In March 2020, the late Ravi Zacharias was diagnosed with a malignant and rare cancer in his spine, and on 19 May 2020, he died at his home in Atlanta at the age of 74. He was a keen apologist and touched many lives through his ministry. However, since his death reports have been circulating and are being passed around about his sexual misconduct. I learnt about it quite early, soon after the first allegation was made in 2017. While denying that anything inappropriate had happened, there was a financial settlement.
I kept it to myself, not even telling my wife about the report that had surfaced. However, after Ravi’s death more and more allegations started to pour in, and so the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries decided to have a thorough, independent investigation done with the intention to clear Ravi’s name. Instead, there has been confirmation that those who accused him were not lying. The news of this scandal has snowballed into an avalanche.
What follows is not an exoneration of what Ravi did. It was sinful. It was not right. Poor women were exploited and abused.
The question is, how are we to view Ravi’s ministry? Does everything he preached and wrote stand discredited because of his moral failures?
The scandal proves that Ravi was not sinless. Who is? I know, I am not.
Scripture records the last surviving apostle John confessing, after long years of hard ministry, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8, NASB).
When the prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God in His glory, his immediate reaction was, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). There’s no way anyone catching a vision of God can congratulate himself or herself for being worthy (or worthier than others) to be granted the privileged revelation. Instead of feeling close to God, the person perceives that he or she is actually closer to sinful people than to God.
The apostles, when addressing the ordinary members of churches, called them “saints”. That included the lot at Corinth. The church there was really bad. Disunity was rampant (1 Cor. 1:10-3:23), incest didn’t trouble them (5:1-2), litigating to deprive and crush others was common (6:1-8), idolatrous practices weakened the church (8:1-13; 10:14-22), spiritual rites and gifts were used as a means to humiliate others (11:17-14:40) and heresy was prevalent (15:12). Yet Paul referred to them as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1:2). Had Paul lost his mind? Did he have no sense of propriety?
When people put their faith in Christ and trust Him to redeem them, indeed they are justified and sanctified. They are, of course, not saints of the kind that are carved in marble and idolised in cathedrals and churches. They are saints with feet of clay. Ravi was such a saint – one with feet of clay camouflaged in branded footwear.
To change the metaphor, Ravi was a jar of clay with Jesus treasured in him (2 Cor. 4:7). There is no denying that Ravi served the Lord. He was inspired and moved by the Holy Spirit, even though he did remain sinful and imperfect.
Remember Samson? He was chosen by God. He was filled with the Spirit of God. But from the time he reached maturity he was a womanizer, and even when he was caught in sin, the Spirit didn’t leave him (Judg. 15:14). The Lord left him only when his head was shaved and he ceased to be a nazirite (16:20). And then, at the very end, he called on God to empower him again and still the Lord heard him (vv.28-30).
Paul and Barnabas were serving the Lord together very successfully, but fought so bitterly that they separated (Acts 15:39) and never worked together after that. But the Holy Spirit never stopped using them. I’m guilty of this. I fought with one who was like a son in the ministry.
Peter had a compromising streak in him (Gal.2:11-14), that was reminiscent of his denial of Christ (Mk. 14:66-72). He too continued to serve the Lord. Many is the time I have compromised fearfully.
No, no one has served the Lord sinlessly, but “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). As our Lord said, “when you have done everything that was assigned and commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants [undeserving of praise or a reward, for we have not gone beyond our obligation]; we have merely done what we ought to do’” (Lk. 17:10, Amplified Bible).
The only time I heard Ravi in person was when he was a college student taking part in a preaching contest at the Youth For Christ sponsored Asian Youth Congress held at Hyderabad in 1965. Even at that early age, he manifested the brilliance of a sharp mind and delivered a powerful message. The last time I bought a couple of Ravi’s books was after I had been alerted to the doubtfulness of his character. I bought them because his writings were inspired in spite of his flawed personality.
How People Contribute to Failure
Believers are to blame for what happened. We have the tendency to idolise people and those we put up on a pedestal can’t help lapping it all up. They begin to think of themselves as above all others. They regard themselves as exceptions – exceptions to all rules. They do believe that the rules have to be different in their case because they are so special.
When will we learn that we cannot have celebrities in the Kingdom of God?
When Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountaintop meeting with Moses and Elijah, Peter was so awed by the ancient heroes of Judaism, that he excitedly suggested, “Let’s just stay here on the mountain and we’ll make three tents – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He clubbed the old heroes with the Lord. Then God thundered, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matt. 17:5), meaning, “Moses and Elijah cannot be classified with Jesus. Only Jesus is to be obeyed.”
We have to stop all hero-worship. It’s not good for them. It’s not good for us.
In reaction to what has happened, there has been bitterness, anger, disgust, disappointment and all the other shades of judgement. God’s Word says, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4). God alone is the judge.
Our problem is that we tend to grade sins. Subconsciously we think of some sins as somewhat excusable, and others as unforgivable. In our view, the worst sins are related to sexual immorality.
Our Lord equated sinful thoughts to the very acts of sin (Matt. 5: 21-32). Ouch! Woe is me. I am a sinful man.
To God, all sin is equally sinful. All are acts of rebellion: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4). When we sin, no matter what it is that we are guilty of, it boils down to just one thing: we have broken God’s law. “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (Jas. 2:10).
Note that the heroes of the faith include the prostitute Rahab, David who committed adultery and then committed murder to cover up the adultery, Samson who consorted with at least three women who didn’t worship God, and Gideon who promoted idol worship after triumphing over enemies (Heb. 11:31-32). Isn’t that incredible?
“God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). His love is amazing. He loved us while we were still sinners. He sacrificed His own beloved Son for the sake of saving humans who were not one bit worth redeeming (Rom.5:6-8). Though Peter was talking about the kind of love we ourselves should have, he did say that “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). How much more that would be true of God’s love for people.
From the time he was diagnosed with cancer to the time of his death, Ravi was totally confined. He would have been aware that the end was coming. I am a great believer in death bed conversions. After all, there was Samson of Old Testament fame, and the repentant thief on the cross is part of the gospel itself (Lk. 23:39-43).
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of CHRISTIAN TRENDS and CHRISTIAN TRENDS does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.