Tag Archives: Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Befriending Lament

 

I had dinner with my 84 year-old neighbor last week. Recently widowed, he has been alone and fending for himself. When we ran into him walking, I asked him what he might need. Immediately, he said that he had been eating the same thing for weeks and weeks because that is the only thing he knew how to make, and would we be willing to come and show him how to roast a chicken? So my husband and I showed up with ingredients in hand and set out to prepare a meal he could replicate so that he had some variety in his diet.

Not only was my neighbor recently widowed, but he had also had an orthopedic surgery that has left him in quite a bit of pain and without the strength and use of his bones and muscles in the way he once was able to use them. An avid tennis player all throughout his life, the agility that propelled him back and forth across the court had left him. What remained were brittle bones and fraying tendons. He could barely hobble around the night we made him dinner, and he had to keep sitting down because he was in so much pain. Even with two surgeries to correct the years of tennis playing, he still told me that he hoped he would die on the tennis court playing the game he loved.

While I know intellectually that bodies grow old and die, it is hard not to think of the aging process as a kind of betrayal. Those limbs, muscles, bones, and tendons that support and empower throughout life, now become the very instruments of treason as they tear, break, and decay, being worn down by life itself. While we fight the aging process in every conceivable manner, our bodies stay on automatic pilot and simply follow a course that is inevitable. To be sure, there are always those individuals who live long into their 90’s and 100’s—their bodies seemingly impervious to the ravages of aging. We marvel at their longevity, especially at those centenarians who drank pots of coffee, or ate bacon and eggs every day, ignoring their doctor’s warnings of a shortened life span. And yet, one day their bodies will also give them away to death.

But one doesn’t have to be old to experience bodily betrayal. The young succumb to various illnesses just as the old do. We all know those individuals who have died far too soon, the victims of cells gone awry or bodily system failure. And the mystery of ‘premature’ illness or death surely strikes at the confidence of all who appear healthy. Whether old or young, all go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Befriending Lament

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Foreign and Belonging

I have not spent much of my life as a foreigner, though my short bouts with being a cultural outsider remind me of the difficulty of always feeling on the outside of the circle. Just as the distance between outside and inside seems to be closing, something happens or something is said and you are reminded again that you do not really belong. On a visit with Wellspring International to Northern Uganda some years ago, the thought never left us. Everywhere the director and I went, children seemed to sing of “munos,” a term essentially (and affectionately) meaning “whiteys.” It made us smile every time we heard it. But even when communicated playfully, it can be both humbling and humiliating to always carry with you the sober thought: I am out of place.

The book of Ruth scarcely neglects an opportunity to point out this reality. Long after hearers of the story are well acquainted with who Ruth is and where she is from, long after she is living in Judah, she continues to be referred to as “Ruth the Moabite” or even merely “the Moabite woman.” Her perpetual status as an outsider brings to mind the vision of Keats and the “song that found a path/ through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home/ She stood in tears amid the alien corn.”

And yet, while Ruth was undoubtedly as aware of being the foreigner as much as those around her were aware of it, she did nothing to suggest a longing to return to Moab. Her words and actions in Judah are as steadfast as her initial vow to Naomi: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17a). This is Ruth’s pledge to her mother-in-law, repeatedly.

In these early pages of the story, little is known about Naomi’s God or her people. The brief mention of each comes as a distant report: “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food” (1:6). Moreover, Naomi’s first mention of the God of her people holds a similar sense of detachment. Though she recognizes God’s sovereignty over her situation, it is blurred with bitterness: “The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. For I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty” (1:20-21). Her description was hardly a compelling glimpse for the outsider looking in.

And yet, Ruth clearly embraces all of Naomi: the people who would only see her as the foreigner and the God who was not her own. In fact, ironically, it is Ruth the Moabite whose voice is the first in the story to call on the divine name. After her resolute declaration of loyalty to her mother-in-law, Ruth adds the plea, “May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (1:17b). It is the foreigner who has taken Yahweh to be her God and calls on this God accordingly. In fact, it is this foreigner whose adoption into God’s presence can be traced in blood all the way to the throne of King David and to the reign of Christ. Ruth the Moabite is forever remembered an outsider. But at the same time, she is remembered a woman with a crucial link to the Son of God.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Foreign and Belonging

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Practical Atheism

There is no mistaking the presence of unique challenges to belief in our modern day world. Our secular, privatized, consumerist affections have wielded a religion (indeed many religions) that has little or nothing to do with life itself. Coupled with secularism’s privatizing of religion from the public realm, consumerism’s pull creates a context whereby the choice of belief is not only a personal matter, but a matter entirely divorced from the history and communities that inform these beliefs. As professor David Wells notes, “God has been evacuated from the center of our collective life, pushed to the edges of our public square to become an irrelevance to how our world does its business. Marxism rested on a theoretical atheism; our secularized world rests on a practical atheism in the public domain, though one that coexists with private religiosity.”(1) This chasm between public and private, sacred and secular, forces a theology whereby God is largely absent, unknown in the public arena, and silent unless spoken to.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with our evacuation of God and subsequent practical atheism, we live within an understanding of unbounded freedom to pursue and consume whatsoever we will. While we may recognize secularism for what it is, Wells warns: “[W]e do not recognize the corrupting power of our affluence for what it is…. We consider our abundance as essentially harmless and, what is just as important, we have come to need it. The extraordinary and dazzling benefits of our modernized world, benefits that are now indispensable to our way of life, hide the values which accompany them, values which have the power to wrench around our lives in very damaging ways.”(2) Far more than a matter of wealth, our sheer appetites, which we readily appease as if angry gods, bring us to the conclusion that we ourselves are the center of collective life, echoing the call of secularism that God is exactly where God belongs—in quiet, private corners. Even within the church, this outlook is often practically lived if not publicly admitted.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Practical Atheism

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Creation and Destruction

 

The capture of one of the most notorious drug loads—leader of the Sinaloa Cartel—El Chapo, Joaquin Guzman made global headlines. Guzman was captured without the firing of a single bullet. This was quite a feat given that he kept an arsenal of weapons around him at all times: semi-automatic rifles, hand-grenades, rocket-launchers, and other weapons of mass-destruction. Yet, he was completely caught off guard when police arrested him in his home in the early dawn of 2014. He escaped not five months later by creating a tunnel from his shower. While the media hailed his capture and re-capture in January 2016 as well as his recent trial and upcoming sentencing as huge successes in the fight against drug trafficking, most citizens in Mexico are less sure. There is little confidence that Guzman’s capture will slow the traffic or violence of the drug trade and its cartels, which for many seems an intractable feature of Mexican life.

The moral depravity of the real-life drug cartels has often been fictionalized in television and film. Whether the popular television show Breaking Bad or the 2007 film No Country for Old Men (adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy), the violence intertwined with the illegal drug trade has often been used as a metaphor for exploring the underbelly of evil just below the surface of ‘civilized’ life. Specifically, it is a force that seems to advance without end or solution. The recent news about heroin epidemics and overdoses in typically “middle-American” towns is a chilling example. Given the chaotic elements inherent in addiction and violence, it is understandable how a kind of nihilistic despair can take hold. As the sheriff laments in the film No Country for Old Men:

“I was sheriff of this county when I was twenty-five years old. Hard to believe. My grandfather was a lawman; father too. You can’t help but compare yourself against the old-timers. Can’t help but wonder how they would have operated these times. The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, ‘O.K., I’ll be part of this world [emphasis mine].’”(1)

When I read the headlines or encounter some of the ways in which these realities are depicted in film, television, novels, and other artistic media, I wonder with the Sheriff in McCarthy’s novel how to make a difference in the kind of world most would be terrified to enter. Is there any hope for redemption, transformation, and justice that goes beyond simply punishment? As a Christian, I wonder what difference the good news of Jesus can make in a world of drug lords, traffickers, and violence?

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Creation and Destruction

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Solidarity

In 1943, two hundred and thirty women were arrested as members of the French Resistance and sent to Birkenau. Only 49 survived, but this in itself is remarkable. These women were as diverse a group as could be imagined. They were Jews and Christians, aristocrats and working class, young and old. Yet they were united by their commitment to the French Resistance and to one another.(1) In her book A Train in Winter, Caroline Moorhead reconstructs the story of these women through the journals and memoirs of survivors. Noting the mutual dependence that made the difference between living and dying, Moorhead highlights how the solidarity of these women to one another and to their mutual survival sustained them through unspeakable horror and torture.

In many accounts of Holocaust survivors, the hellish conditions of extreme deprivation and torture drove many to hoard whatever meager resources they could save for themselves. And how could they be blamed? Survival became the only goal—no matter what the cost, even to others. Yet, in most of the cases with these French women in Birkenau, their solidarity toward each other trumped the selfishness that engulfed so many others. As Moorhead writes, “Knowing that the fate of each depended on the others… egotism seemed to vanish and that, stripped back to the bare edge of survival, each rose to behavior few would have believed themselves capable of.”(2) Moorhead recounts that when unrelieved thirst threatened to engulf one of their members in utter madness, the women pooled together their own meager rations to get her a whole bucket of water.

Altruism of this magnitude is seldom seen. Putting one’s own needs first is as natural as breathing, and just as unconscious. Yet adversity sometimes coaxes out the best and the most beautiful in human beings.

In the ancient biblical account of Ruth, three women are left widows, and one, Naomi, has lost her sons as well. Bereft of their economic and financial support, the women instinctively stay together even as Naomi insists they return to their homeland of Moab, where the prospect of finding a husband would be more likely. But the women insist on staying. “No, we will surely return with you to your people.”

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Solidarity

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A World Invisible

 

Aristotle once said that the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor, an eye for resemblances.(1) The prophet Isaiah had an eye for a God so near to his people that he saw the heavens being torn open and God stepping down to be among us. “O that you would rend the heavens and come down! That the mountains would quake at your presence.”(2) This commanding metaphor gave Isaiah an eye for the resemblances of God all around him, and sparked every word of the prophet who spoke so that the world too would see more.

I have a friend who refers to people like Isaiah, those with a vision for God and God’s resemblances throughout the world, as “eyes of the kingdom.” There are times when these visionaries surprise us as much as the resemblances of the God they call us to see. A homeless man in nineteenth century London was one such visionary, lamenting the ease with which we often miss the very thing in front of us:

The angels keep their ancient places—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.(3)

The poem is titled “In No Strange Land” and was written by a man whose life oscillated between brilliant writer and homeless addict. Francis Thompson lived on the streets of England, slaking his opium addiction in London’s Charing Cross and sleeping on the banks of the River Thames. But he continued to scribble poetry on whatever paper he could find, often mailing his work to the local newspaper. “In No Strange Land” is one of the poems Thompson mailed from the streets of homelessness.

The tone of the poem is not unlike the prayer of Isaiah 64. Thompson begins with the great reality and oft unrecognized hope that is before us:

O world invisible, we view thee,
Intangible, we touch thee,
Unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee.

His words are reminiscent of the gift Isaiah reminds us is ours: that we are able to recount the gracious deeds of God, to see the hand of the Potter in dark times of history, to call him Father even now in the midst of blindness from sin or sadness, disappointment or distraction. The rhetorical question that follows Thompson’s praise of the unnoticed inquires of our often short-sighted vision and demanding questions to God:

Does the fish soar to find the ocean?
The eagle plunge to find the air—
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Thompson wonders why we insist upon interrogating a distant God, when God may just be standing beside us, having climbed down his great ladder. The poem brings to mind the crux of Isaiah’s vision and metaphor—namely, that there is a God whose throne is before us, though our tendency is to miss it all together. As commentator John Watts notes,

“[Our] failure…to see God’s vision, to hear God’s voice, and to rise above human goals of pride, striving, and independence adds a tragic dimension to the vision [of Isaiah]. To the bitter end a large proportion of the people cling to their version of the past as the only acceptable pattern for their present and their future. They demand that God conform to their concept of what his plans ought to be and thus preclude themselves from participation in God’s new creation.”(4)

Both Thompson and Isaiah use the power of image and metaphor to bid us to look again and again, and learn to live as eyes of the kingdom. While it is true that God sometimes comes down and unmistakably transforms time and place, other times we fail to see the sacred in our midst simply because we do not want to see anything subtle. We pass over what God has extended, whether a sign of grace, a moment of transcendence, or a richer lifetime of seeing his presence. And we ironically miss the images of God all around us within a world that is made in God’s image. As the unlikely poet laments:

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry—clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Thompson invites us to see the scandal of the particular in the story of God and the stories of our own lives. There is indeed a certain traffic about Jacob’s ancient ladder, but it may well be pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross, New York City, or Hong Kong. Christ may well come walking on the water, though perhaps not from the direction of Gennesareth, but Thames.

Like the vision of the prophet Isaiah, life itself can remind us of the coming of a deliverer, the drawing near of God to humankind, the arrival of the human Son of God, our rescuer, into our very midst. A voice is indeed crying out of the wilderness: Who will have ears to hear it, eyes to see it? Francis Thompson’s “In No Strange Land” is a call to see the strange particulars of Christ’s story, but to also see him in the faces and stories before us, perhaps even in the unlikely story of a homeless man sleeping on the banks of the river Thames.

 

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

 

(1) Quoted in Leland Ryken, Ed., The Christian Imagination(Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2002), 403.
(2) Isaiah 64:1.
(3) Francis Thompson, “In No Strange Land,” The Hound of Heaven and Other Poems (Wellesley, MA: Branden Books, 2000), 78.
(4) Watts, John D. W.: Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 1-33. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002 (Word Biblical Commentary 24), xxix.

 

http://www.rzim.org/

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Reordering the Imagination

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

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

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

Sadly, the imagination so vital in my youth doesn’t usually infuse my life with creative possibility, but rather leads me only to wonder if the grass is greener on the other side. Mid-life regrets reduce imagination to restlessness and shrivel creative thinking to nothing more than unsettled daydreams. Rather than allowing my imagination to be animated with creative ideas about living in my life now, I allow it to be tethered to worldly dreams of more, or better, or simply other.

The psalmist was not in a mid-life imaginative crisis when he penned Psalm 90. Nevertheless, this psalm attributed to Moses, was a prayer to the God who inspires imagination for our one life to live. Perhaps Moses wrote this psalm after an endless day of complaint from wilderness-weary Israelites. Perhaps it was written with regret that his violent outburst against the rock would bar him from entry into the Promised Land. Whatever event prompted its writing, it is a song sung in a minor key, with regret so great he feels consumed by God’s anger and dismayed by God’s seeming wrath towards him.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Reordering the Imagination

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Face as Figure

 

Thomas Grüter has always had trouble putting names with faces. But unlike most of us who might have trouble recollecting the name of the man who just said hello, Grüter’s trouble lies in recognizing the face of the man who just said hello—even if it is his own father’s. His condition is called prosopagnosia or “face blindness,” and until recently the disorder was thought to be exceedingly rare. But new research led by a team that included Grüter himself shows the disorder is surprisingly much more common.

Those affected with prosopagnosia are not forgetful or inattentive, nor are they the social snobs they are often accused of being. When it comes to faces—even their own—they see very little that distinguishes one from another. The part of the brain that signals face recognition simply does not respond. As a result, they may greet acquaintances as strangers, struggle to keep up with plots in movies, and have difficulty finding their own children at school pick-up time. “I see faces that are human,” notes one woman of her condition, “but they all look more or less the same. It’s like looking at a bunch of golden retrievers: some may seem a little older or smaller or bigger, but essentially they all look alike.”(1)

The more I think about what it would mean to live unable to recognize faces, the more I am amazed at our ability to do so at all. Human faces are so complex, differing in both great and minute details. Our faces change with expression or circumstance, angle or shift of light; they are transformed by emotions, altered by different situations, and slowly transformed with age. Given the intricacy of the task, it is phenomenal that we should be able to recognize so many faces so effortlessly in the first place.

Yet the face is one of the very first things we learn to respond to as infants. Developmental psychologists speak readily of the importance of the human face in the life of a newborn, particularly the faces of mother and father, which the child quickly comes to recognize. Professor James Loder speaks of the tendency of an infant to smile when one holds the mere configuration of a face on a stick beside the crib. Writes Loder, “[T]he face phenomenon is not strictly something that comes only from the environment; it is also a construct created by the child and developed out of the child’s inherent resources and deep-seated longing. Children seem uniquely endowed with a potential capacity to sum up all the complexity of the nurturing presence in the figure of the face.“(2) For the child, the face plays a central role in their developing sense of the order of their very universe. Thus, when the face of the loving nurturer goes away in any capacity (which is inevitable), the child’s world is upset on some level. For what has gone away is not merely a static face but a much greater presence.

In this, children inherently illustrate a correlation drawn in biblical language. In both Greek and in Hebrew, the word for “face” is also the word for “presence.” Though we do not literally behold the face of God, it is the Father’s greater countenance that we seek, God’s presence that comforts above all. The psalmist’s plea is that the confirming presence of God’s love would remain with him always: “Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me” (Psalm 27:9-10). Scripture seems to pronounce what is echoed in the skills and longings of a developing child: namely, our years urge us to pursue “a relationship with the One who is the cosmic ordering, self-confirming presence.”(3) That is to say, the enduring pursuit of the faithful is a pursuit of the Face that will, in fact, never go away.

I cannot imagine the hardship of those for whom no face is familiar. But there are times when God’s face certainly seems obscure to me, and it is a painful discomfort. Though evidence of God’s assuring presence may well be around me, I am at times hard-pressed to recognize it. It is in such times when I am reminded by my own longing that God is near. In my most instinctive desire is the imprint of the face for which I long. Though recognition is a task that doesn’t always come effortlessly, the longing to know the face of God is a sign placed deeply within us, an assuring mark of God’s very calming, comforting presence. Wherever we are in our stages of recognition, the promise of God, and the vicariously human presence of the Son of God, is given in mystery and kindness: For now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; but one day we shall see face to face.

 

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

 

(1) Nicholas Bakalar, “Just Another Face in the Crowd Even if It’s Your Own,” The New York Times, July 18, 2006.
(2) James E. Loder, The Logic of the Spirit (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 91.
(3) Ibid., 95.

 

http://www.rzim.org/

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – His Human Face

Most of us likely missed it. Couched between Wednesday’s building crescendo of assignments and Friday’s promise of their demise, Thursday hardly seems more than a means to an end. Though the day is every bit as holy as Easter Sunday, most of the world moves through it unsuspectingly—even those who have confessed the momentous lines of the Apostles’ Creed: “On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.”

Yesterday was Ascension Day, the day that marks the ascension of Jesus Christ. Forty days after the celebration of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus, the church around the world holds in remembrance this eventful day. The gospel writer records: “Then [Jesus] said to his disciples…. ‘See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”(1)

The ascension of Christ may not seem as momentous to the Christian story as the resurrection or as rousing as the image of Jesus on the cross. After the death and resurrection, in fact, the ascension might even seem somewhat anti-climatic. The resurrection and ascension statements of the Apostles’ Creed are essentially treated as one in the same: On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. One might even think that the one miraculous act flowed immediately into the other: as if the death of the body of Jesus was answered in the resurrection, a presence who then floated onto heaven. Unfortunately, the result of this impression is that many think of the ascension as somehow casting off of Christ’s human nature, as if Jesus is a presence that only used to be human. Hence, Jesus seems one more fit to memorialize than one we might expect to actually see face-to-face one day.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – His Human Face

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Fairest Jesus of Them All

The sharp distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith common in New Testament studies has proven to be an inexhaustible mine for those searching for melodramatic ideas to bounce around during important Christian holidays. The historical Jesus is taken to be the merely human person who was born and raised in Palestine and was crucified during the days of Pontius Pilate. The Christ of faith is assumed to be a mythical, supernatural figure invented by the early admirers of the earthly Jesus. Such thinking flourished in eighteenth century German biblical scholarship, particularly after the posthumous publication of the private notes of Herman Samuel Reimarus between 1774 and 1778.

Inspired by Reimarus’s doubts concerning the historicity of the biblical record, many other scholars published monographs in which they cast Jesus in various religious and cultural roles unhinged from the supernatural. The whole movement, which became known as “the old quest of the historical Jesus,” was brought to a near screeching halt by the 1906 publication of Albert Schweitzer’s book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, whose title also branded the movement. Schweitzer demonstrated that the scholars of the old quest shared something in common—they relied heavily on their presuppositions about who they believed Jesus was and so “each individual created him in accordance with his own character.”(1) In other words, each one of them ended up producing the Jesus they went out looking for in the first place.

Unfortunately, the tendency to recast Jesus in our own image continues even in our day. In scholarly circles, it is represented by the Jesus Seminar which refuses to allow the possibility of the supernatural for those who have “seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope.”(2) Even among believers, it rears its ugly head whenever we prefix the name of Jesus with the possessive pronoun “my” in order to secure our turf from unwelcome scrutiny. A few years ago, a friend and I attended a church in which several people broke out in convulsive laughter in the middle of the worship service. My friend later informed me that they were laughing in Jesus. I knew something about the historical Jesus, but this was my first encounter with the hysterical Jesus and further evidence of his protean flexibility in human hands.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Fairest Jesus of Them All

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Ex Cruciatus

There is a striking verse in the New Testament, in which the apostle Paul refers to the cross of Jesus Christ as foolishness to the Greek and a stumbling block to the Jew. One can readily understand why he would say that. After all, to the Greek mind, sophistication, philosophy, and learning were exalted pursuits. How could one crucified possibly spell knowledge?

To the Jewish mind, on the other hand, there was a cry and a longing to be free. In their history, they had been attacked by numerous powers and often humiliated by occupying forces. Whether it was the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Romans, Jerusalem had been repeatedly plundered and its people left homeless. What would the Hebrew have wanted more than someone who could take up their cause and altogether repel the enemy? How could a Messiah who was crucified possibly be of any help?

To the Greek, the cross was foolishness. To the Jew, it was a stumbling block. What is it about the cross of Christ that so roundly defies everything that power relishes? Crucifixion was humiliating. It was so humiliating that the Romans who specialized in the art of torture assured their own citizenry that a Roman could never be crucified. But not only was it humiliating, it was excruciating. In fact, the very word “excruciating” comes from two Latin words: ex cruciatus, or out of the cross. Crucifixion was the defining word for pain.

Does that not give us pause in this season now before us? Think of it: humiliation and agony. This was the path Jesus chose with which to reach out for you and for me. You see, this thing we call sin, but which we so tragically minimize, breaks the grandeur for which we were created. It brings indignity to our essence and pain to our existence. It separates us from God.

On the way to the cross two thousand years ago, Jesus took the ultimate indignity and the ultimate pain to bring us back to the dignity of a relationship with God and the healing of our souls. Will we remember that this was done for us and receive his gift?

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Ex Cruciatus

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Lion and Lamb

One cannot help but be deeply disheartened and disturbed by the barrage of violent headlines: two men pulled over at traffic stops and brutally shot, police officers targeted and killed, terrorist attacks around the world, rancor and fighting among ourselves over politics, economics, or petty offenses. As one event piles onto another, I wonder aloud over the apparent love of violence by human beings. With all the heartache and despair left in the wake of these kinds of tragedies, why won’t people tire of violence?

Unfortunately, violent events are no longer a shock or a surprise. In fact, they are often as familiar to us and our world as our exercise routines. Yet, perhaps the familiar reminder of violence brings to our attention that something is very wrong in this world. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that evil is not just out there, apart from us, but dwells all too closely within our own hearts. The ancient prophet Jeremiah understood this dark reality of human nature: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

While I wish Jeremiah’s indictment was for everyone else out there—murderous assassins or political rivals—I know too well my own heart’s violence. It comes naturally to be quick to make a judgement, to grow irritated at minor offenses, or to feel the rage that emerges when my way, my plans, my agenda is thwarted. How often I wish I could take back all of the careless words spoken in anger against my loved ones? When might I tire of violence?

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Lion and Lamb

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God at Terminal Five

 

I wrote one of the last sections of the book Why Suffering? on a plane flight from London to New York.(1) As I came through security at Heathrow Airport, I had about an hour until my departure, and I had it in mind to find a quiet spot and make a start on the writing I had planned.

As I began to walk toward the departure gates, a small sign for the “Multi-Faith Prayer Room” caught my eye, and instantaneously—though I have never before had an urge to visit an airport prayer room—I felt this conviction that there was someone in that room whom I was supposed to talk with. It was as if someone had just told me, “There is someone waiting to speak with you there,” even though I had not audibly heard those words.

I did an about-face and walked a good distance away from my departure gate to the arrivals terminal where the prayer room was located. When I walked in, there was one man in the room, sitting in a corner on the floor. He appeared to be about my age. When he saw me looking around the prayer room, he asked, “Are you religious?” We began speaking about what it means to be religious, and he soon shared with me that he was going through the worst suffering of his life.

Mohammed fought back tears as he shared about what no one would ever want to go through. He expressed that he never talks about such things with anyone, but that he just needed to get it out. He told me that he used to pray five times a day, but that now the suffering is too much; he opens his mouth to pray and nothing comes out. Finally, Mohammed challenged me, “If God exists, why is there so much suffering? And where is he amidst it all?”

Now I understood why we were supposed to meet. I told Mohammed that the one person of whom he finally asked “Why suffering?” was currently writing a book by that very title, and in fact was walking in the opposite direction toward the departure gates when God turned him around and led him to this specific room to share that God does care and that he is present.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God at Terminal Five

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Different Side of Good News

“For a difficult journey, minimal benefits, bitter cold, long months of darkness, constant fatigue and hardship. Most will quit. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

These were the words inscribed on a University of Washington men’s rowing crew advertisement I spotted recently while walking on the university campus. For those who know the history of the men’s crew at U of W, this advertisement will not come as a surprise. The team’s history is replete with times of dramatic struggle and monumental triumph. Perhaps most notable is the story of their quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics: an eight oar crew who were not expected to compete against even the East Coast American teams at the time showed astonishing strength to provide a winning story that would not be forgotten.

When I first came across the full-page advert for the men’s crew, I read it at least ten times over. It struck me that of all the ways in which the rowing department would choose to draw first year students to their sport, this was the way they chose to do it: not by enticing students with reward, but with the cost. Yes, there might be glory, the advert hinted, but that was not the compelling point. There would be no guarantee of glory to woo potential recruits. What was promised was pain and sacrifice; this was the U of W crew’s appeal.

This impassioned cry of the rowing crew made me think of certain aspects of the Christian faith that are not often mentioned, but still very real: times of felt darkness, a difficult journey throughout life, fatigue and hardship with the ever-present challenge to quit. Jesus Christ’s message to his friends and to those who would follow him shares similarities to the U of W men’s crew. At one point, Christ looked to his closest friends and told them that in the world they would experience trouble and suffering. Those are not exactly the cheery words one wants to hear from the leader of their movement. Sometimes, as I imaginatively read between the lines of the gospels, I wonder whether any of Christ’s friends offered to help him with public relations. Maybe Peter advised Jesus to change his tact. I can imagine Peter taking Jesus aside and saying, “Okay, Jesus. This isn’t a bad marketing angle, but it isn’t a good one either! How about you try something like, ‘Okay everyone, ahem, as I was saying earlier, in the world you will experience trouble and suffering. But once you come to me, everything will be okay. You won’t face any trouble or suffering.’”

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Different Side of Good News

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Wounds Honored

 

Why Won’t God Heal Amputees, a popular website and one-time viral You Tube video, puts forward the basic premise that God doesn’t answer prayer since God has never healed an amputee. By extension, they make the assertion that since God doesn’t heal every person of every infirmity, God does not exist.

While there are obvious false assumptions made about God, prayer, and healing (how does one know that in the whole world God has not healed an amputee, for starters) many interesting questions are raised for those who believe in both God and prayer. Those who do pray for healing often fail to experience it in the way they expect—healing rarely parallels a conventional or traditional sense of that word. Loved ones die of cancer, friends are killed in car accidents, economic catastrophe befalls even the most frugal, and people in much of the developing world die from diseases long cured in the West. Beyond the realm of physical healing, many experience emotional and psychological trauma that leave open and festering wounds. Or, there are those perpetual personality ticks and quirks that seem beyond the reach of the supernatural. Given all of this contrary experience, what does it mean to receive healing, and should one hold out hope that healing can come in this world? Specifically, for those who pray, and for those who believe that God does heal, how might the persistence of wounds—psychological, emotional and physical—be understood?

In a memorable New York Times article, Marcia Mount Shoop writes of her horrific rape as a fifteen year old girl.(1) As the descendant of three generations of ministers she ran to the safest place she knew after suffering this horrific trauma—the church. Yet as she stood amid the congregants singing hymns and reciting creeds, she felt no relief. Even her favorite verse from Romans, ‘and we know that in all things God works for good with those who love him’ sounded hollow and brought little comfort. How could she ever be healed or experience ‘good’ after this horrific act of violence?

Once at home, alone with the secret of her rape, Marcia Shoop found something that enabled her to survive. “I felt Jesus so close,” she recalled in an interview. “It wasn’t the same Jesus I experienced at church. It was this tiny, audible whisper that said, ‘I know what happened. I understand.’ And it kept me alive, that frayed little thread.”(2)

The hope that Jesus was physically close to her in her pain led Ms. Shoop to become a minister herself more than a quarter century after her horrific rape. It also led her to more deeply connect her body with her soul and mind. This re-connection of the body with soul and with mind is where she experienced what she would call ‘healing.’ God was with her in the living, breathing, physical reality of Jesus who likewise continued to bear the wounds of his own crucifixion and torture after the gospel writers testify to him having been raised from the dead.

The Gospel of John records the risen Jesus as inviting Thomas to “reach your finger and see my hands; and reach your hand, and put it into my side.”(3) Jesus was not a disembodied spirit without flesh and blood as a result of his resurrection from the dead. He was a body, and a body that was wounded. Even the resurrection did not take away his bodily scars! Pondering this reality can bring great hope to those who follow Jesus, and to all who wonder about how they might find healing for their wounds. For healing did not equate a lack of wounding, or physical perfection—being untouched by the sorrow and suffering of a world gone horribly wrong—even for Jesus.

For Ms. Shoop, healing didn’t mean the total erasure of the pain and horror of her rape, as difficult as it was to bear that wound. It meant that she encountered the wounded God in the person of Jesus who continued to bear the scars and wounds of his crucifixion. As she recalled, “What happened to me wasn’t ‘for the good,’” referring again to her favorite passage in Romans. But God took the garbage, the stench, [of that horrible event] and gently, tenderly, indignantly wove it into this moment of redemption. What a gift.”(4)

Healing is not a gift that comes instantly, nor does it always look like what we expect. It is often a slow, painful journey through the void and desolation of suffering. It will not erase our wounds. Yet, the promise of resurrection, of new life that comes even with wounded hands and sides, offers another picture of healing where being an ‘amputee’ might be honored and redeemed.

 

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

 

(1) Samuel G. Freedman, “A Rape Survivor Now Ministers Body and Soul,” The New York Times Online, June 29, 2012. Accessed June 29, 2012.
(2) Ibid., accessed June 29, 2012.
(3) John 20:27.
(4) Freedman, The New York Times Online, June 29, 2012. Accessed June 29, 2012.

 

http://www.rzim.org/

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Thrown Off Balance

The earliest creeds of the Christian church confess that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” It is then confessed, “On the third day, he rose again.”(1) While modern presuppositions may tempt us to interpret the death and resurrection of Jesus as symbolic or spiritual in nature, there was nothing abstract about the events and details confessed by those who first beheld them. Jesus’s suffering was an actual, datable event in history, his crucifixion a sentence inflicted on an actual body; the proclamation of both was the remembrance of a cold reality, something akin to remembering the Holocaust or the Trail of Tears. Likewise, “the third day” was a tangible, historical occasion—albeit an occasion of unfathomable proportions.

Yet the resurrection of Jesus was not viewed as merely a static fact on this particular third day, a fixed event to remain in this history alone. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” wrote the apostle Paul, “and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”(2) For those who first beheld it, the resurrection was an event with inherent consequences for everything—for order and purpose, for what it means to be human itself. The earliest confessions of Christ’s death, burial, and third day rising from the dead are immediately followed by certain understood implications. As the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s short story observes of this resurrected one, Jesus went and “thrown everything off balance.” The unlikely prophet reasons, “If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can.”

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Thrown Off Balance

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Spiritual Geography

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to travel across the country from Massachusetts to Montana. While I had often traveled across the country on family vacations, I had never driven through South Dakota. But on this trip I was able to see quite a bit of the state that makes up part of the Great Plains in the United States. Having lived near the city, I remember being struck by the vast expanses of what appeared to be uninhabited land. Rolling grasslands, without many trees, offered a view of the landscape that was as far as it was wide. I remember wondering why anyone would make a home in such a desolate place.

Several years after this trip, I read Kathleen Norris’s book Dakota and marveled at her poignant description of this land. Her memoir both enticed me and made me wary of life in the Dakotas. The opening paragraphs of her book explain why:

“The high plains, the beginning of the desert West, often act like a crucible for those who inhabit them. Like Jacob’s angel, the region requires that you wrestle with it, before it bestows a blessing… This book is an invitation to a land of little rain and few trees, dry summer winds and harsh winters, a land rich in grass, and sky and surprises.”(1)

She concludes by saying that “the land and the sky of the West often fill what Thoreau termed our ‘need to witness our limits transgressed.’ Nature, in Dakota, can indeed be an experience of the holy.”(2)

It is here that Norris intricately connects a geographical place with the possibility for spiritual revelation, a phenomenon often termed “spiritual geography.” A spiritual geography is recognition of the intersection of one’s physical geography with an internal or spiritual geography. Norris describes, for example, the fierce independence of those who reside in the Dakotas and their fortitude in response to the harsh conditions of climate and terrain.

A sense of place, land, and geography also fills the pages of the Bible. There is hardly a description given of persons and events without also discussing the physical landscape. Particularly in the narrative of the Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent sabbatical in the wilderness, one is struck by how much the geography functions as a character in the grand story of the redemption of Israel. It is the wilderness, this wild place of drought and barrenness that God chooses as a place for revelation. In fact, throughout the spiritual geography of Scripture, God consistently shows up in arid regions—in the brutality of loss, the determination of suffering, and the thirst for healing.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Spiritual Geography

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – House and Ladders

I am not sure what it is that makes us readily picture God as seated high above us. But from childhood, we seem to nurture pictures of heaven and all its wonderment as that which spatially exists “above,” while we and all of our joys and worries exist on earth “below.” While this may simply illustrate our need for metaphors as we learn to relate to the world around us, there is also biblical imagery that seems to authenticate the portrayal. Depicting the God who exists beyond all we know, the Scripture writers describe the divine throne as “high and lofty,” the name of the LORD as existing above all names. Yet even metaphors can be misleading when they cease to point beyond themselves. Though the Bible uses the language and imagery of loftiness, it also pronounces that God’s existence is far more than something “above” us. The startling image of the Incarnation, for instance, radically erases the likeness of a distant God. The message that comes again and again from the mouth of God on earth is equally startling: The kingdom of God is among us!

Of the many objections to Christianity, there is one in particular that stands out in my mind as troubling. That is, the argument that to be Christian is to withdraw from the world, to follow fairy tales with wishful hearts and myths that insist you stop thinking and believe that all will be right in the end because God says so. It was in such a vein that Karl Marx depicted Christianity as a kind of drug that anesthetizes its consumers to the suffering in the world and the wretchedness of life. Sigmund Freud argued similarly that belief in God functions as an infantile dream that helps us evade the pain and helplessness we both feel and see around us. I don’t find these critiques and others like them troubling because I find them an accurate picture of the kingdom Jesus described. Rather, I find them troubling because so many Christians, myself included, find it easy to live as if Freud and Marx are quite right in their analyses.

In impervious boxes and minimalist depictions of the Christian story, we can live comfortably as if in our own worlds, intent to tell our feel-good stories while withdrawing from the harder scenes of life, content to view the kingdom of God as a world far away from the present, and the rooms of heaven as mere futuristic promises. The kingdom is seen as the place we are journeying toward, the better country the writer of Hebrews describes. In contrast, our place on earth is viewed as temporary, and therefore somehow less vital; like Abraham, we are merely passing through. And as a result, we build chasms that stand between kingdom and earth, today and tomorrow, the physical and the spiritual, the believing world and its world of neighbors. Whether articulated or subconscious, the earth itself even becomes something fleeting and irrelevant—one more commodity here for our use, like shampoo bottles in hotel bathrooms—while Christ is away preparing our permanent, more luxurious rooms.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – House and Ladders

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Past, Present, Future

It is not very difficult for me to spend significant amounts of time dwelling on the past. Sometimes it is a rehearsal of prior conversations replaying in my mind; what should have been said and what could have been said. Or I ruminate on past regrets of what might have been had I chosen another path, or taken a different turn in the road of my life. Often I sift through memories of individuals who are long gone—either through death or some other forced absence from my life—wishing for more time with them or another opportunity to commune together. Regrets, nostalgic remembering, and wearying analytical thoughts collude to keep me bound in a place to which I can never return in real-time.

Dwelling in the past, as if one could take up residence there permanently, is a strategy I often employ when I find the present or the future daunting. Rather than face what it is I need to face, I retreat into my past searching for comfort or numbness. Part of the reason I do this lies in the simple fact that to move forward is to leave behind that which has become dear—whether that is a cherished memory or a cherished grudge. More important, however, to leave something of our past behind is to actually let go of part of our identity. It is the call into the wild and into becoming something—and someone—currently unknown to us. For most, it is a call too frightening and too challenging to heed. For some, however, it is a call that woos us to consider what more we are capable of doing and who we are capable of being, both now in the present and as we journey into an unknown future.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Past, Present, Future

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Everyday Easter

There is a great amount of anticipation leading up to Easter Sunday. Even for those who are “Christmas and Easter” church-goers, or for those who simply sit at home and dream of Easter baskets, chocolate rabbits, and colored eggs, anticipating Easter, on the one hand, is like waiting for the door to finally be unlocked, unhinged and opened onto a verdant spring meadow. On the other hand, Easter is stepping out onto that meadow and closing the door behind on the long, cold, dreary winter.

Yet, for many, the day comes and goes and then what? Easter is over again until next year. In some parts of the world, winter still hovers above and the grey of death has not given way to the springtime. The candy is eaten, the brunches are over, and everything seems to return to normal. All that anticipation ends in just one day—with grand celebrations and powerful sermons, and perhaps with even a first playful roll in the springtime grass—and then it’s over. Or is it?

The celebration of Easter is insignificant if the celebrations do not point to the continuing reality of the Risen Lord. Indeed, in many church traditions, the season of Eastertide which lasts until Pentecost asks this very question of those who lead congregations into continual contemplation of the resurrection until the day of Pentecost: how do we perceive the continuing presence of the risen Lord in our reality? Indeed, how do we? Is it simply the annual remembrance of a historic event from long ago?

If we’re honest, many of us do wonder what difference the resurrection has made in the practical realities of our lives. We still argue with our spouses and loved ones; we still have children who go their own way. We have difficulties at work or at school. We still see a world so broken by warfare, selfish greed, oppression and sin. Like the two men on the road to Emmaus recounting the events surrounding Jesus, perhaps we wonder aloud: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21a). Things seem pretty much as they were before Easter Sunday, and the reality of our same old lives still clamor for redemption.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Everyday Easter