and to the rescuing grace of God. The pain of pain may well clasp the lifesaving hand of God and draw us into God’s arms.

 

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Longing Rendered

The places in literature that most often slow my mind to a reflective halt are usually intensely visual. Among them, perhaps surprisingly to some, are images from ancient scriptures that offer some of the most beautiful depictions. The resounding cry of Isaiah 64:1, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,” seems to leave a trail of the most desperate, sorrowing, hopeful faces in its wake, men and women longing in agreement. Fitting with Isaiah’s vision for a world that revolves around God as good and worthy king, his cry was a fervent prayer for the severe presence of a God he knew could come nearer.

Like the God for which he longed, the prophet’s words are intense, stirring, and intentional. Isaiah’s use of words—in fact, the entire genre of prophetic literature—cries out with poetic vision. As Abraham Heschel comments, “Prophecy is the product of a poetic imagination. Prophecy is poetry, and in poetry everything is possible, e.g. for the trees to celebrate a birthday and for God to speak to man.”(1) And that is to say, God gives us something of the divine character in the prophet’s powerful interplay of word, metaphor, and image. As messenger, the prophet yields the words of God, and the poetic nature of prophetic speech reveals a God who speaks in couplets, a God who uses simile and metaphor, rhythm and sound, alliteration, repetition, and rhetorical questions. Any reading of prophetic speech requires that one engage these poetic structures. A quick scan of Isaiah 64:1 reveals a depth of interacting words and key patterns, and a metaphor that moves us like the mountains Isaiah describes:

If only you would cleave the heavens!
(If only) you would come down,
From facing you, mountains would quake!

These few stanzas make use of repeated words and paired images to convey an intensity about human longing for the transcendence of God. The cry is not merely for God’s presence, but a presence that will tear open the heavens and cause mountains—even Mount Zion and the children of God—to tremble. Set in the opening line, the Hebrew word qarata is as illustrative in tone as it is meaning. The guttural sound and sharp stop in its pronunciation contribute to the severity of the word itself, which means to tear, to rend, to sever, or to split an object into two or more parts. “Oh that you would rend the heavens…”  “If only you would cleave open the heavens and come down…”

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Fully Alive

 

The glory of God is the human person fully alive. I first read this quote by Irenaeus of Lyons while still a graduate student. In my early rendering of this evocative statement, I imagined people at play in a field of flowers, the sun shining brightly. Everyone is happy and smiling, laughing even, as they dance and play in the fields of the Lord. As I pictured it in my mind’s eye, the human person fully alive was a person alive to possibility, never-ending opportunities, and always happy. How could it be otherwise with God’s glory as the enlivening force?

One author suggests the same in his commentary on Irenaeus’ statement:

“God’s intentions towards me might be better than I’d thought. His happiness and my happiness are tied together? My coming fully alive is what He’s committed to? That’s the offer of Christianity? Wow! I mean, it would make no small difference if we knew–and I mean really knew–that down-deep-in-your-toes kind of knowing that no one and nothing can talk you out of–if we knew that our lives and God’s glory were bound together. Things would start looking up. It would feel promising…the offer is life.”(1)

Despite my romantic imagination and the author’s exuberant interpretation, I am often perplexed as to just what “fully alive” looks like for many people in our world. How would this read to women in the Congo, for example, whose lives are torn apart by tribal war and violence against their own bodies? What would this mean to an acquaintance of mine who is a young father recently diagnosed with lymphoma? What about those who are depressed? Or who live with profound disabilities?

If feeling alive is only that God is happy when we are happy, then perhaps God is quite sad. Surely God’s glory is much larger than human happiness, isn’t it? Certainly, happiness is a gift and a blessing of the human experience, and for many it is there in abundance. Yet, are those who have reason for sorrow—those who do not find themselves amidst fields of flowers or bounty, those who have to work to find goodness—are they beyond the reflection of God’s glory?

The reality is that Irenaeus’ oft-used and oft-interpreted statement had a specific, apologetic context that was not really about human happiness. Irenaeus lived during a time when gnostic sects were trying to deny the real flesh and blood reality of Jesus. In their alternative view, only the spirit was redeemed, and the body should be ignored at best, or indulged at worst, since nothing regarding the body mattered. As a result, they denied the full humanity of Jesus. He could not have died a physical death on the cross, since he was merely an enlightened spirit, or some form of lesser deity. And he was certainly not one who would enter into the created world to take on the messy nature of life.(2)

When Irenaeus describes the glory of God as the human being fully alive he is correcting this aberrant and heretical notion that Jesus was not fully human. Irenaeus countered that in fact, the glory of God so inhabited this man from Nazareth that he was fully alive to all of what it meant to be human. Jesus experienced hunger, thirst, weariness, frustration, sorrow, and despair—and he experienced the joy and beauty that came from complete dependence on God. To be fully alive, as one sees in the life of Jesus, includes all human experience—the joys as well as the sorrows.

We see that Jesus is fully alive in the Christian tradition of Holy Week. For Christians, that journey includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday just as surely as it includes Easter morning. As Jesus experienced the miraculous new life of resurrection on Easter morning, he first experienced the sorrow of rejection, betrayal, and the physical brutality of crucifixion and death. Jesus lived the depths of the human experience as one of us.

Irenaeus’ continues his thought by saying: “[T]he life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God.”(3) Human beings are fully alive as they find life in this One who in his human life reveals both the eternal God and the vision of God for fully alive human beings. Certainly, our lives include events and seasons that we wish were not part of the fully alive human experience. But perhaps those who seek true life might recognize these appointments with both death and resurrection as an entryway into a deeper understanding of the human experience. And as that door is opened, we can be ushered into the deep and abiding fellowship of the Divine Community—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—not phantom spirits, not distant deities, but intimates to all that it means to be human.

 

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

 

(1) John Eldridge, Waking the Dead (Nashville: Thomas-Nelson Publishers, 2003), 12.
(2) Cyril Richardson ed., Early Christian Fathers (New York: Collier Books, 1970), 345.
(3) Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, (IV, 20, 7).

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – This Kingdom

 

“The ‘kingdom of God’ is for the gullible,” I read recently.  “You enter by putting an end to all your questions.”

It is true that Jesus moved all over Judea pronouncing the reign of God and the kingdom of heaven as if it were a notion he wanted the simplest soul to get his mind around.  But simplicity was not what hearers walked away with. With great disparity, he made it clear that this kingdom was approaching, that it was here, that it was among us, that we needed to enter it, that we need to wait for it, that we desperately need the one who reigns within it. The tension within so many different and dynamic realities turned the clarity of each individual picture into a great and ambiguous portrait. He insisted, the kingdom “has come near you.” Yet he prayed, “Thy kingdom come.“(1) Paul, too, described the placement of believers in the kingdom as something established: “God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.”(2) While the writer of Hebrews described the kingdom as an ongoing gift we must accept: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us therefore give thanks.”(3) To make matters all the more complex, Jesus also assigned the kingdom imagery such as a mustard seed, a treasure in a field, and a great banquet, among others.

Contrary to putting an end to one’s questions, the kingdom of God incites inquiry all the more. What is the nature of this kingdom? Can it be all of these things? Who is this messenger? And what kind of proclamation requires the herald to pour out his very life to tell it? Whatever this kingdom is, it unmistakably introduces to a world far different from the one around us, one we cannot quite get our minds around, with tensions and dynamisms reminiscent of the promise of God to answer our cries “with great and unsearchable things you do not know.”(4) It is a kingdom that tells a story grand enough to master the metanarratives which otherwise compel us into thoughtless, gullible obedience. It is a kingdom with a king whose very authority exposes our idols as wood and reforms our numbed minds with great and surprising reversals of reality.

In this kingdom Jesus proclaims we are shown a God who opens the eyes of the blind and raises the dead, who claims the last will be the first, and the servant is the greatest. But his proclamations did not cease with mere easy words. Jesus put these claims into action, placing this kingdom before us in such a way that forbids us to see any of it as mere religion, abstraction, gullibility, or sentimentality:

“Then the whole assembly rose and led Jesus off to Pilate.  And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation.  He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.’

So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied.

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’

But they insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching.  He started in Galilee and has come all the way here…’ So with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.”(5)

The way of proclamation led to the way of the passion, the path of commotion to the path of accusation, a road strewn with signs of the authority of another kingdom to a road that demanded death and mocked a king. And yet this man is still subverting nations. The kingdom he proclaimed in life and in death continues to unravel our own.

In this world of gullibility, crafted ignorance, and much distraction, there sounds a clarion call for a new means of perception. Living somewhere between this foreign kingdom of God’s reign and the familiar kingdom of earth, some of us never fully see or live in either. Still others somehow find themselves moved beyond the familiar borders of the world they know, to the very threshold of the kingdom of God where, longing to see in fullness and relishing here and now, they discover the one who reigns.

 

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

 

(1) Luke 10:9 and Matthew 6:10.
(2) Colossians 1:13.
(3) Hebrew 14:28.
(4) Jeremiah 33:3.
(5) Luke 23:1-23, emphasis mine.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – As Is

 

In my mother’s antique shop were a variety of treasures for a curious child. My personal favorite was the Victrola that sat stately in the corner, a large internal phonograph that begged to be heard. The sounds it made were bold and cavernous, like an opera in a wooden box. This one was an early model, I heard adults say, and it was in mint condition. So it seemed peculiar to me that our frequent requests to put it into action were, from time to time, resisted. To me it was a perfect treasure, a magnificent and flawless toy. To the motherly owner of the store, it was a treasure that was capable of breaking before it sold. “As is” was not a phrase she wanted to add to the price tag.

A label that was seen occasionally within the shop, “as is” conveyed an item with damage or brokenness of some sort. “As is” marked the clock that had stopped ticking, or the rocking horse that had a crack in one of its legs. Because I knew my mother as one who could fix almost anything, the label also conveyed to me a certain sense of defeat. Whatever the item, it was a lost cause—a treasure bearing some distinguishable, irreparable flaw.

In different ways and in varying degrees throughout our lives, many of us feel something like the object marked “as is,” or the treasure with only a matter of time before something goes awry. With a sense of defeat, we view our lives through the lens of what is broken or has been broken, what is irreparable or what might break. Looking ahead, we see the broken down trailer behind us, which seems to declare emphatically our status “as is.”

Yet writing centuries before our own, King David wrote of God:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.(1)

Such words run counter to cultures anywhere and everywhere. Brokenness is usually not something we are comfortable admitting, let alone formally presenting it as something that is pleasing to anyone. Whether in ourselves or in others, we are at times almost averse to fragility. Even as Christians who hold knowingly to the cruciform image of Christ, we seem distinctly uncomfortable with broken and grieving people, defeated and weakened lives. Yet it is by the Cross we live. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.”(2) Isn’t it strange that we who are saved by one who was broken should struggle in the presence of brokenness at all?

Like the psalmist, the apostle points to the great potential within fragility. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”(3)

Whether we come to God shattered by our own sin, like David, or groaning from living in an imperfect world, we are never nearer to Christ than when we come with nothing in our hands to offer. God’s desire is that we would come as we are—weary or overwhelmed, defeated by life, crushed by injustice. Before the cross, there is no lost cause or irreparable flaw. For in life, as in an antique shop, there would be no recognition of brokenness if there were not such a thing as wholeness.

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Psalm 51:16-17.
(2) Isaiah 53:4-5.
(3) 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – How Do We Flourish in the 21st Century Workplace?

 

The opening scene of the timeless family film Madagascar depicts the exuberant zebra, Marty, having an identity crisis. Marty – along with his three friends, Gloria the hippopotamus, Melman the giraffe, and Alex the lion – wants more from his life. He wants to flourish. And for him, his job as the token zebra in the New York Central Park Zoo isn’t providing the kind of flourishing that his heart longs for.

Marty’s predicament is not difficult to identify with. The longing for a life of flourishing is ubiquitous to the human heart.

Though we may define “flourishing” in slightly different ways, the longing for a life of flourishing is ubiquitous to the human heart. And the workplace is where many of us turn in order to find it.

But what is “flourishing”?

It is a question that humankind has debated for millennia, and one that I certainly don’t purport to satisfy here. However, there are some things we can reasonably say about flourishing.

The parallels between Marty’s struggles and our own reveal at least three central components to flourishing:

  • Finding belonging
  • Finding significance
  • Finding purpose

While we differ on how we define each of these, in some way we are all trying to fit in, to have our achievements recognized and to find and fulfill our purpose. The problem is that when we try and do it on our own, we inevitably run into trouble.

Three Pillars

The prevailing secularist narrative leads people to reject God and look inside themselves to find answers to all three pillars of flourishing.

We are urged to find our tribe to which to belong, to achieve in order to gain significance and to self-discover in order to find our purpose.

When we reject God, we must bear the burden of our own flourishing. Ultimately, it’s all up to us and it usually plays out in our workplace. The problem, of course, is that such an approach does not work. Those of us who center our lives exclusively on work are left exhausted, despondent, unfulfilled or a combination of all three.

The evidence is conclusive. Thanks to communications technology, we are the most interconnected we have ever been but we are the loneliest we have ever been. We work hard to build homes, bank accounts and identities for ourselves but we still struggle for significance. We look inside ourselves for answers yet all we find are more questions.

The answer is clear.

When we reject God, we must bear the burden of our own flourishing. As a result, we are forced to anchor our sense of belonging, our significance and our purpose to two things that are intrinsically unreliable: Our own efforts at work and the volatility of man-made cultural, political, economic, social and moral systems.

Divinely Endowed

Our individual and collective experience reveals a ground-breaking truth – that belonging must be transcendentally anchored, significancemust be eternally grounded and purpose must be divinely endowed.

When we consider these three truths, the Christian message comes roaring to life.

The message of Jesus Christ is the only way through which forgiveness, significance and divine purpose are offered freely alongside adoption into the eternal family of God.

Through him, we are promised eternal belonging, enduring identity and divinely endowed purpose.

The fact that this unique offer of relationship comes freely through unconditional grace, simply adds an experiential cherry to the existential sundae.

As Marty the zebra himself discovers, true flourishing doesn’t come from within, it comes from without, and it is anchored not in effort but in relationship.

We all have that unconditional offer of a loving relationship with our Creator God through the person of Jesus Christ. Through Him, we are promised eternal belonging, enduring identity and divinely endowed purpose. That purpose – to be in loving relationship with God himself – is what so often alludes us amidst the haze of our failed self-actualization.

It is this divinely endowed purpose that the great thinker and writer St. Augustine referred to when he so powerfully wrote: “O’ God, you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Like Marty, perhaps we need to make peace with the reality that we cannot ultimately control our environment or our circumstances – at work or anywhere else.

However, we have the incredible offer of flourishing through a relationship with God amidst the volatility of a broken world.

God himself came into the world – as Jesus Christ – to die on a cross for you, to give you the forgiveness you don’t deserve, the relationship you so deeply yearn for and the flourishing your heart seeks after.

As you approach the challenges, successes and opportunities at work that 2019 brings, remember: The key to flourishing in the 21st century workplace begins by understanding that true flourishing cannot be achieved in the 21st century workplace.

Our only hope for true flourishing is through relationship with Jesus Christ. Once we step into this relationship, we are freed to embrace challenges, enjoy successes and endure failures at work, secure in the assurance that our belonging, significance and purpose are anchored in the loving heart of God.

Article By Max Jeganathan

This article was originally published by Salt&Light on November 14, 2018.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Good Illusions

 

Although John Stuart Mill’s essay “On Liberty” was published in 1859, it continues to influence our thinking today. This is particularly true of the idea that human beings are essentially good. “Don’t tell me how to live!” essentially sums up Mill’s view of liberty. Yet in his essay, Mill not only tells us how we should live, but who we are. Human beings are essentially good, he declares, and his view of liberty hinges upon this idealistic perspective of human nature.

Many theologians and philosophers of Mill’s era were skeptical of the individual’s passions and one’s willingness to choose what is right over what is pleasurable. As historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed, “[Mill] took for granted that those virtues that had already been acquired by means of religion, tradition, law, and all the other resources of civilization would continue to be valued and exercised.”

Today these structures of tradition and authority no longer hold sway in our culture, whereas the idea of the essential goodness of humanity has taken on a life of its own and is now embedded in our modern psyche. Moreover, the assumption held in Mill’s day—that truth is knowable and should order our lives—is no longer believed by many, who instead would agree with the words of Nietzsche: “Truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions; worn-out metaphors which have become powerless to affect the senses.”

In what has been a difficult teaching for every era, the Scriptures witness to the reality of sin and our need for God. Likewise, the experience of our world undeniably witnesses to the reality of darkness in our hearts. If this experience has not inspired a change in philosophy, perhaps it is because the illusion of human goodness brings us greater comfort. Yet, does it really? Do we not find it incomprehensible how one could abuse or torture a child? And do we really believe that given time and progress we will learn to love our neighbor as ourselves? Surely the horrors of the present century alone have proven the idea of the essential goodness of human beings to be false.

Jesus himself said in Mark 10, “No one is good except God alone.” But just before declaring this, Jesus showed us how we may know the power to love and to do good—by coming to him in humility, as children aware of their need for a Savior. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,” he said, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth: anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

 

Stuart McAllister is global support specialist at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Seeking Mystery

 

A prayer often spoken in the halls of RZIM is one written at the hand of C.S. Lewis—words no doubt uttered throughout his own lifetime. The poem is titled, “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer.”

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
at which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.(1)

Few prayers pause to ask the Hearer to deliver us from the very words we choose to speak. Yet not all graven images are of stone and gold. Apologist or other, some of our idols can turn out to be quite thoughtful in nature.

In a letter to a younger colleague, poet and professor Stanley Wiersma once advised, “When you are too sure about God and faith, you are sure of something other than God: of dogma, of the church, of a particular interpretation of the Bible. But God cannot be pigeonholed. We must press toward certainty, but be suspicious when it comes too glibly.”

We are given minds and imaginations that can freely tread into heavenly matters, and yet we are clearly offered the limitations of this freedom as a revelation as well. “Show me your glory,” Moses implored of God. “Show us the Father,” the disciples plead with Jesus. The desire to see God is invariably set upon our hearts, even as we are reminded with great promise that we cannot even fathom what God has done from beginning to end anymore than we can fathom God in the first place. “We have heard the fact,” says Saint Augustine, “now, let us seek the mystery.”

 

In this, I love that there are things we can be surprised by again and again with God, even as the master of the house repeatedly seems to awaken us on the threshold of a house and a homemaker we have seriously underestimated. It is forever shocking for me to be reminded that the famous words of Jesus, for instance, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” were not uttered at angry religious leaders or directed at the lost and downtrodden. To me it always seems a statement that draws with quickened stroke a line in the sand, separating the sheep from the goats, providing infinite comfort to the lost, while disturbing those who think of themselves found. And certainly, Christ’s words have a way of doing just that. But this eminent line was spoken that day to those who knew him best. To his disciples, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and life.” And they did not understand.

Days later, as the disciples watched the very life of Jesus poured out before them like a sheep led to slaughter, perhaps they saw again those words on his lips and wondered all over again how they could make sense of an absent messiah. Throughout their ministries it is evident that their vision of the vastness of God grew exponentially as they began to put the pieces together, seeing that Jesus intended those words more remarkably than they ever could have imagined.

I believe that God continues to move us to those places where we discover again one who is fearfully alive and reigning in a kingdom we grossly underestimate, one who can fill even our holiest moments with the mere hem of his robe, one who repeatedly shows us that even our best thoughts of Father, Son, and Spirit are but coins merely reflecting the real thing. We must repeatedly recall, as Job recalled in dust in ashes: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted… Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”(2)

“Show us the Father” is a hope our hearts were meant to utter—even as we learn to marvel at the mystery of the request. Far more significantly, it is a longing God has promised can be answered: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.(3)

 

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

 

(1) C.S. Lewis, Poems (New York: Harcourt, 1992), 131.
(2) Job 42:2-5.
(3) Isaiah 40:5.

 

 

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