Ravi Zacharias died a month ago today. Indian-born but schooled in Canada, Ravi was a Canadian-American Christian apologist.
‘A God who employs a host of apologists to defend Him is a very vulnerable God and probably insecure.’ A friend of mine one time wrote.
From reading the Bible and History, it appears as if God seems surprisingly disinterested in proving His existence.
Ravi Zacharias was one of those people who tried very hard to reveal a God who seems unconcerned with proving his existence. In fact Bertrand Russell, the famous atheist and British Philosopher, famously quipped that if he were faced with God when he died he would demand an explanation for why God made the evidence of his existence so insufficient.
But atheists are not the only frustrated lot. Even right inside the Bible, this picture of a hiding God is worryingly prevalent. Visualize Job’s desperate desire: ‘Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!.. Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him.’ (Job 23: 3, 8&9-KJV)
About 12 years ago, a flamboyant atheist spoke in a large auditorium in Kentucky, UK. After finishing his famous lecturer, he made a proposition that would provide the ultimate proof that God does not exist. ‘If God exists, let Him strike me dead within fifteen minutes.’ It was controversial comedian George Carlin. In the meantime he did all sorts of things that would annoy God. He quarreled with God, he cursed and blasphemed. Then he stopped, took out his watch and started counting. When the fifteen minutes were about to lapse, tension filled the quiet, hushed auditorium. Yet nothing happened.
‘See folks, there is no God!’ He beamed. But a young boy shouted loudly from the back of the hall, ‘Sir, do you think you can exhaust the patience of God in fifteen minutes?’
With a different attitude, Ravi Zacharias as a seventeen year old asked God to reveal Himself to him. This time God showed up.
In India and an atheist until the age of 17, Ravi tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison. While he was in the hospital, a local Christian worker brought him a Bible and told his mother to read to him from John 14. Zacharias said it was John 14:19 that touched him as the defining paradigm, ‘Because I live, you also will live,’ and that he thought, ‘This may be my only hope: A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of Life.’ He committed his life to Christ praying, ‘Jesus if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it. Please get me out of this hospital bed well, and I promise I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.’
This time God was not found hiding.
Ravi migrated to Canada went on to graduate from the Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University) and Trinity International University. Then he joined the struggle; the struggle to explain the problem of a hiding God. Atheists interpret this as proof that He does not exist. Christian Apologists want to drag Him from His hiding place.
‘If God exists, why should we subscribe only to Christianity?’
‘Are not all religions just about the same?’
‘How can it be true that there is only one way?’
Ravi Zacharias thought it odd, that we don’t ask the same questions of the laws of nature. ‘We are discomfited by the fact that truth, by definition, is exclusive.’ Nevertheless, he proposed three tests for knowing the true religion. It must be logical, its evidence should be sufficient and it must be relevant to our experience.
Ravi suggested that Christianity fits the bill. First, he reasoned that if Love is the supreme virtue, then where there is any real possibility of genuine love there must be freedom and hence a free will. A robot cannot express genuine love. Yet where the will is free, there will be the possibility of sin. Where there is sin, there is the need for forgiveness and a Savior. Where there is a Savior, there is the hope for redemption. According to Ravi, this logical flow is only apparent in Christianity.
Ravi also believed that Christianity is the ‘only religion that gives coherent answers to the four main issues of life: origin, meaning, morality and destiny.’
Yet the morality of the Bible is hard. Think about the warning that a lustful look is adultery and hate is murder. Indeed G. K Chesterton said that Christianity is not a religion that has been tried and found wanting but it is one that has been found difficult and left untried. If a group of men crafted the Bible and merely wanted followers, they would be insane to include these passages. The author of the bible seemed not very keen on getting followers.
Existence of God
Ravi almost took the existence of God as a given. Why so? He had four arguments.
One argument is the existence of the non-material. There seems to be more to life than what we see. The title of a Guardian article captures the scientific despair: ‘Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness.’ Consciousness is the biggest problem for materialism. How is it possible that a bunch of particles and chemical elements that are devoid of consciousness get together and cause consciousness?
The second argument is that of intelligence. The universe does not seem to run on a random chance. Did you notice how the banana perfectly fits the human hand? Looks like a foolish example. May be not.
The third argument is morality. This is a particularly shaky ground for the atheist or the materialist. They say that morals evolved out of the need for survival of the fittest. But why is harming people wrong if there is no God? And what if harming people enhances your survival and that of most others? If you probe deeply, evolution through survival of the fittest may have bequeathed us selfishness as a moral virtue. Yet individually and collectively, the human being detests selfishness even in himself and in others. Human beings exhibit a primal desire to even protect the vulnerable. Otherwise we would not have children departments and mental asylums.
Lastly, Ravi argues that the actual experience of people cannot be dismissed.
On the person of Jesus, Ravi claims, perhaps very rightfully, that only Islam denies his death and crucifixion. Pagan historians like Tacitus and Livy are clear that Jesus died on the cross. Jewish historians like Josephus agree. In Hinduism and Buddhism, there is silence, not denial.
Christianity a Public Revelation
Also, Christianity is unique in that it was a public revelation grounded in history; hence it is not just a story. The people, the places, the years and the events are all plainly laid out as if requesting to be investigated. Take the death of Christ. The Roman governor at the time is identified as Pontius Pilate. The Jewish High Priest is identified as Caiaphas. The place and even the time of the crucifixion are all indicated. In other words, the Bible is saying, ‘come and verify this stuff for yourself.’ On the contrary, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are all indicative of a private revelation.
Ravi said that there is a fundamental difference but only superficial similarities among the religions of the world.
On the problem of murders, while false Christianity has regrettably killed thousands, Godlessness has killed ten thousands. The number of people killed by the God-denying communists and Nazis in the 20th century alone is more than the number killed in the previous 19 centuries!
Revelation on God’s terms
Regardless, God still hides. With one appearance, this debate can end and Ravi can be vindicated. Could it be that He does not want us to relate with him on a physical level but on a different, more intimate level? Could it be that a physical manifestation could interfere with this more intimate relationship? For example, if God wants us to overcome sin, how will his physical manifestation help us in overcoming sin when He has already given everything necessary for that?
Christians, do not claim that God doesn’t reveal himself, but rather that he reserves the right to choose how he does so, and that we cannot pigeon-hole Him. It is fine if we don’t see Him. He does not want us to see Him but to relate with Him on a spiritual level. What is the chaff to the wheat? What is the physical to the spiritual?
Jesus told the disciples that, ‘Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me.’(John 14: 19-KJV). Keep on looking for empirical evidence. You will not find any.
Yet others will find Him: ‘And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.’ (Jeremiah 29: 13-KJV). Not your eyes.
Ravi Zacharias died at his home in Atlanta on 19th May 2020 at the age of 74.