What are to say about Ravi Zacharias?
The news has been widespread, disturbing, disheartening and tragic.
A rather full investigation has substantiated that Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias was guilty of having systematically and over a period of many years, sexually abused numerous women, and carried on illicit affairs with some, romantically, emotionally and physically. It is a grotesque story in every sense of the word.
And we need to reckon with the reality of it all.
To their credit, the leadership at RZIM has made their investigation available to all who will go to their website and access it. I’ve done so. And it is heartbreaking, infuriating and leaves you feeling very dirty.
But what are we to do with all of this? We can’t deny it. We dare not whitewash it. Ephesians 5:11 exhorts us not just to have nothing to do with the works of darkness, but to expose them. To bring them into the light so that they can be dealt with rightly. All of this is so very devastating to those he abused, his family, the ministry he founded and to the Church and cause of Christ. But we cannot hide from it. Prayers and provisions must be made for all who have been affected.
But it leaves us with the task of trying to put it all into some sort of context – and to forge a path forward.
I pray this short missive might help some in that regard.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to preach through the book of Proverbs. And one of the chief recuring themes in the book is the nature of how chosen courses of actions, lead to certain results. The wise person asks “where will what I am contemplating take me ultimately?” In contrast the “simple” man only asks “what will this mean for me right now?” And as well as Solomon knew and articulated that dynamic, his life bears tragic testimony to a failure to employ it.
The Wise (the truly wise. Not those who just know wisdom, but live wisely) think beyond the immediate. They are continually asking: What will this course of action bring in the LONG TERM?
True wisdom asks itself questions –
What will the outcome of this spoken word be – not just in this moment, but in the days or weeks ahead?
What path does this attitude take me down?
What will result from this act of disobedience, or revenge, or selfishness?
What will be the end of this affair?
What will the impact of my actions be on others? Wife, Husband, kids, co-workers, neighbors, The Church & the cause of Christ?
Like faith, wisdom has a forward look.
So for all of Solomon’s brilliance, his store of propositional wisdom, he lived, and apparently died – like a fool. He “knew” full well walking contrary to God’s ways brings: ruin; unfulfilled craving; shame and disgrace; being overthrown by sin; darkness; strife; lack; emptiness; destruction; harm and disaster.
But still, he persisted. And what we have in the record of Solomon’s life is the stuff of the deepest of tragedies. The stuff of Ravi Zacharias as well.
Solomon was a man uniquely anointed by God for his role as the King of Israel, and divinely endowed with wisdom that is so profound, his name has become proverbial in connection with wisdom. Celebrated even in Scripture for his wisdom and noted for his famous prayer for it in 1 Kings 3.
And would to God that were the whole of the story.
It is so sad to read later: 1 Kings 11:2–8 …”Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
Alexander Whyte wrote: “The books of Solomon so-called—the Proverbs, the Ecclesiastes, and the Song—had a great struggle to get a footing inside the Old Testament. Each one of Solomon’s books had its own difficulty to those who sifted out and sealed up the Hebrew Bible. There was something in all the books that were in any way associated with Solomon’s name that made the Hebrew Fathers doubt their fitness for a place in Holy Scripture. There is one fatal want in them all. There is no repentance anywhere in Solomon. There is no paschal lamb, or young pigeon, or bitter herb among all the beasts, and birds, and hyssop-plants of which Solomon spoke and sang so much. There is no day of atonement, or so much as one of the many ordained sacrifices for sin, in any of Solomon’s real or imputed writings. Both the sense of truth and the instinct of verisimilitude kept back all those who ever assumed Solomon’s name from ever putting a penitential psalm, or a proverb of true repentance, in Solomon’s mouth. The historical sense, as we call it, was already too strong for that even in the deathbed moralisings and soliloquisings that have come down to us under Solomon’s name. There is no thirty-second, or fifty-first, or hundred and thirtieth Psalm of David in all the volume of ‘Psalms of Solomon’ that were composed in the century before Christ. No; there is no real repentance, real or assumed, anywhere in Solomon. There is remorse in plenty, and weariness of life, and discontent, and disgust, and self-contempt, bitterer to drink than blood. There is plenty of the sorrow that worketh death; but there is not one syllable of the repentance to salvation not to be repented of.”
As much as he would pour into his sons in Proverbs and elsewhere, as much as he was anointed by God for this amazing ministry, in the end – his own wisdom stopped short of Christ – and spelled his destruction.
Doesn’t this echo the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21–23“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Or Paul in Philippians 3:18–21“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
You see, it isn’t how one begins life, but how we end it in Christ.
If we are not aiming at eternity – nothing gained here matters one bit.
Those who do not aim at entering Heaven intentionally, won’t get there.
What a picture then of Christ in contrast to Solomon.
One finished crushed by his own sins – The other crushed for ours.
Solomon ended at the altar of false gods with his many wives.
Christ was the Lamb sacrificed on God’s altar to purchase Believers as His sole wife.
Solomon gave his all to what he could experience in his body for a few decades.
Christ gave His body and his blood that He might experience the glories of God with us for eternity.
Solomon was dressed in finery and lies corrupt in his grave.
Christ took on the form of a servant and rose from the grave, victor over sin and death.
Solomon lived in a palace that took twice as long to build as the Temple of God.
Christ had nowhere to lay His head for several years and has spent 2000 building a Temple of living stones that will stand forever and ever.
Solomon’s wisdom was solitary without the will or the courage to live in it unto God and ended in shame and disaster.
Christ Jesus had a wisdom that embraced the whole truth, and was welded to the will and courage to endure the cross and win a glorious eternity for all who put their faith in Him.
Solomon died worse than he began.
Christ lived ever increasingly manifesting the glory of the Living God in unfathomable mercy and grace which culminated in His death, burial and resurrection.
Solomon, for the immediate and temporary joy set before him, ruined his life, his kingdom his family and his soul.
Christ Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2
As Spurgeon once preached: “Jesus lived entirely for other people; he had never a thought about himself. Solomon was, to a great extent, wise unto himself, rich unto himself, strong unto himself; and you see in those great palaces, and in all their arrangements, that he seeks his own pleasure, honour, and emolument; and, alas! that seeking of pleasure leads him into sin, that sin into a still greater one. Solomon, wonderful as he is, only compels you to admire him for his greatness, but you do not admire him for his goodness. You see nothing that makes you love him, you rather tremble before him than feel gladdened by him.”
So it is Jesus could remark about the wonder of the Queen of Sheba traveling “from the ends of the earth” to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but “behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”
Indeed – The very Wisdom of God has walked among us – and redeemed us from sin through His blood.
And in like fashion, the recent revelations of the long-term, systematic sexual indulgence and abuse of others at the hands of Ravi Zacharias paints an equally bleak picture of this manifestly gifted man.
Called by God, gifted by God, used by God – but apparently ending in shame, disgrace and ruin.
We need to be clear: No one can state with absolute certainty whether or not Solomon or Ravi was truly saved.
Only the Lord knows that for certain.
But it is the very uncertainty of it – or in my estimation the un-likelihood of their being saved – that leaves us scratching our heads either way.
Many want to hold out the hope that a profession of faith at some point in a person’s life closes the case, for Solomon, Ravi, or anyone else.
But unfortunately, that is more the stuff of believing that people are saved by the mere repetition of certain words or a prayer – kind of a magic or superstitious approach to salvation, rather than by a life transformed by the Spirit and evidencing the life of Christ in some way.
Did Solomon, in spite of this great fall repent of his sin, and it is simply not recorded for us?
I would like to think so. I HOPE so.
But the fact that is it left in doubt and becomes a very poignant warning.
And as we have seen thus far in Ravi’s case – we have no reference to repentance at the end – even when he knew he was dying of terminal cancer.
Can one be genuinely saved, and end their life in ruin, given over to idolatry and sensual bondage? The Scripture will give no such assurance.
Sadly, alarmingly, Ravi’s true and final end is left in question.
And no one ought to comfort themselves by thinking they can live a profligate life, but cling to the hope of salvation just because they prayed a prayer, made a profession of faith, have been gifted or even used by God in powerful ways.
As Jesus reminds us: Matthew 10:22 it is “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
So we are left with a couple of very nagging questions:
1. How could Ravi have been used by God in this way, and still ended as he did – possibly lost?
2. And, does his end (if indeed it was all tragic) negate the usefulness of what the Spirit said and did through him?
Let’s try to dispatch the 2nd question first so we can spend the bulk of our time on the 1st one.
2. Does Ravi’s end negate the usefulness of what the Spirit did through him?
The truth isn’t any less the truth because it was spoken through Balaam’s donkey in Numbers 22.
Saul’s prophesying by the Spirit in 1 Samuel 6 was no less true prophesying because he died in sin and disgrace.
Caiaphas’ prophesy that it was expedient that one man die for the nation in John 11 – was still genuine even though the text says he didn’t do this by his own accord.
None of those touched by Judas’ ministry when he was sent out by Jesus with the 12 and the 70 to “heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons” were not truly touched or blessed by God.
None of these things are dependent upon the spirituality of the individual, but on the power of God and His Word.
This is why Jesus can warn that some will come to Him in the last day claiming to have prophesied, cast out demons and done “many mighty works” in His name. And yet they are not His.
It is a strange but necessary reality to digest, lest we are led astray by mere giftedness and not by the truth of God’s Word.
So, how could Ravi have been used by God in this way, and still ended as he did – possibly lost?
I think the answer may lay in Jesus’ parable of the soils in Matt. 13.
There we read of the Word of God, the Gospel, planted into people. Those people are compared to 4 kinds of soil. Some have hardened hearts like footpaths. Some are shallow. Some are like ground infested with thorns and weeds. And some are good soil.
And if I had my guess, it is into the 3rd category that Ravi falls.
The Word had had an impact. It had produced a genuine result of sorts. There was evidence of life to a certain extent at least striving to live at first, but never arriving at fruitfulness. Seed but no fertilized egg.
Calvin called this: “temporary faith, being a sort of vegetation of the seed”.
It is the Christianity of one who says “I CAN serve two master at once, no matter what Jesus says.” I can love sensuality and pursue the pleasures of sin in this life AND have Christ – no conflict – just dual tracks – dual majors.
It’s a lie.
The end result is without question: The vegetative life that has come through the impact of the Word will eventually be choked out. The light and the food necessary to sustain spiritual life will be cut off, because other things replace it.
Maybe that is someone reading this today as well.
You’ve imagined this double track – this dual focus in life is a sustainable reality.
But it will not survive. It will not remain. One must die. And it will.
Which will you give yourself to?
The fruit spoken of in this text is the fruit of the Spirit. Repentance towards God, faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ, holiness of life and character, prayerfulness, humility, charity, spiritual-mindedness—these are the only satisfactory proofs that the seed of God’s word is doing its proper work in our souls. Without such proofs, our religion is vain, however high our profession. It is no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Christ has said, “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.” (John 15:16.)
There is no part of the whole parable more important than this. We must never be content with a barren orthodoxy, and a cold maintenance of correct theological views. We must not be satisfied with clear knowledge, warm feelings, and a decent profession. We dare not rely on our giftedness. We must see to it that the Gospel we profess to love, produces positive “fruit” in our hearts and lives. This is real Christianity. Those words of St. James should often ring in our ears, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22.)
I don’t know where Ravi Zacharias is today. And that ought to terrify you as it does me. To have preached, taught and wrote such valuable and useful things for Christ’s Church globally – and to end seemingly unrepentant, in disgrace, and having harmed so many.
What ought we to say about Ravi Zacharias?
God, grant me repentance, before it is too late.