Tag Archives: Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Giving Up the Self

In his 1989 book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen recounts a time of grave spiritual atrophy. Nouwen was a highly regarded Ivy League professor as well as an in-demand speaker and author. He was the toast of any town. And most impressive of all (to me), he was personal friends with Fred Rogers.

Nouwen was also growing increasingly empty inside. When an opportunity arose to work with Daybreak in Toronto, Henri bravely walked away from his old life and jumped into service for the intellectually disabled. He had gone from the pinnacle of renown in Christian circles to serving a marginalized group where there was sure to be little thanks and even less fame. And yet, he was revitalized during this time.

Once Henri had to go to a speaking engagement but did not want to go alone. He ended up taking “Bill” with him, one of the permanent residents at Daybreak, and the two had a great time. During breakfast the next day, Bill asked Henri if he had liked the trip. Henri said that, yes, he had enjoyed the trip very much. Bill responded with, “And we did it together, didn’t we?”

Henri writes: “Then I realized the full truth of Jesus’ words, ‘Where two or three meet in my Name, I am among them’ (Matthew 18:20). In the past, I had always given lectures, sermons, addresses, and speeches by myself. Often I had wondered how much of what I had said would be remembered. Now it dawned on me that most likely much of what I said would not be long remembered, but that Bill and I doing it together would not easily be forgotten. I hoped and prayed that Jesus, who had sent us out together and had been with us all during the journey, would have become really present to those who had gathered in the Clarendon Hotel in Crystal City.”(1)

I saw this up close and personal when a Lutheran pastor I worked for (whose name really is Bill) answered the call to lead a diminished and declining flock in a smaller town. No one wanted to lose this talented teacher and preacher. And this was not the best career decision to make; in the metrics of worldly success, this was a demotion. That was the point, though. He told me that we must truly go where God leads us and anything else is simply career advancement. We need be people who proclaim with Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me!”

These counterintuitive stories are reflections of Christ’s example. In the Lenten origin story, Jesus goes without food for 40 days, and so Lent is typically a time of “fasting” from certain foods, although now someone may choose to fast from social media, watching Netflix, etc. If we look deeper into the narrative, though, we are introduced to some of the most grand paradoxes. There is something fascinating taking place behind the fast.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Giving Up Chocolate

Confession: I love Tom Waits. How do you classify him? He has been many things: a lounge singer, a street poet, actor, songwriter. He has the voice of a rusty exhaust manifold. One aspect of his persona(s) over the years that is endlessly fascinating is his way of tapping into the words and thoughts of the common sense of common man. Some of his characters are salt of the earth; others are down-on-their-luck lovable outcasts or outsiders.

In his song “Chocolate Jesus,” Tom describes a divine confection for those who cannot or do not want to go to church on Sundays:

Well, I don’t go to church on Sunday
Don’t get on my knees to pray
Don’t memorize the books of the bible
I got my own special way

I know Jesus loves me
Maybe just a little bit more
Fall down on my knees every Sunday
At Zerelda Lee’s candy store

Well, it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied.(1)

Much of the song is up to interpretation: Is he describing the one with a young, innocent faith? The one who would rather do their own thing because church has too many rules? The apathetic? The one who wants salvation without sacrifice? The one who wants God without the pain of past church experiences? Sometimes there are understandable reasons why people want the chocolate Jesus, the one who just loves them, makes them feel good inside, and keeps them satisfied.

This has been me before. Perhaps you can relate. Before I became a Christian, I would visit churches from time to time looking for something, but it was never there. That might have been a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it was the honest feeling. Years later, after becoming a Christian, I felt lost in a discipleship-less church that was big on rule-following but felt very small on love. Eventually I left and fell back into old patterns of a life without God. I tried church and it wasn’t for me. Wearily, I just wanted the God who loved me as I was.

Looking back, though, I notice something about that young man: I wanted the chocolate Jesus, sweetness without nutrition. God did love me as I was, but I started to get the impression that that was the end of the story.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Man of Sorrows

 

“Prosperity, pleasure, and success may be rough of grain and common in fibre, but sorrow is the most sensitive of all created things.”

Those are the words of the famed pleasure seeker, Oscar Wilde. In his De Profundis, written in prison, he wrote with profound earnestness about how much sorrow had taught him. He went on to add, “Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.”

As I reflect on those words, I take note first of the one who wrote them. A life of pain was the farthest thing from his mind when he made his choices. In that sense, none of us ever really choose sorrow. But I take note of something else in his words. His claim is bold; he is not merely confessing an idea written across his worldview, but one he insists is written across the world: Sorrow is holy ground and those who do not learn to walk there know nothing of what living means. What he means at the very least is that some of life’s most sacred truths are learned in the midst of sorrow. He learned, for example, that raw unadulterated pleasure for pleasure’s sake is never a fulfilling pleasure. Violation of the sacred in the pursuit of happiness is not truly a source of happiness. In fact, it kills happiness because it can run roughshod over many a victim. Pleasure that profanes is pleasure that destroys.

Sorrow on the other hand—while never pursued—comes into one’s life and compels us to see our own finitude and frailty. It demands of us seriousness and tenderness if we are to live life the way it is meant to be lived. One of the most important things sorrow does is to show us what it needs and responds to. Wilde said it himself: “Sorrow is a wound that bleeds when any hand but that of love touches it, and even then must bleed again, though not in pain.”

Of all the descriptions given about Jesus, there is one that unabashedly stands out to confront us. It is a description uttered by the prophet Isaiah, prodding mind and heart at once: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3). Whether holding glimpses of global suffering or personal pain and loss or both, Isaiah’s is a fitting description to reflect upon.

Maybe you are at a time in your life when hurt is writ large upon your thoughts. Jesus is not unacquainted with your pain. In fact, he draws near particularly with a hand of love. Your wound may still bleed for a while to remind you of your weakness. But he can help carry the pain to carry you in strength. This could indeed be holy ground for you. It most certainly was for him.

 

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

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Day Four

It was a day without hope: March 11, 2011. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake set off a devastating tsunami that washed away coastal cities in Northeastern Japan. Thousands of homes were destroyed. Roads were impassable, transportation destroyed or shut down, and power remained down for weeks in the cold temperatures of early spring. All around were scenes of desperation, as stranded survivors cried for help, buried alive under the rubble of what remained of their cities, communities, and homes. Things couldn’t get much worse when the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor was discovered, making it impossible to return home. Over three hundred thousand were left homeless and over eighteen thousand people died.

March 11, 2011 was a day without hope for me, as well. Like many around the world, I couldn’t believe that yet another massive earthquake and tsunami of such magnitude—like the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004—had wrought so much destruction and devastation. Yet on this same day, I attended the funeral for my husband who had died suddenly on March 2, 2011. I felt as if I was buried by the rubble of grief over his lost life and the life we shared together for nearly twenty years.

Even those unacquainted with the biblical narrative have likely heard the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It is one of the critical events in John’s Gospel for it is the last miracle Jesus performs prior to his entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion.(1) As readers of this story, we have the privilege of knowing the triumphant ending, but for Mary, Martha, and all who loved Lazarus, his death and burial must have also felt like a day without hope. Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus informing him of their brother’s illness. Surely he would rush to their aid and save their ailing brother. Lord, he whom you love is ill.

But rather than rushing to their side, or simply speaking the words of healing as he had done for others, Jesus delays going to them. The Gospel reads: Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, so when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Jesus delays going to them and this sets up one of the difficult tensions in this passage. Jesus loves this family, and yet his delay means Lazarus will die, and worse, his delay will prompt the grief, heartache, and misunderstanding that must have arisen by his absence.

When Jesus does arrive, Lazarus has been dead for four days. Jewish belief taught that after three days the soul would leave the body and corruption would set in. So for those who mourned Lazarus, there was no hope of resuscitation or of saving him now. The fourth day was truly a day without hope. And yet this is the day Jesus shows up.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Lament and the Journey to Resurrection

 

It was a cold February at Christ of the Desert monastery, high in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Behind the chapel, author William Bryant Logan noticed an open grave, the disturbed red soil waiting in a tall mound beside it.

“Has a brother died?” he asked a monk.

“No,” the monk answered, “but we cannot dig in winter, so we opened this grave ahead of time, just in case.”

To many of us, an open grave is unnerving, the thought of soil disturbed and waiting is a thought entirely unwelcome. “An open grave is an open mouth,” writes Logan. “It exhales all the suggestion of the dark.”(1) In the Western world in particular, we have a complicated relationship with death and dying, dismissing as much of it as we can manage from sight, mind, and society. An open grave is a gaping wound we prefer to turn our eyes away from.

Death is one of the subjects the Christian journey of Lent invites followers to consider along the forty day journey. Lament, perhaps particularly lament as it pertains to the grave, is offered to us as a companion. Yet, Christian theologian J. Todd Billings describes lament as an expression of grief, a practice—maybe even a word—that has fallen out of use in modern times. It is a discipline often avoided, at times even buried in Christian liturgies. “[I]n a growing trend,” writes Billings, “many funerals completely avoid the language of dying and death as well as the appearance of the dead body—turning it all into a one-sided ‘celebration’ of the life of the one who has died.”(1) Such language might be fitting for certain worldviews, particularly those worldviews where death remains an enemy that puts an end to the life we are celebrating. But the biblical paradox about death attends to far more of the human experience. This, too, the journey of Lent invites us to reclaim—and I believe this may well be a gift to many of us struggling under the weight of the world’s present pain.

The Christian worldview affords the hopeful (and far more multivalent) language of celebration to be sure—Christ has indeed conquered death—but likewise, Christians are afforded the equally hopeful language of lament. We are given permission to groan as mortals who do not yet taste the fullness of the victory Christ has won, as creatures who confess with their Creator that death is an enemy of God. Where we fail to face this fuller vision of our own mortality, writes Billings, “we attend to one side of the biblical paradox about death, forgetting that even the death of a very elderly person is not ‘altogether sweet and beautiful’… [At the grave of Lazarus], Jesus still wept—even for one who would be raised again. And so should we.”(2)

For Billings, the signs of death’s current reign and the dire need for the language of lament are not the mere theological abstractions of a theology professor. In a book he never fathomed he would write at the midpoint of his life, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, his own need for the language of lament is voiced in personal terms. It is equally clear that lament itself is a gift of the church for the world.

In one section, Billings describes his own congregation, with its array of people and stages of life, a church that on a regular basis baptizes people into new life and holds funerals marking death. This collective, human journey struck him as he led a Sunday school class shortly after his diagnosis. “In this room are cancer survivors who have gone through chemo; and there are others who have lost spouses and other loved ones to cancer and other disease and tragedy. The congregation is the only place in Western culture where we develop relationships, celebrate our faith and life together, and also extend those same relationships all the way through death and dying… That is a gift of the church. I would go so far as to say that a top recommended question from me for ‘church shoppers’ might be this: who would you like to bury you?”(3)

For any death-denying culture, the church sits as a striking counterpoint, empowered by the crucified Jesus to tell a vastly different story. But the whole story needs to be told. The Bible’s “laments, petitions, and praises—have been a staple of Christian worship for centuries. They, along with the sacraments of Christ’s dying and new life, have incorporated death into the story of Christian worship.”(4) The Christian imagination is not one that has to bury its head in the sand, taking its cues from our culture’s qualms about death and suffering. To lament is not to undermine that we are a people who live in hope. On the contrary, it is a gift of God for the people of God, who discover in the vicarious humanity of the crucified Lord both a more profound rejoicing and a more honest lament. Whereas some worldviews have no basis for the practice of lamentation (to whom would we lament?), for the Christian it is a part of the journey, a testimony to our identity in Christ. “To mourn and to protest is to testify that the gifts of creation are truly wondrous,” writes Billings, “that the communion with God and others that we taste in Christ is truly the way things are supposed to be—and thus alienation and death are not truly ‘natural’ but enemies of God and his kingdom.”(5)

For days marked by loss, it is a weighty thought, full of God’s care for multifaceted journeys: for crossings from birth to death, for journeys marked by both celebration and suffering, for moments of thirst and for places of provision. Because of Christ, the Christian is given a language and a leader through all of it: beside still waters, through dark valleys and green pastures to a table prepared in the presence of enemies, with tears to shed at the tomb of a friend and suffering carried on a personal cross. There are no abstractions here. The Christian story is mercifully not one that asks us to deny the dark and painful realities of life. Death is not pushed away in denial, but incorporated into God’s redemptive story, held by a storyteller who knows every part of the journey to resurrection, even the open grave.

 

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

 

(1) William Bryant Logan, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995), 48.
(2) J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker,2015), 108.
(3) Ibid., 101.
(4) Ibid., 109.
(5) Ibid., 100.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Every Problem of Pain

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain today, Sir?”

Ironically, the question, a hospital’s attempt to understand and manage the pain of cancer patients, only seemed to cause my father more pain. He hated the daily inquiry that seized him almost as consistently as the sting of the growing tumor. It aggravated him deeply, more than I could say I understood. It was a philosophical quagmire for him that somehow mocked pain and amplified the problem of suffering. If he answered “10” in the midst of a painful morning, only to discover a greater quantity of pain in the afternoon, the scale was meaningless. The numbers were never constant, and what is a scale if its points of measurement cannot stand in relation to one another? If he answered “10” on any given day would that somehow control the ceiling of his own pain? He knew it would not, and that uncertainty seemed almost literally to add painful insult to an already fatal injury.

Considerations of pain and suffering are among the most cited explanations for disbelief in God, both for professionally trained philosophers and for the general public. If a good, powerful, and present deity exists, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? Even for those who argue that the existence of God and the presence of evil can be reconciled, the vast amount of suffering in the world certainly compounds the dilemma. We can sympathize with Ivan Karamazov in his depiction of the earth as one soaked through with human tears. Imagine not merely one person measuring their pain on a scale of 1 to 10 but innumerable individuals: the temptation is to add all of these scales together as one giant proof against God.

In his 1940 book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis warns us against espousing such a temptation. “We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the ‘unimaginable sum of human misery,’” he writes. “Search all time and space and you will not find that composite pain in anyone’s consciousness. There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it.”(1) Or, said in another way, there are as many problems of pain as there are conscious beings—and God must deal with each and every one of them.

For someone like my dad, for whom weighing pain was both disparaging and unfeasible, this would perhaps have been one comfort in a maddening abyss of darkness. It means his own problem of pain was not lost in a sea of meaningless scales and indescribable measurements. It means that his frustrating, inconsistent ceiling of sorrow was itself held in the arms of God—and not vaguely absorbed in an immeasurable sum, nor given a distant, theoretical answer. It means that God had to come near not simply to pain in general, but to him and his cancer in person.

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

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

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

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

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

So perhaps an unavoidable part of the Bible’s answer to why God seems hidden is because it’s true. But why? And what about those times when we need a present God most, when God could offer us real hope in times of suffering?

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God’s Two Poems

Typically, people think science and miracles are at odds. That’s what I once thought. But in fact, it’s only within the regularity of science that God can reveal Himself to us mirac­ulously. It is science that makes miracles possible. It’s only because scientifically virgins don’t get pregnant that God can reveal Him­self in a virgin birth. It’s only because scientifically people don’t rise from the dead that God can reveal Himself through a resurrection. And likewise, God can reveal Himself in each of our lives.

The more I talk with people, the more convinced I am that the experience of miracles is universal. I like asking people, even the most scientific of people, “Have you ever had an experience that made you think there might be a God?” Usually there is an awkward lull and then some nervous laughter, but, if you wait long enough, almost without fail the person will say, “Well, there was this one time when…” And then they will tell you a remarkable story that has God’s signature all over it!

Most of the people I speak to have amazing stories, but they’re worried that they are the only one. They’re worried that others will think they’re weird. They start to wonder if maybe it’s all just in their heads. We need to share our stories, and we need to invite others to share their stories as well.

Here’s a story of seeing God’s finely tuned design in an individual life. A student from China showed up at a university open forum where I was speaking. One of my colleagues, Daniel, greeted her, and she said her name was “Alva.” My colleague replied, “That’s an interesting name; what does it mean?” Alva responded, “It means ‘by grace washed white as snow.’”

Daniel’s eyes went wide, and he asked Alva if she was a Chris­tian. She said, “No, not at all.” Daniel said, “Do you realize that your name is basically the heart of the Christian message?” She had no idea; she had just chosen this for her English name because she liked the sound of it.

Daniel began to explain the Christian message to her, and she was increasingly being drawn to God. Then the talk started, and halfway through the talk I quoted and put up on a PowerPoint slide, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Daniel excitedly tapped the shoulder of Alva, who looked astonished and said, “I told you; that’s your name!”

At the end of the talk, Daniel and another of our colleagues con­tinued to explain to Alva the love that God has for her and the sacri­fice that God made for her. Alva decided she wanted to be a Christian, and my friends had the supreme privilege of praying with her to affirm that commitment.

There is one more detail to the story that fills me with awe. My talk for that night was already typed and printed before the week began, and the PowerPoint was done. But at lunchtime of that same day, my wife, Jo, and I had a distinct sense that something was miss­ing from the talk. So we rushed home after a lunchtime event, and we added just one additional handwritten page to the talk and just one additional PowerPoint slide.

What did that slide read? Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” God beautifully crafted all the details of that day so Christ could reach out to that one young woman named Alva.

There are two things in the Bible that are spoken of as God’s poem. First, Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invis­ible qualities…have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” The Greek word for “what has been made” is poiemasin, from which we get the word poem. God’s creation is the poem of God.

Second, there is Ephesians 2:8–10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” For we are God’s “handi­work.” Another translation says we are God’s “masterpiece,” and this is the same word—poiema.

God not only designed the universe; God designed Alva and named her, and God has plans for her life as carefully fine-tuned as God’s plan for the cosmos. The same is true of each of us.

Vince Vitale is director of the Zacharias Institute at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Human Circumference

 

French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre closes his play Huis Clos (“No Exit”) with the pronouncement, “Hell is other people.” The play offers a sardonic vision of hell as the place in which one must spend eternity with individuals one would barely seek to spend five minutes with in real life. As one writer notes, “The most terrible, exasperating torment, in Sartre’s eyes, is the agony of soul caused by having to live forever alongside someone who drives you up the wall. Their annoying habits, their pettiness or cynicism or stupidity, their disposition and tastes that so frustratingly conflict with yours and require, if you are to live in communion with them, some sort of accommodation or concession of your own likes and desires—that, says Sartre, is Hell.”(1) Living in a world in which tolerance is the highest value, most readers find Sartre’s vision highly narcissistic or the logical conclusion of an exclusively individualistic, existentialist philosophy.

For many others, however, Sartre’s sentiments are not so easily dismissed. Living, working and interacting with other people can indeed create a hellish existence for many. And most of us, if we are honest, can quickly think of the names of several individuals whose personal habits or grating personalities makes relating to them very difficult at best. Sartre’s honesty, albeit through a cynical lens, also exposes a truth about the realities of human tolerance. On the one hand, we generally base our capacity for tolerance on loving those who are easy to love or who are broadly similar to our own way of living and viewing the world. On the other hand, we are easily tolerant of external causes, ideals, and principles, which are quickly lost when we come into contact with individuals who shatter that ideal image.

I was reminded of Sartre’s insight while serving at my church’s hospitality ministry dinner. Homelessness and hunger for the working poor is a perennial issue where I live. While homelessness remains an abstract idea, it is easy for me to ‘love’ the broad category of people who are poor or homeless. Yet, every month at my church dinner for the homeless—the full-range of humanity on display right in front of me-I often see the ways in which my ‘love’ is merely a form of patronage. Eating with individuals who have not showered in weeks (or months), who suffer from mental illness or chemical dependency tests my love of humanity in ways that the abstract category of homelessness never will. A preference for categories makes it very hard for me to love the real people seated all around me.

A contemporary of Sartre, C.S. Lewis wrote about this tendency to love causes and ideals more than real people in his novel The Screwtape Letters. He saw this hellish tendency as a carefully constructed diabolical strategy. The demon, Wormwood, was advised to “aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious.”(2) The obvious, Lewis notes through his character Screwtape, is the human capacity for both benevolence and malice. Their misdirection and exploitation is not as obvious to us. Diabolical Uncle Screwtape explains to his nephew Wormwood:

“The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary…but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy.”(3)

If benevolence, tolerance, or love are simply attached to remote ideals involving people we never have any direct contact with in the day-to-day, how can that really be benevolence? In the same way, how can we say we love our neighbor when our malice towards particular habits or personality quirks is on full display? How quickly we lose our temper with family members; how easily we show offense at those who do not see it our way; how readily we devise strategies to withhold love, or to punish our ever-present offenders?

Lewis highlights a predominant theme in the teaching of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, Jesus corrects the prevailing notion that the neighbor is one just like me, who agrees with me, and sees the world as I see it. The “neighbor” is other people—not an abstraction, but a living, breathing person with habits, views, and quirks that will not only get on our nerves, but also tempt us toward contempt. And love is only a real virtue when it is lived out among real, human relationships. As Lewis’s character Screwtape notes wryly:

“All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from [Satan’s] house: indeed they may make him more amusing when he gets there.”(4)

Sartre was honest in revealing the often hellish reality of living with other people. We would much rather love an ideal, a concept (the homeless, or starving children across the world) than the people right in front of us, in our lives right now. In the life of Jesus, we see a man who loved those individuals directly in front of him; he gathered around him a group of disparate people from tax-collectors on the left, to zealot revolutionaries on the right. He delayed arrival at a temple official’s home because an unknown woman touched the hem of his garment. He delivered a man so out of his mind that he had been driven from his community to live in desolate caves. In front of the most important religious officials of his day, he allowed a woman of questionable reputation to anoint his feet with perfume and use her tears and hair to wash them.

The love of Jesus is not a pie in the sky ideal for people he never knew; it was tangible, messy, and ultimately cost him his life. In Jesus, we see heaven on display in the hell of individual lives. If we seek to follow him, vague ideals about tolerance must give way to flesh and blood reality—loving the all-too-human in front of us.

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

(1) Lauren Enk, “Hell is Other People; Or is It?” Catholicexchange.com, August 12, 2012, accessed July 10, 2013.
(2) C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Rev. ed., (New York: Collier Books, 1982), 16.
(3) Ibid., The Screwtape Letters, 30.
(4) Ibid., 31.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Telling Stories

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

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

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

My story of faith and belief, like many others, cannot be told without some admittance of wandering to and from that faith, in and out of God’s presence, walking with and without Father, Son, or Spirit. When I think of my place among the spiritually vibrant, I am immediately aware of my drifting soul and less than heroic role in the story. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love, sings the hymnist. I imagine the assembly of the faithful as a grand ballroom of crowned guests with beautiful robes while I find an inconspicuous place in the back of the room. The world of beautiful souls—with its ardent disciples from early centuries and suffering saints from today—does not seem a place in which some of us feel we belong. Some of us feel a bit more like humorist Groucho Marx, who once declined the offer of membership into an organization with the reply: “I don’t care to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.” If I myself am the main character in my story of faith, this is the story I must tell.

Thankfully, I am not.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Apologist’s First Question

I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the Gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on the part of Christians to live it out. I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a close Hindu friend. He was questioning the experience of conversion as being supernatural. He absolutely insisted that conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that, in most cases, it was not any different from other ethical religions. I had heard his argument before.

But then he said something I have never forgotten: “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?” His question is a troublesome one. In fact, it is so deeply disturbing a question that I think of all the challenges to belief, this is the most difficult question of all. I have never struggled with my own personal faith as far as intellectual challenges to the Gospel are concerned. But I have often had struggles of the soul in trying to figure out why the Christian faith is not more visible.

After lecturing at a major American university, I was driven to the airport by the organizer of the event. I was quite jolted by what he told me. He said, “My wife brought our neighbor last night. She is a medical doctor and had not been to anything like this before. On their way home, my wife asked her what she thought of it all.” He paused and then continued, “Do you know what she said?” Rather reluctantly, I shook my head. “She said, ‘That was a very powerful evening. The arguments were very persuasive. I wonder what he is like in his private life.’”

Because my Hindu friend had not witnessed spiritual transformation in the life of Christians, whatever answers he received were nullified. In the doctor’s case, the answers were intellectually and existentially satisfying, but she still needed to know, did they really make a difference in the life of the one proclaiming them? The Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “There are five Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian, and some people will never read the first four.” In other words, the message is seen before it is heard. For both the Hindu questioner and the American doctor, the answers to their questions were not enough; they depended upon the visible transformation of the one offering them.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Cross of the Moment

“[W]e are perpetually disillusioned. The perfect life is spread before us every day, but it changes and withers at a touch.”(1)

The author of this comment did not have the dashed hopes of a person weary of contemporary political promises or the daunting purposelessness of life. His was not the disappointment of a child after his once-adored video game lost its thrill or the dispirited outlook of a millenial overwhelmed with options and fearful of missing out on something vital. No, long before video games existed, long before Generation Y was disillusioned with Generation X or X with the Baby Boomers before them, disillusionment reigned nonetheless. A social commentator in the late 1920s made this comment about his own disillusioned culture, words which, in fact, came more than a decade after a group of literary notables identified themselves as the “Lost Generation,” so-named because of their own general feeling of disillusionment.  In other words, disillusionment is epidemic.

As humans who tell and hear and live by stories, the possibility of taking in a story that is bigger than reality is quite likely. (Advertisers, in fact, count on it regularly.) Subsequently, disillusionment is a quality that follows humanity and its stories around. Yet despite its common occurrence, disillusionment is a crushing blow, and the collateral damage of shattered expectations quite painful. With good reason, we speak of it in terms of the discomfort and disruption that it fosters; we frame the crushing of certain hope and images in terms of loss and difficulty. The disillusioned do not speak of their losses lightly, no more than victims of burglary move quickly past the feeling of loss and violation.

And yet, practically speaking, disillusionment is the loss of illusion. In terms of larceny, it is the equivalent of having one’s high cholesterol or a perpetually bad habit stolen. Disillusionment, while painful, is evidence which shows the myths that enchant us need not blind us forever, a sign that what is falsely believed can be shattered by what is genuine. In such terms, disillusion is far less an unwanted intrusion than it is a severe mercy, far more like a surgeon’s excising of a tumor than a cruel removal of hope.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Age of Anxiety

 

Scott Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic Magazine, described his life-long struggle with anxiety in an article written in 2014. With incredible candor, Stossel described some of the most debilitating experiences with his illness:

“I wish I could say that my anxiety is a recent development, or that it is limited to public speaking. It’s not. My wedding was accompanied by sweating so torrential that it soaked through my clothes and by shakes so severe that I had to lean on my bride at the altar, so as not to collapse. At the birth of our first child, the nurses had to briefly stop ministering to my wife, who was in the throes of labor, to attend to me as I turned pale and keeled over… On ordinary days, doing ordinary things—reading a book, lying in bed, talking on the phone, sitting in a meeting, playing tennis—I have thousands of times been stricken by a pervasive sense of existential dread and been beset by nausea, vertigo, shaking, and a panoply of other physical symptoms… Even when not actively afflicted by such acute episodes, I am buffeted by worry.”(1)

While I often worry, I have never experienced the kind of crippling anxiety that Stossel describes in his article, or that I frequently hear about from dozens of individuals in search of relief from chronic anxiety. Yet many of us feel as if we are always on edge or we sense an underlying feeling of dread. For our world is often a very frightening place. Indeed, the time that we live in has been described as the “age of anxiety.” Perhaps this is true, in part, because our 24/7 access to technology ensures that we are immersed in global images and headlines of terrorism, epidemics, the threat of environmental collapse, violent crimes, economic woes, international conflict, and political strife. Particularly in the West, the incidence of anxiety-related diagnoses are increasing among individuals of all ages, including among teenagers, college-students and young adults who have grown up in a technological age full of anxiety-producing images.

Even if one’s experience with anxiety is not as profound or pervasive as Sossel’s, it can still be all-consuming. For at its root is a fearful imagination that generates an outlook of suspicion and inadequacy: The world is a terrifying place; there are not enough resources; no one can be trusted and I am not enough. Viewing one’s existence in this way generates a mindset of scarcity and inadequacy which in turn perpetuates worry and anxiety in an endless cycle.

It is noteworthy, I believe, that Jesus chose to address worry and anxiety among the many other important topics on which we have recorded teachings. In fact, Jesus addressed worry in what has come to be called The Sermon on the Mount, which most scholars agree is the central teaching for following in his way. In this sermon, Jesus presents an alternative imagination—or way of viewing the world—that is not based on fear or scarcity, but on fullness and abundance.(2) Jesus describes the kingdom of God—a way of being in the world based on the way in which Jesus taught, lived, and operated. Here, in the sermon in which Jesus instructs his followers to “love their enemies” and that they are “the light of the world,” Jesus also includes worry as an equally critical topic.

While it is not likely that Jesus had anxiety disorders like Sossel’s in mind, perhaps he included teaching on worry because of its function on multiple levels of human existence. Jesus recognized that anxiety animates a particularly powerful imagination or outlook on life that is grounded in fear: fear that prevents open-hearted living and fear that precludes full-presence in each and every moment. So powerful is this imagination that Jesus prefaces his teaching about worry with a reminder of its totalizing power: the eye is the lamp of the body, so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!(3) In other words, one’s outlook shapes one’s total orientation.

Jesus instructs his followers to not be anxious for their lives. Instead, he lays out a different imagination—again, a deeper perspective that can hold our anxiety about security and want. Jesus uses two illustrations from the natural world to explore this deeper imagination. He asks his followers to consider the way of the birds and to contemplate the beauty of flowers as an antidote for worry and an invitation to reconsider our notion of security. Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns… Observe the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin.

Where I live, we can have very strong winds coming off the bay. When we do, which is quite often, I get to watch the most spectacular array of eagles, gulls, ravens, and hawks coasting on the thermals. They are not in a hurry to get anywhere; they are content to be blown by the wind, even tossed about and blown off course; they do not appear to be consumed by any other task than to be carried by the wind. I don’t see the birds around my house and in my yard losing their feathers or wringing their wings in anguish over finding food—even though they have no guarantee of their next meal. They do not operate out of a sense of scarcity even though they are completely dependent upon their environment for provision and care. In the same way, the variety, intricacy, and beauty of flowers and plants is not gained by striving after those attributes, or as Jesus says by “toil or spinning.”

And Jesus asks us to consider their ways. We, who worry, are tempted to be driven by fear—a fear that drives the relentless accumulation of resources or a fear that tells us we are not enough. Jesus asks, are you not worth more than the birds? Will God not so array you as the flowers are arrayed? Jesus says, look to the ways of the birds and the flowers and see a different imagination, a way of being in the world that is motivated by trust. Such trust arises from faith and dependence upon the God who provides for the birds, and the flowers, and for all of the creation.

The call to an imagination that takes its cues from the birds and the flowers comes from one who was not removed or protected from a world that invoked fear and anxiety. Instead, Jesus entered into that world of scarcity and want, of fear and anxiety. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was in distress to the point of death and like Stossel described of his own anxiety, he was profoundly sweating to the point that it was like drops of blood.(4) Out of this distress, he cried out to God to deliver him from those who would betray and crucify him. And in his Sermon, he reminds his listeners that each day has enough trouble of its own. In the midst of that trouble, Jesus tells his followers that God knows what we need. Like the birds and the flowers—both of which are completely dependent upon an environment that can bring scarcity or abundance—Jesus issues a call to surrender to trust in the One who will provide.

In fact, Jesus suggests, surrender is the only viable option, for he reminds his listeners that we cannot add a single year to our lives by worrying. In fact, we likely lose years of our lives by worrying. And here is another invitation from the birds and the flowers: theirs is an existence completely centered in the present moment. And with a kingdom imagination, it is a present filled with opportunities and possibility. Seek first the kingdom, Jesus says, and all these things will be added to you.

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

(1) Stossel, Scott. Surviving Anxiety. The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2014.
(2) Matthew 5-7.  See Matthew 6:25-34.
(3) Matthew 6:23.
(4) See Matthew 26:37-38; Mark 14:33-34; Luke 22:44.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Forgotten Stories

 

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

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

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

 

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

In the opening pages of the Lord of the Rings, the narrator tells us of the process whereby history became legend and legend became myth and slowly it was all forgotten. Tolkien’s brilliant insight into what he deems our “real but forgotten” past is a telling representation of the story we are currently trying to tell. But if the world and our lives are the product of a divine creator, then though ignored or unknown, the echoes of our distant past and essential nature still call out to us. And they are calling.

“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.”(1) The heavens are yet declaring the glory of God; the skies are yet proclaiming the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display the love of one who invites us into the story of life itself.

 

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

 

(1) Romans 1:20.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Myth and Fact

 

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

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

The modern mind argues that Jesus is just one more attempt at explaining what we merely wish were true. While I know where such a statement is usually going (and disagree), perhaps it is also right. There are elements in myth that we do want to believe—namely, that the gods do reveal themselves to us, that heavenly mysteries can be known on some real level, and that life really is saturated with purpose and meaning. Such qualities undeniably reach the deepest thirsts and longings of humankind; they are things many of us want to be true. But Christianity takes this one step further. It would argue that these are actually the stories that we knew on some real level had to be true. The want is an indication of something beyond the myth. For God has set eternity in our hearts; yet we cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Within the great myths, life is lived under that which is bigger than us and that which is beyond us. There is an understanding that there is something to which we must bow, that there is someone present, someone who walks beside us. There is an awareness that our own stories are inhabited beside, maybe even within, stories of the transcendent and of the ultimate. In the myths created by humanity, we reveal what has been engraved deeply on our hearts by the divine: that reality is not always clear like glass but it is sometimes thick like blood, that God somehow had to show up, and that in some way death and suffering was certain. There is darkness, to be sure; but so there is light, and the darkness does not master it. And we were right. What humanity has somehow always known has, in fact, happened. For in the Christian story, God did reveal himself, stepping into the depths of human reality as one of us. God stepped through the unseen and came to dwell within the seen. Said Lewis, “Myth became Fact.”

In the oldest Christian creed, Christians profess to believe in God the Father and Jesus Christ his only Son “who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” What humanity has longed for most has happened: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Reaching into time and touching real history, Jesus came to us; he came to the Cross. But it did not master him.

“This is the marriage of heaven and earth,” writes Lewis. “Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact, claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.”(1) There is a great light shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not mastered it. He is the one who was, and is, and is to come.

 

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

(1) C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 67.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Storied Recollection

 

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

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

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

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

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

The great creeds of Christianity aim themselves at a similar principle. The Church confesses what we need to remember, what we long to remember. We confess the promises of God; we confess who God is; we confess who we are. The word “creed” comes from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe.” Confessed in unison, we follow the command of God to remember collectively: “These truths I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”(2)

The earliest creeds were used precisely with this power of memory in mind. Affirmations of belief in God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit were bound to the hearts and minds of those who longed to remember. For persons standing on the precipice of faith, the creed was the statement with which they prepared themselves to jump, and in so doing, found they had been given something on which to stand—and to stand in good company.

What Christians remember in creed and confession is a vast library accounting for an exciting narrative we recollect together. As novelist Dorothy Sayers wrote more than 50 years ago:

“The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama…. Now we may call that doctrine exhilarating or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed.”(3)

The things we choose to house within the confines of memory are like a great collection of stories—stories that tell who we are personally, collectively, eternally. What the Christian remembers in doctrine and history, faith and belief, so holds his identity within this great drama. God has offered a story worth remembering, and God invites each of us to remember it together, participating in the good news we proclaim in good company: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.”(4)

 

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

 

(1) Numbers 11:4-6.
(2) Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
(3) Dorothy Sayers in Creed or Chaos (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949), 3-7, as quoted by Michael Horton in “Creeds and Deeds: How Doctrine Leads to Doxological Living,” Modern Reformation Magazine, Vol. 15, Number 6.
(4) 1 Thessalonians 4:14.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – When Forgiveness Is Suffering

 

In four horrific months in 1994, at the urging of the Rwandan government, the poorer Hutu majority took up bayonets and machetes and committed genocide against the wealthier Tutsi minority. In the wake of this unspeakable tragedy, nearly a million people had been murdered.

In August of 2003, driven by overcrowded prisons and backlogged court systems, 50,000 genocide criminals, people who had already confessed to killing their neighbors, were released again into society. Murderers were sent back to their homes, back to neighborhoods literally destroyed at their own hands, to live beside the few surviving relatives of the very men, women, and children they killed.

Now more than twenty years later, with eyes still bloodshot at visions of a genocide it failed to see, the world continues to watch Rwanda with a sense of foreboding, wondering what happens when a killer comes home; what happens when victims, widows, orphans, and murderers look each other in the eyes again; what happens when the neighbor who killed your family asks to be forgiven. For the people of Rwanda, the description of the Hebrew prophet is a reality with which they live: “And if anyone asks them, ‘What are these wounds on your chest?’ the answer will be, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’”(1)

How does a culture bear the wounds of genocide and the agony of forgiveness?

For Steven Gahigi, that question is answered in a valley of dry bones which cannot be forgotten. An Anglican clergyman who lost 142 members of his family in the Rwandan genocide, he thought he had lost the ability to forgive. Though his inability plagued him, he had no idea how to navigate through a forgiveness so costly. “I prayed until one night I saw an image of Jesus Christ on the cross…I thought of how he forgave, and I knew that I and others could also do it.”(2) Inspired by this vision, Gahigi somehow found the words to begin preaching forgiveness. He first did this in the prisons where Hutu perpetrators sat awaiting trial, and today he continues in neighborhoods where the victims of genocide live beside its perpetrators. For Gahigi, wounds received in the house of friends can only be soothed with truth-telling, restitution, interdependence, and reconciliation, all of which he finds accessible only because of Christ.

In some ways, the work of reconciliation that continues to take place in Rwanda in lives on every side of the genocide may be difficult to describe apart from the cross of Christ. While it is true that forgiveness can be explained in therapeutic terms, that the act of forgiving is beneficial to the forgiver, and forgiveness releases the victim from the one who has wronged them, from chains of the past and a cell of resentment; what Rwandans are facing today undoubtedly reaches something beyond this.

While forgiveness is certainly a form of healing in lives changed forever by genocide, it is also very much a form of suffering.

Miroslav Volf, himself familiar with horrendous violence in Croatia and Serbia, describes forgiveness as the exchange of one form of suffering for another, modeled to the world by the crucified Christ. He writes, “[I]n a world of irreversible deeds and partisan judgments redemption from the passive suffering of victimization cannot happen without the active suffering of forgiveness.”(3) For Rwandans, this is a reality well understood.

And for Christ, who extends to the world the possibility of reconciliation by embodying it, this suffering, this willingness to be broken by the very people with whom he is trying to reconcile, is the very road to healing and wholeness and humanity. “More than just the passive suffering of an innocent person,” writes Volf, “the passion of Christ is the agony of a tortured soul and a wrecked body offered as a prayer for the forgiveness of the torturers.”(3) There is no clearer picture of Zechariah’s depiction of wounds received at the house of friends than in a crucifixion ordered by an angry crowd that lauded Christ as king only hours before. And yet, it is this house of both murderous and weeping friends for which Jesus prays on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Far from the suggestion of a moralistic god watching a world of suffering and brokenness from a distance, the costly, unsentimental ministry of reconciliation comes to a world of violence and victims through arms that first bore the weight of the cross. For Steven Gahigi, who facilitates the difficult dialogues now taking place in Rwanda, who helps perpetrators of genocide to build homes for their victims’ families, forgiveness is indeed a active form of suffering, but one through which Christ has paved the hopeful, surprising way of redemption. Today, wherever forgiveness is a form of suffering, Christ accompanies the broken, leading both the guilty and the victimized through valleys of dry bones and signs of a coming resurrection.

 

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

 

(1) Zechariah 13:6.
(2) Johann Christoph Arnold, Why Forgive? (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis books, 2010), 202.
(3) Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 125.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Call to Maladjustment

 

What does it mean to be “maladjusted”? In much of psychological literature, maladjustment implies some level of psychopathology. A pathology implies an underlying illness or disease in the body. Psychopathology, therefore, implies mental illness. Unlike other diseases of the body that have biological markers, however, psychopathology does not have a biological test, like a blood test, for diagnosis. Instead, psychopathology is manifested in cognitions, emotions, and/or social behaviors that are considered maladaptive because they cause distress, danger, dysfunction, and disruption both to the individual and to those around her/him.

But are there any conditions under which it would be “abnormal” not to experience maladjustment? This is the question taken up by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech given at Western Michigan University in 1963, five years before he was assassinated. In this speech, he suggested that there are specific conditions when maladjustment is called for:

“[T]here are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence.” (1)

Whether or not maladjustment always equates to a diagnosis of psychopathology is often asked beyond the academic hallways of departments of psychology. Shouldn’t it make sense for someone who grew up in conditions of economic deprivation, social isolation, ignorance, poverty, and crime to experience, trauma, depression, or anxiety? Isn’t maladjustment an appropriate response to environmental and social conditions of deprivation, isolation, and instability? And perhaps, as Martin Luther King Jr. suggested in his address: those of us who live in abundance, community, and stability should feel this maladjustment most keenly.

In many of his speeches, including the one given at Western Michigan University, Dr. King quoted from the ancient Hebrew prophets. Often, Israel’s prophets called the nation to see the ways in which she had “adjusted” to a way of living that was far from ideal. And we learn from the preaching of Jesus that most of these prophets were rejected and killed. “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to you!”(2) The prophets called out from the margins proclaiming a message that few heeded. They were viewed as “malcontents” and perhaps as maladjusted. Isaiah walked through the streets naked. Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” fastened a cattle yoke to his shoulders. Hosea married a woman he knew would be unfaithful. Ezekiel ate a scroll and laid on his side for more than a year. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale and then begged God to kill him. And Amos, who wanted “justice to roll down like mighty rivers” brought his message of justice and righteousness in a time of total economic prosperity and ease: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!” he declared. To be “well-adjusted” was not at all what they preached, nor often how they lived. As Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book The Prophets notes:

“To us a single act of injustice—cheating in business, exploitation of the poor—is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence; to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.”(3)

The ancient prophets call attention to what most overlook, or do not want to see. Like, Martin Luther King, Jr., they understood that the call to maladjustment was a call to action and a call to reject the status quo. But to extend this call, often meant being labeled as a malcontent, or crazy, or worse! Throughout history, those who called for “maladjustment” often lost their lives, including the Hebrew prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remarkably, Dr. King ended his remarks with a call to be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos:

“I’m about convinced now that there is need for…men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. Who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who could say to the men and women of his day, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you.’ Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice…this will be a great day.”(4)

The call to maladjustment might just be a call to justice. To overturn the status quo, just as Jesus overturned the tables in the temple, might be the most well-adjusted thing we who are made in God’s image could do.

 

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

 

(1) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “On Creative Maladjustment,” Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections and University Libraries, 1963, accessed Jan. 27, 2018.
(2) See Matthew 23:37. See also Hebrews 11:26-39.
(3) Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 4.
(4) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “On Creative Maladjustment,” Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections and University Libraries, 1963, accessed Jan. 27, 2018.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Hindsight, Eyesight, and Insight

When this century began, the world was bordering on near hysteria over the coined phrase “Y2K.” You may recall how that “Millennium Bug” spawned fears that the date change from “99” to “00” would create havoc in computer networks around the world.

This year marks the next generation birthed since Y2K. As with the sitcoms of a previous era, the coming offspring will probably never hear of Y2K. What one generation battles, the next one forgets. The world didn’t collapse on January 1, 2000, but the fallout of a strident secularism has changed our culture, albeit with the aid of computers. It may not be accidental that the emblem on the new means of communication is ironically a half-bitten apple, man playing God and then fearing his own creation.

Twenty years from now, the next generation will marvel at the impeachment hearings that have dominated the news ad nauseam in this 2019/2020 transition. One of the most surprising things in this was an Ivy League professor of law who said this: “[W]e have to ask ourselves, someday we will no longer be alive and we’ll go wherever it is we go. The good place or the other place. And, you know, we may meet there, Madison and Hamilton, and they will ask us, ‘When the president of the United States acted to corrupt the structure of the republic, what did you do?’”

We know that politics has become our religion. More to the point, with the absence of much history being taught in our schools and a new pluralism that does not educate our young in the shared meanings of the past, leave alone thoughts of an afterlife, some student might wonder what a city in Wisconsin or a Broadway play have to do with our eternal destiny! Almost every category the professor invoked in his statement is actually disbelieved by our intellectuals. They thrive on repudiating the past, deny an eternal state, and toss moral accountability to the wind.

The fears of Y2K never materialized, but what we’ve done with the ability to mass communicate is more real and devastating. No foreign nation needed to meddle in our electoral process. We’ve done a thorough decimation job by ourselves.

But a new year is dawning. What do we pick as memorable from 2019 and to what will we pin our hopes in 2020? Can we look beyond our political melodrama and instead, see what God desires for us as his creation? It could make the difference. In the beginning, God created the human family and for millennia since then, that has been his purposeful plan. That is what He intended to bless for our own good. Our self-destructing culture notwithstanding, can we, each one of us, build a family to the glory of God?

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Peace That God Brings

 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Ours is a world in which few people would look to the government for signs of hope. Corruption of power seems more the norm than the ideal presented in Isaiah’s vision of a government ruled by a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, or Prince of Peace. Instead, most view government with a sense of cynicism and despair, and few would see government as the conduit for peace.

In Isaiah’s day, there were many foreign powers and rulers that threatened both Israel and Judah. And, within Isaiah’s lifetime, Judah would go into exile under Babylonian rule. Thus, the original recipients of Isaiah’s prophecy would have heard a promise that a king was coming who would be wise and powerful. He would inaugurate an everlasting age of peace, and foreign powers would no longer threaten or rule over the people of Israel. This prophecy brought light in dark times.

However, the history of Israel tells another story. Isaiah lived and prophesied during the divided kingdom of Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Israel would be conquered by the Assyrians, and soon the kingdom of Judah would be ruled by the Babylonians. Judah would continue to see foreign powers rule over her in the form of the Persians, Greeks, and the Romans. Ultimately, Judah would see the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora of its people from the land.

Was Isaiah wrong in his prophecy, or did he see something more than simply a political kingdom or earthly government for the Jewish people?

The promised child foretold in Isaiah’s vision was not simply a human king or ruler who would come to establish an earthly kingdom. Rather, the titles Mighty God and Everlasting Father attributed to the child to be born indicate that this coming ruler is divine. While the Jews did not have a concept of incarnation in their understanding of God, Isaiah foresees a day when God would be with the people, as Immanuel, “God with us.” And if God was the one who would come among human beings to rule and reign, then that rule would be characterized by wisdom, Wonderful Counselor, and peace—shalom—the well-being of all the people.

But, what kind of peace does God bring if it is not the peace that ends wars and strife among human beings and with the created world? We begin to find answers in the advent of Jesus, and his death and resurrection.

First, the peace that God brings in Jesus heals our estrangement that results from sin. The apostle Paul writes: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). This is the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15); God is “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

Second, the peace that God brings enables us to have peace within our hearts because of our reconciliation with our Creator and his Spirit at work within us. It is the well-being that comes from reconciliation with God.

Third, because we have peace within, we can pursue peace with others—friends and enemies—alike. Indeed, the apostle Paul marvels at the new unity between Jew and Gentile when he writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, (Ephesians 2:14-15).

Isaiah’s vision came at a time of intense fear for Judah when foreign powers attacked and oppressed her on every side. He saw a day when God would rule the people with wisdom and peace and when this rule would have no end. We, too, can take heart, no matter where we live and no matter the government we live under. God has come near to us in Jesus and established a government that is available to us as we walk in fellowship under his rule. In Jesus, we have a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, and a Prince of Peace.

Margaret Manning Shull is an adjunct speaker and writer with RZIM and a licensed counselor.

 

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